Opinion: What Is News?

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.

23 Comments

  1. Interesting views, but may I just add that, Re: Orwell, surely any news is something that someone wants printed…

    • All news is equal – but some news is more equal than others ;)

      • Although news has often now become shaped (language & structure) by politics and ideologies (right/left wing). Of course for a few it has become a hacking mini-game :P

    • If Orwell was right, would we only have news about leaks?

      • But then competitors would surely want that published :-p

      • Stop stealing our news Davs! :-p

  2. This is news: 2012 was the first year since 1996 when Sean Bean appeared in a film but didn’t die in it. I’m not annoyed at myself for using ‘first year since’, since that is a bollocks statement.

    • Wait, what?! Is this real? What film?

  3. Certain sites will post literally anything as ‘news’ and a lot of them will run a story based on a single quote, trailer or release date. Tis arse numbingly tedious.

    • Yep, but you’re piss takes of the tedious make it news worth reading!

  4. Great write. I haven’t been around for much, but the moment I stepped foot at TSA, I could see something was different. The reviews looked more sincere, the site in general was focused and smaller (in a good way) with a mature community. (Plus, I had just gotten a PS3 and the slogan said “we know playstation” so…) Thus it was instantly my new home page (the only other game site I can remember having as a home page is adriasang who also were quite selective about their news). I think you guys have a working system here. I even feel like I might be pushing myself into this really tight community, not that I can help it and that can’t be said for many of the popular game news providers around. I’m also very impressed with the weviews, weverdicts and community roundups. Really great way to involve your community. So keep up the great work is all I’m saying.

    • Wow, thanks for that.

      We make mistakes and we do sometimes misjudge certain situations but we’ll generally hold our hands up when it happens and try to learn from it. So it’s nice to hear someone noticing the effort we put in to let the community inform the way we cover things.

      This comment has cheered me right up :)

      • Glad to hear!

      • I don’t really comment much as I should ( I’m a bit of an over opinionated toss bag sometimes ), but I’ve been coming back to this site for years because of the sincere, honest opinions of the teams that work so tirelessly to inform and connect with the community here at tsa. So from the bottom of my heart I thank you all for the great work you guys do

    • Agreed. There was a big and noticeable difference in the reviews on TSA: more focused and certainly more objective than other sites (won’t mention names). The community is much more interactive and civilised too (minus SolidSteven :P).

      • You have made yourself a very powerful enemy today but lucky for you, i’ve ran out of the room on the list thus won’t have my vengance any time soon. :P

    • That’s a fair point. TSA doesn’t get it right all of the time (although more than most) but the sincerity usually oozes through.

      I definitely keep on checking ten or twenty times a day or so (basically, a tab open all day) when I’m working so I know you’re doing something right.

      • That blue bar of yours is almost full! I wonder what happens when it does. You evolve into something maybe? Bunimodike?

  5. But you are supposed to do press releases in a souless fashion and advertise Mountain Dew! There is nothing wrong with press releases but it does get tiresome when X game is coming out soon and the articles comes off as a generic one. TSA is guilty of taking press releases and not putting enough effort into the article but since the reboot, i don’t think that has happened. In fact, rumour has it that Press Releases(the bot or writer) was fired and found in Tuffcub’s cave the following morning.

    You could take the pie out of some press releases or do it in a sarcastic manner but that would probably do more harm then good. I would prefer to see less rumours of the same thing being reported as it serves no use as we already know or has been reported to death. Such as the PS4 and Xbox news. I think unless there is a major development, we don’t need every rumour to be reported about it. You could just do a rumour round up instead of reporting 4-5 rumours within the space of a fortnight. But TSA is one of the few sites that puts personal touches to the articles and having an excellent community as well as not being baised. Except when it comes to food.

  6. What is news!? Oh baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.

    • I enjoyed this comment more than I probably should *bobs head from side to side*.

  7. I think it’s pretty obvious why most of us keep coming back.
    TSA has great writers and a great community.
    While I sometimes miss the bulk of PR news that keeps me up to date in the gaming market, I understand and respect the choice you guys made.

  8. Call me names but tsa was the first gaming site i ever visited. Stuck with it though all of its ups and downs and surely there is a reason for that? Recently ive not been much interested in gaming news because i feel it is just slowing down a few notches before the next gen fest arrives. Nothing new or appealing anymore which is no writer fault, its the medium itself not providing…. Maybe other ‘big’ sites are desperate and so post any old tosh to keep the hits meter above water?

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