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Inside the secret world of Games Journalism




Evidence has mounted that gaming journalists from key publications like KotakuArs Technica and Polygon have been colluding with one another to control industry-wide news coverage, adding further credence to the widespread belief that biased agenda-pushing is running rampant in the field. According to reports from Breitbart, a number of high-profile journalists communicate with one another via a private Google Groups e-mail listing known as “Games Journo Pros“, where they discuss what to write about, what to include, and more importantly, what to omit. Breitbart, the eponymous blog of the late Andrew Breitbart, is known for its blend of investigative journalism which has been frequently accused by its critics of removing context when covering its subjects.

The reports indicate that writers actively discouraged other journalists to write about the Zoe Quinn scandal, which effectively uncovers the reason for the radio silence shortly after the news broke. Members of the group allegedly used their influence and standing in the industry to sort of intimidate other writers, pressuring other journalists to adhere to a moral code of ethics–and further chastising them should they disagree.

Games Journo Pros: Professional ethics, interrupted?

The group appears to be a sort of “online club” where prominent journalists come together to discuss the industry. But Games Journo Pros may be something more sinister and conspiratorial; it may very well be a means of directly controlling the content pushed out onto major publications. This means of dominating video games media falls in line with advocating, embracing and publishing content aligned with personal agendas, which invariably breaches journalistic integrity. There isn’t a clear defined line between professional and personal ethics; instead the result is a blurred mishmash that leads to mass censorship, moral advocacy, and the denouncement of readers–the very people that power the sites to begin with. The influence of the group is clearly defined by the players it involves–many of which have such high standings in the industry that they could easily pressure an entire populace of freelancers to “play ball”.  The group was brought to Breitbart’s attention thanks to a collective of e-mails from the Games Journo Pros group that implicate such key writers as Ars Technica‘s Kyle Orland, Polygon‘s Ben Kuchera, GamePolitics‘ James Fudge along with various freelancers and even members of the mainstream media.

‘Video games press isn’t broken, it’s just too tightly knit’

Based on the responses in the e-mails, it appears that the games journalism scene is incredibly exclusive and is its own self-perpetuating “boy’s club”, where everyone is friends with everyone and everyone is close.

When one writer, Ryan Smith, tried to ask the members of the group where they draw their lines in regards reporting on sexual controversies in the field, he was met with backlash from other members like Kotaku‘s Jason Schreier and Sarah LeBoeuf from The Escapist.

Ryan Smith (The Onion AV Club) Aug 19

But quick question: how did some of you decide to publish the Josh Mattingly story from earlier this year: that appeared to be based on a private conversation about sex. Where do you see the line being drawn? And how do you guys feel about the Snapchat CEO’s emails from college being a story?

I was also wondering if when some of you published stories about Zoe Quinn’s harassment — did you actually ask for evidence of said harassment or just go by what she wrote on Twitter.

Sarah LeBoeuf (The Escapist) Aug 19

Uh pretty big difference between “a private conversation about sex” and sexual harassment, which is what the Mattingly situation was.

Jason Schreier (Kotaku) Aug 19

If you don’t see the differences between a story about a journalist sending crude sexual messages to a game developer and a story about a game developer allegedly cheating on her boyfriend, I’m not sure what to tell you.

Ben Kuchera (Polygon) Aug 19

So you’re comparing writing about someone who sexually harassed a female developer, which is a disgraceful way to act, and covering someone who is being victimized to the point of not feeling safe in her home? Is that a real argument you’re trying to make?

Ryan Smith (The Onion AV Club) Aug 19

Hold on to your hats. I wasn’t equating the two at all. I was just asking where you guys draw the line.

Jason Schreier (Kotaku) Aug 19

I don’t know why you think there’s a line to be drawn. “Reporter at moderately-known games website sends sexually explicit messages to game developer who doesn’t want them” is a story. “Game developer allegedly cheats on her boyfriend” is not. That seems pretty simple to me.

Ryan Smith has also written an informative and eye-opening piece that delves into the “tight-knit” community that is games journalism, and how it “lacks critical distance”.

As Smith puts it, “What’s totally fair is the criticism of the relationships that members of the press maintain with not only certain game developers but with each other.”

Andy Eddy, Editor-in-Chief for @Gamer Magazine, echoed the group’s sentiment that Zoe Quinn’s possible breach of industry ethics shouldn’t be covered by any games media–and that they shouldn’t even “allow others to ruminate on it”.

Andy Eddy (@Gamer Magazine) Aug 19

My two cents: This is barely a game-industry story, no matter how some people want to frame it. This is a story about a person who happens to be in the game industry and their personal relationships (no matter how it may weave back into “the industry” and however poor the person’s judgments may have been) and public expose of private materials by that person’s partner as revenge, so I don’t think we, as games press, should support furthering the story by commenting, editorializing or even allowing others to ruminate on it.

Eddy further said that publications should avoid covering the topic even if it should generate hits. Interestingly enough, there are a swath of recent articles written about Zoe Quinn that “cash in” on the controversial nature of the scandal. It’s been a lucrative subject for these sites.

Andy Eddy (@Gamer Magazine) Aug 19

Personally, there are some lines I don’t think we should cross, and I’ve endeavored during my career to not go into those areas just for hit counts or reader numbers or “because people want to know.”

Kyle Orland (Ars Technica) even went so far as to say that Quinn receiving a boost in Patreon donations is “a silver lining”.

Kyle Orland (Ars Technica) Aug 19

Silver lining: Quinn is getting a bunch of new Patreon patrons today, apparently:

Kyle Orland has since delivered an apology on Ars Technica regarding the comments made in the group, and clarified a few things that may have been taken out of context.

Unearthing the Agendas

Breitbart’s columnist Milo Yiannopoulos has also recently published a dump of all of the received e-mails regarding the group’s discussions on the Zoe Quinn scandal. This collection all-but proves the discourse between group members on the subject, and folds quite neatly into the flurry of content and articles that leap to Quinn’s defense.

It appears that journalists are getting too close to the subject matter, and they’re sacrificing objectivity for a sense of moral authority. The long, winding batch of e-mails reinforces this sentiment quite clearly, as do the plethora of anti-GamerGate content plastered across various news media sites. It’ll be interesting to see how this information rocks the foundations of the industry, and what reformations are made to games journalism. Gaming remains a solid billion-dollar industry, and the media itself is largely responsible for its success, so these findings may not result in anything substantial in terms of ethical reinforcement.

How far does this go; are big-name publications colluding with industry giants? How far has this agenda-based bias spread across the field, and will it die down now that Game Journo Pros has been exposed?

Only time can tell, but for now, we know a little more about the games media and how it operates.

Original Author: Derek Strickland

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