Sunday Thoughts: 6/12/09

I’m becoming a little bit jaded by this whole “video game writer” gig. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it immensely. I’d rather be doing it for a magazine though.

That isn’t a reflection on the staff or readers of this fine website, it’s more a genuine wish that the internet hadn’t taken the craft of writing and turned it into a race in which all the contestants, upon finishing the race, get shouted at and subjected to ill-advised and often libellous accusations.

Here’s the typical life-span of an internet based article: The story is heard-of by an intrepid young journalist wanting to make a name for himself. He (or she) looks into the source of the story as quickly as possible in an attempt to ascertain its trustworthiness. If it looks like it can be relied upon then he hastily writes it up in an attempt to get it live on the website before anyone else catches wind of the story and beats him to the punch. The story goes live.

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Our protagonist has sourced, verified and written up the story before anyone else and now goes through the soul-destroying process of submitting it to a few news-aggregator sites to try to get the recognition he and his website deserves. The story gets flagged as a duplicate to the three dozen other instances that appeared in the few minutes after he submitted the original by idiot users who don’t really understand what they’re doing. Eventually it gets accepted and goes on to generate some small level of interest.

The story is then pulled apart by people commenting on the website about how it is utter rubbish or it was vaguely hinted at in an interview a month ago so it’s old news now that it has been confirmed. Many people accuse him of being under the influence of some shadowy and entirely imagined mega-corporation. Others imply that he is only publishing the story because he wants hits, as if getting hits on someone else’s website benefits him in any way other than a tiny and fleeting growth to his reputation (which poorly judged stories would actually damage).

A brave few commenting on the story have actually read and understood it. This gives our plucky young journalist hope but that is soon dashed as he notices three or four of the huge mega-sites are now running the story and not quoting a source for it. Some of them have even hurriedly paraphrased his original article. He makes tentative complaints but his emails go unanswered or receive stock-replies that don’t actually address the issue of plagiarism at all.

The following day he receives seven news tips from various sources all linking him to one of the huge sites that ran the story without quoting him as their source. People have stumbled over his story, plagiarised by a massive media group and told him he should have covered it by now.

Three weeks later the same story crops up on a blog somewhere and gets more attention from the news aggregators than his original ever did. Our hero actually has to search back through archives to confirm to himself that he had covered the story weeks earlier. He is questioning his own sanity. Upon confirming that the story is almost a month old he curses his rotten misfortune for being quick and good and honest.

Of course, this is extreme but it has happened. I know this because it has all happened to me and, as far as I’m aware, most of it has happened to various other writers here too. You don’t get this sort of mess with a magazine, they are slow and methodical and permanent. Once the magazine is printed it stands for all time as a record with a date on it that you wrote those words. You have to research properly because any errors are there for the world to pick at forever. On the internet a story is massive one day and totally forgotten the next. It encourages dishonesty and slack practices.

I’ve often been heard lamenting the curse of internet journalism so you might choose to just ignore me. I am sure that my wishing for a more honourable, accountable way of writing for the internet will not lead to anything because ultimately it’s the readers who have the final call and it’s the readers who, generally speaking, want hit-baiting, poorly written and badly researched pieces of knee-jerk rumour and propaganda. Of course almost all of them claim they dislike that sort of stuff but it’s the only thing they actually read so their actions are speaking far louder than their words.

Until the readership gets responsible I’m afraid we all have to play the same game and the best we can do is try our hardest to stand behind what we write given the brief chance we have to research it. For the foreseeable future it seems that I will just have to put up with the way things are and hope for a more intelligent future for writing on the internet. Unless anyone wants to buy a magazine I write for?

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