Editorial: Gaming Journalists Need To Earn Respect
Those of us who have been around gaming since the dawn of the industry remember when it was nothing more than a child's pastime, and if you played games over the age of 16, that was abnormal. Since then, the industry has pushed through and become a very mainstream topic, but it still holds a particular "kiddie" stereotype that hasn't completely died out. And one of the reasons it hasn't died is simple: so-called video game "journalists" are sometimes nothing more than teens who like games.
A quarter-century back, those of us who loved games would've done anything to legitimize the industry in the eyes of the mainstream public. However, now that we've supposedly "arrived," we're still held back by a very slack - even non-existent - ability level on the part of writing "professionals," and the idea of journalistic integrity often gets lost in a sea of rumors and hearsay. I've seen very poor articles written on quite large and prominent websites; this industry's version of major publications. But at the same time, it's not necessarily their fault, as the requirements to be a game journalist apparently only extend to a love of the hobby. Now, while I do believe this helps, we must treat this industry as any other journalist treats any other entertainment industry. If we want to make any headway at all; if we want to prove to the naysayers that we're not just playing games and "playing" at being journalists, this has to happen.
Sports, movies, television...all these other areas of entertainment boast some fine publications with fantastic writers. Sports Illustrated features excellent pieces, as do other trade magazines for film, TV, books, music (Rolling Stone, anyone?). Of course, I understand that gaming should be laid back and we shouldn't take everything so seriously, so reporting on rumors isn't an issue. Hell, FOX has been doing that for years. But contrary to popular belief, there is a set of abilities and skills that one must have in order to be a good journalist. It's sad that so few gamers actually read these days - and it shows in the writing - and it's sadder still that many of us are simply willing to accept a mediocre effort. Granted, the readership may be younger than is typical for most entertainment industries, but that's no excuse. We don't have a Roger Ebert in our industry. The man won a Pulitzer Prize; are any of our prominent critics capable of that? Highly unlikely.
Here at PSXE, we understand what people want to read, and we try to deliver that on a daily basis. We keep our articles relatively short and get straight to the point, we often report on rumors and hearsay, and we even implement opinion into our news. Now, you should know that what I just mentioned is the cardinal sin of reporting news: no opinion is ever allowed. That turns the piece into an op-ed. However, we let that slide to make everything more accessible and fun to read. But that's really only because we know what people will read. Nothing I write here would be publishable even in a basic daily newspaper, and that's not a good thing. I remember cutting my teeth in the newspaper industry, working freelance and doing entertainment features for several years. Sure, I interviewed and even hung out with more than a few music stars you'd be familiar with, but I was also going broke. If I wanted to eat, I had to head online.
And the instant I did so, I realized that what passed for a "good" piece online wasn't a fraction of the quality that most avid readers have come to expect from high-profile newspapers and magazines. It makes it easy, sure, but I don't see the situation improving. Obviously, I'm not implying that this site is the bastion of journalistic excellence nor am I saying I was a great news/feature journalist for print publications (because I know I was merely average). But I am saying that if we want to make a better statement, and if we want to stop other writers and journalists from snickering when we say we're video game journalists, we need to up the ante. The bigger publications, both online and in print, need to have higher expectations from their current staff, and higher requirements for those they may hire. There are some good writers and journalists out there; we do have them. GameSpot, IGN, and a few other places really do have some fairly decent professionals.
But the bar is still set very, very low. At the very least, you won't see strings of typos in my articles, and you won't see poorly constructed pieces. Well, for the most part. It's just that, it can be very difficult to get something published in the print world. It can be challenging just to get an article in the local paper if you're not familiar with the process. Too many unskilled gamers are calling themselves writers and journalists these days, and that's the bottom line. We've turned a lot of heads over the past couple of decades, but if we want to turn more, we've got to hold ourselves to a higher standard. If we can start to do that, things will begin to fall into place. I promise you. Respect can be tough to obtain, but once you have it, it's easier to keep than a negative stereotype.
5/30/2008 Ben Dutka