Remember 2012? Of course you do. That was the year of the London Olympics, the Queen’s Jubilee and the year games journalists questioned themselves and the industry for being too heavily influenced by PR. In fact, that whole situation led TheSixthAxis to return to its roots, focusing a lot less on the press releases and more on writing our individual, personality-led pieces.
It was during that process that I, and many other writers, thought there was a major shift coming in the way we reported on developments within the industry. News stories and previews based on facts and unfettered opinion, instead of the PR process.[drop]You see, I had been guilty of regurgitating press releases, I hold my hands up to that, but I wasn’t satisfied with it. On more than one occasion I wondered if this was the path for me, and expressed the opinion that what we were doing was nothing more than public relations or marketing in the guise of “news.” Others agreed, from a wide range of outlets, and I thought we were all on the path to becoming better.
That was until yesterday morning when one of the main headlines of quite a few major games news sites seemed to be about a developer exclaiming how great their next game was going to be graphically. I’m not going to link to the stories but you can Google them if you search for something about a Dragon and the number three.
Basically, a quote had been lifted from an interview and turned into its own story where the developer had said (unsurprisingly) that the next entry in their franchise would look better than the previous ones. They’re entitled to that opinion, and it probably will be true, but so many outlets ran this story without anything but a quote.
It would have been different if there were screenshots out there, at least then there could be an actual comparison to see if the developer’s claims held true. Instead we’re left with grasping headlines and stories that don’t offer any new information about the game beyond the fact that the guy making it thinks it might look better than their previous game.
Why was that news? Sure, I understand that we’re not getting a lot of actual games news about at the moment because late winter is generally a quiet period, but that kind of story seems at odds with what many have been trying to change in games writing. There are writers, including us at TSA, who want to tackle the notion many people hold that games journalism is nothing more than an extension of PR. That task is made difficult by sites reporting these kind of stories as news.[drop2]Of course, we’re here to serve our readers so we constantly struggle with the idea that the latests screenshots, trailer or sound bite from a well known developer will probably be interesting to many of you.
Should we report that stuff, so obviously shaped, timed and targeted to tie in with a game’s marketing campaign? It’s a delicate balance and I’m sure we get it wrong just as often as we get it right. The difference, I think, between our process and that of many other outlets is that we’re open about our motives for publishing these stories – we either find it personally interesting or think it will spark some discussion. We’re honest about when things are being pushed by PR and we try to reflect that in our delivery of those kinds of stories.
I’m going to end with a quote from one of my personal literary heroes who made me want to study journalism and become a journalist, George Orwell, who said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”
Maybe we all just need reminding of that sometimes.