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ZippyDSMlee's picture
Joined: 2006-09-30

This is good stuff,its going to be a multi part post.
[URL=http://www.joystiq.com/2008/08/27/hsu-and-boyers-sore-thumbs-is-a-must-read/]Hsu and Boyer's Sore Thumbs is a must-read[/URL]
Behind the Scenes: Gaming Journalism (Part 1)

By Shoe

1. No matter what you do or don’t do, you will get accused of being bought off at one or several points in your career.

2. If you can be bought off, you will get plenty of opportunities.

Those are two constant truths in gaming journalism.

You can have uncompromising integrity. You can follow every rule possible. You can keep your thoughts and actions completely transparent to the audience. But if you form an opinion, then someone somewhere is picturing you wearing an expensive, cash-lined moneyhat.

moneyhatProblem is, a lot of people don’t have uncompromising integrity. And most people don’t follow every rule out there. And because of that, it makes it even easier for readers to make those accusations. Even me — I’ve been one of the most vocal people in the industry about having that integrity and following those rules, and I’m certainly not perfect.

For example, if I were a 100% pure journalist, I would never accept any free games or free meals from game companies. But I have. This isn’t an excuse (well, it sort of is), but I need to play as many games as possible to be a well-rounded critic. And it’s hard to ask for a separate check when you’re invited to a press event that has food buffets set out to feed everyone. So I’m not 100%, and this definitely leaves me open to criticism from my audience.

What I had to do, then, was stay within the boundaries set by my employers at Ziff Davis Media and additional ones set by myself. I didn’t accept gifts other than free games or cheap tchotchkes. I didn’t accept free flights or hotel rooms. I didn’t make deals for review scores. And once in a while, I’d pick up the tab when we’re with a game company on a business lunch or dinner (unless other journalists were present — hey, we’re not paying for our competitors’ meals!). Game companies generally find that weird…that we occasionally want to pay for their meals, but it makes us feel better…cleaner. It doesn’t put us at 100% but it matters. It also sets a certain tone, so these PR reps and game companies know where you’re coming from with regards to journalistic integrity.

So what about truth #2 above? That was what I orignally wanted to write about here, but I got slightly sidetracked, so I’ll save that for my next post in a day or two. I’ll show you guys some of the ugly **** that goes on in this business, and yeah…it gets ugly.
Behind the Scenes: Gaming Journalism (Part 2)

By Shoe

Gaming journalism is home to a lot of bull****, and I’m here to share some of it…even stuff that may make me look bad in the process (see part 1 for some of that already).

Why the bull****, though? Is it that hard to stay clean and honest in this business? I guess I can understand how someone can get into a compromised position. It’s not like our industry’s made up of ex-New York Times reporters and journalism grads (not counting a few folks here and there like our own Crispin Boyer). A lot of game journalists (like me) didn’t come from any sort of journalism background; we didn’t necessarily get the proper training or influences up front. So I can see how that inexperience or lack of guidance can sometimes lead to less-than-stellar ethics. Sometimes, people just don’t know any better.

I’m lucky I survived my start.

Before I worked there, I already knew (or rather, thought I knew) as a reader that EGM was uncompromising when it comes reviews, coverage…journalistic integrity in general. I read an editorial by founder Steve Harris about how they weren’t going to do anything differently in light of threats from Capcom to pull advertising over some Super Street Fighter II review scores. And when I interviewed with then editorial director Joe Funk, I asked him how EGM as a business can survive those threats, and he said something to the effect of, “Earn the readers’ trust, get the readership, and the advertising will come.” Funk’s words have stuck with me all these years (that was back in 1996!), but the reality didn’t always match the philosophy.bull****

I remember former Editor-in-Chief Ed Semrad asking me to do a preview of one of the PS1 Contra games, and they put me on the phone with the game’s producer for a quick Q&A (this was one of my first assignments). During the call, the producer revealed that he wasn’t quite happy with the game at that point in its development, and I quoted him on that in my article.

Later, when the issue came out, our third-party liaison, John Stockhausen, got a call then came by my desk with this ridiculously inappropriate (and slap-worthy) “boy are you in trouble” smirk and told me to follow him to Semrad’s office. Then Stockhausen showed Semrad that quote and told him Konami saw it and called him up pissed. Semrad’s reaction upon reading it the quote/article right there and then: “You wrote what?? You need to use your head!” He was not happy that I made this producer look bad to his development team. I guess he was friends with certain people at Konami at the time.

I was completely stunned.

1. That call was an on-the-record conversation, and I’m a journalist. Why would anything the producer said be a surprise in writing? Apparently, the producer “understood” EGM would not write anything negative about the game or from the phone call.

2. Shouldn’t my Editor-in-Chief have supported me for digging for the truth and reporting on it it accurately? He should have defended me, not scolded me. He’s supposed to be concerned with the content and the readers, not the game company’s reaction.

3. How the **** did the EIC not see these words and that quote before it went to print? Why was he reading it for the first time after the issue’s been released? I thought EICs had to approve pages before they went to the printer….

This all made me mad as hell, but luckily, I was surrounded by ethical types like Funk and Boyer, so I still had positive influences on me. Even though Semrad eventually offered Konami an extra two pages worth of happy preview coverage as an apology for my “actions,” I thankfully never learned any bad habits from this incident. Funk’s sage-like advice kept me writing for the readers first and foremost…never the game publishers and developers.

But this just goes to show that BS happens everywhere, even in a magazine that you’ve trusted for oh so long.

Next up: journos behaving badly.

P.S. Ed Semrad’s not a bad guy overall. Please don’t broad-strokes define his character based on this one story.


Ah modern gaming its like modern film only the watering down of fiction and characters is replaced with shallow and watered down mechanics, gimmicks and shiny-er "people".
Incoherence is my friend and grammar my bane, which is the fulcrum of suffering I place upon others!:ZippyDSMlee

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