What Was I Thinking?

Am I Destroying Games Journalism?

with 16 comments

I was propping up the bar tonight after a games event, as I am wont to do. Got chatting with a few freelance journalists in games and other industries when the conversation came around to how bloggers are now being invited to PR events, writing about games for free and thereby destroying the career option for freelancers.

I am paraphrasing, of course, but that’s the gist of it. So, always one to gather opinions from my personally-curated echo chamber, I put the question out to Twitter:

Quick question: Are blogs destroying games journalism?
@weefz

Perhaps I am naïve – I was honestly expecting this to float away into the ether like most of my off-the-cuff questions. It’s hardly an original debate but responses came back thick and fast from gamers, consultants, bloggers, freelancers and non-games copywriters. I got several flat-out “No”s and a few more nuanced opinions.

No. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the cream always rises. Bad games journalism is the only thing bad for games journalism. Everyone has the right to express their opinion, be it in blog form or otherwise. The good stuff gets spread by word of mouth… the bad stuff fades into the eternal din of the Internet. I can’t see any link to a degradation of games journalism. The notion that it does smacks of elitism if you ask me. Some of the most well rounded opinions come from amateur bloggers & podcasters IMHO :)
@TheSonicMole, 2, 3, 4

I’d say bad game sites are destroying games journalism, and bad game blogs are destroying good ones.
@NintendoTheory

There are too many of all of them. Neither are destroying each other, but the numbers of them might.
@angryjedi

You could ask the same of all sorts of journalism. Surely the two should exist side by side in holistic bliss.
@whatjosaid

Depends on the blog me thinks. One or two of the big ones have gotten awful of late but there are still some good ones.
@JosephBarron

I don’t think so, I usually read mainstream gaming sites first over blogs.
@Boogalord

Is FOX News destroying mainstream journalism?
@distraet

Blogs is a loose term. Major newspapers, magazines & corporations all have blogs. Quality ranges as wildly as their respective topic
@crazycraven

Only the bland ones rehashing press releases, but the same is true of the big sites
@MealtimeStrateG

They have been for years! Thankfully sites like AVGamer & various others are pushing on with a quality threshold. That’s all that’s been missing. A blog has no editor, no one to moderate, fact check or verify content for accuracy etc.
@origamikid, 2

All very interesting and valuable information. On the topic of blog vs mainstream, I think Jo’s and Si’s opinions (@whatjosaid and @TheSonicMole) are probably closest to mine – we can coexist perfectly well as entities and quality work will shine. That’s not quite what I meant though – the issue lies on the business side. Is the plethora of coverage garnered from unpaid games bloggers ruining careers for full-time freelancers and journalists by providing an alternative, potentially cheaper venue for PR teams to flog their wares?

I rephrased my question but here’s a bit of background info. I’ve been told that over the past few years, RyanAir has introduced a practice where new pilots have to do 500 hours of unpaid flight time for the company before they will be offered a permanent contract. This takes about 9 months of real time. At the end of that service, the pilot might be offered a permanent role, or s/he could be turfed out to make way for the next poor sap willing to work 9 months for free. Other airlines have seen this practice work and followed suit. Glad I never wanted to be a commercial pilot.

Question 2:

Different take: are blogs destroying games journalism as a viable career option, the way RyanAir has broken aviation? – @weefz

Here are some of the responses:

Blogs aren’t, crap games & over zealous PR firms/ marketing departments are.
@leongreen

They just need to buck their ideas up. Because there’ll always be someone on their tail. Just like any business…
@CamGuin

I have to say yes :). It’s sad really but when it is so easy to do as it is now it is inevitable that it would happen.
@Fusion_Gamer

Only for those who think ‘games journalism’ is rewriting press release emails and ‘sourcing’ news from other blogs. It’s a filter.
@MealtimeStrateG

No. Manipulative PR people strategically granting access only to outlets likely to praise their game, is ruining games journalism.
@chrisvandergaag

No. Games journalism only has itself to blame.
@mr_elmore

Lots of disdain for a certain type of PR attitude here, even as we all depend upon PRs for our content. And that’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it? As I understand it, most games websites depend upon advertising for revenue. Some also get money from syndicating their content to other media sites who, in turn, generate money from advertising. Who advertises on games websites? Games companies. Who provides the content? Games companies. Everybody knows this.

So ultimately, we’re either in the pay of games companies or we’re not being paid at all. Yes, some of us bloggers and independent sites are lucky enough to be invited to events. That’s content-side. It’s not the same as diverting revenue. Freelance journalists may be getting paid less than they were 5 years ago but that money certainly isn’t going to the bloggers. We write because we want to. We write because we don’t feel represented by the work published on established games websites. Hell, I started The Average Gamer in 2005 just to share my thoughts and only this year have started working with PRs and turning it into a profitable source of income.

Independent blogging isn’t destroying games journalism as a career. We’re just shifting the focus.

Is everyone being overly dramatic or are we all on the threshold of mutually assured destruction? I’d love to see your opinion in the comments section below..

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Written by Weefz

23 May, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Posted in games

Tagged with , , , ,

16 Responses

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  1. Well written. I agree wholeheartedly with TheSonicMole.

    escoblades

    24 May, 2011 at 9:45 am

  2. Sarcastic, cynical journalist aside, if blogging didn’t exist, our personal work and writing skills would never get noticed, there was a time when if you wanted to write for a publication, you physically wrote to the publication house, nowadays the industry has shifted so much that publishers use the format of blogs and even forums to scout new talent, I believe that if you write in public and you writing is strong then you will get noticed and ‘major’ publications will want to hire/employ you. I wouldn’t say that blogs destroy the industry, if you work is good (in any profession) people will be willing to pay you for it. I have even had my writing skills noticed in a general forum once!

    We do what we do (blogging and reviewing the games) because we love this industry, we write what we write because we care, we’re not trying to steal anyone’s job or ruin the possibility of Games Journalist as a real career choice because if any of us thought that blogging would damage the industry, we’d stop.

    Personally, if I thought that my blog was damaging the industry of Games Journalism or even reducing the prospect of my earning money from doing something I utterly love, I’d pack thing up today.

    I think that bad blogs (probably like mine – http://bit.ly/mRIA8Q) and pointless journalism sites will eventually fade into obscurity as with most media.

    Now, this caffeine fuelled rant may have gotten slightly off topic but that’s my thought on this. A very well written and interesting piece, I wish I’d have thought of it! :-)

    Mike Smith

    24 May, 2011 at 10:19 am

    • Thanks Mike, I agree completely. I feel that while the rise of blogging may have increased the exposure of talented writers and therefore the competition for journalist jobs, blogs in themselves are not poaching money from anyone. As JBonner71 says below, it’s exploitative business owners that cause problems. I don’t know the circumstances that lead Site D to make that kind of offer but I’m guessing revenue is problem for everyone right now.

      Weefz

      24 May, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    • Thanks Mike, I agree completely. I feel that while the rise of blogging may have increased the exposure of talented writers and therefore the competition for journalist jobs, blogs in themselves are not poaching money from anyone. As JBonner71 says below, it’s exploitative business owners that cause problems. I don’t know the circumstances that lead Site D to make that kind of offer but I’m guessing revenue is problem for everyone right now.

      Weefz

      24 May, 2011 at 7:26 pm

  3. Over the past couple of years, I’ve really been struggling with this issue myself. I’m a writer who has written for many of the bigger gaming entities out there (EGM, 1UP, GamePro, What They Play, Ars Technica and Retro Gamer…just to name a few) and the amount of “real” paying jobs has drastically declined because, in my opinion, of two things: 1. the crap economy and 2. the “hobbyist” mentality of people willing to work for free for the unbelievable glut of video game Web sites out there ready to take advantage of that fact.

    If you want to start your own blog and scribble down whatever random thoughts you have regarding the latest and greatest games, have at it. Do it and do it well, my friend! And if the PR types want to invite those bloggers to their events, then so be it. I don’t agree with it…but so be it, That’s their prerogative. They need to get their Kool-Aid to anyone and everyone who will drink it.

    What really grinds my gears are the sites that post “jobs” that do not pay. And no, the promise of free games/swag and/or a pay per click model are not getting paid, thank you very much. If you want to run a reputable business, you PAY the people who work for you. The standard models that work for (freelance) journalists are an agreed upon flat rate or a per word arrangement.

    You don’t get something for nothing in this world; it just doesn’t work that way, I’m sorry. Case in point, a few weeks ago I exchanged rather odd emails with a very well known and well respected video game site (their name begins with the letter “D”). The head of the site emailed me a few times and even had a couple of their more well-know editors email me to extol the virtues of the site and tell me how I would really fit in, etc. All that flattery is nice, everyone likes to hear that people enjoy their work. But, when it came down to it, they didn’t want to pay me one, thin dime. After I pressed them a bit, they said that they make “very little” money and that the best they could do was throw out some vague promises of “something down the line” if one of the other editors fucking died or something. I politely declined to join them and when on my merry way…

    Going away, I couldn’t help but think that they were either massively full of shit or the worst business people in the world because there is no way this site (again, if I wrote the name, everyone in the gaming industry would know it) isn’t making money….and, as far as I know, they are owned by a larger media entity.

    So, to sum up…no, I don’t think that bloggers, in and of themselves, are the problem. There are a lot of factors at work here, greed and exploitation being the most prevalent.

    Sorry to ramble like this but, as you can tell, this issue really pisses me off on various levels.

    Jbonner71

    24 May, 2011 at 11:56 am

  4. ‘Professional’ games journalism will only be threatened by blogs that provide better quality content than their sites and magazines. There’s a simple solution to that threat – pay better for better content, poach the best bloggers for your own outlets. The big sites and magazines have everything slanted in their favour at the moment – the big exclusives, the ad revenue, the virtual and actual shelf space. If they can manage to lose out to blogs under those circumstances then it can only be because their content is poor.

    Mark Clapham

    24 May, 2011 at 12:54 pm

  5. Having read Jbonner71’s post I can sympathise, and certainly if Site D is who I think it is then they should adopt some professional practices or go work in a bank instead, but the reality of most middling web operations is that they make very little money and are lucky to not make a loss.

    I co-edit one such site, a little media reviews site with various contributors that updates a couple of times a week. We operate on people writing about what they want to write about because they want to, and are always aware that our writers do so as a favour. I don’t see a problem with that providing everyone’s in agreement. Site D’s sin seems to be that it pretends to be a major professional organisation on the outside while operating like amateurs on the inside, which is pretty poor.

    I’ve been writing in different fields professionally since the late 90s and it’s always been hard to maintain an income, and publishers have always wanted to pay as little as they can, or preferably get content for free. There are also a lot of genuinely small operations who barely tick over.

    I’ve always balanced three factors when accepting a job – creative freedom, level of payment and usefulness of exposure. I’ll accept a low rate of pay, or even no-pay, if the gig is something I really want to do or is going to be particularly well placed. Equally I’ll write pretty much anything for a good word rate, regardless of who will ever see it. What I’ll never do is bang away at an un/low paid gig for ages if I’m not finding it rewarding either creatively in career terms, because that’s when I’m being exploited, knowingly or unknowingly, by a publisher.

    If bloggers do what they want out of love, and with a reasonable assessment of the exposure they’ll get for their writing, then there isn’t a problem. If they allow themselves to become unpaid content farms for big publishers then they not only do the rest of us, but themselves as well, a great disservice.

    Mark Clapham

    24 May, 2011 at 1:18 pm

  6. Well said, Mark, and I couldn’t agree more!

    Jbonner71

    24 May, 2011 at 1:36 pm

  7. Readers are destroying games journalism.

    Or, rather, a public that is unwilling to pay for the media products that it consumes are destroying games journalism.

    Emily

    24 May, 2011 at 2:14 pm

  8. Emily – do you mean in terms of readers preferring free blog coverage to magazines they need to pay for, or in terms of people ripping off content via scan sites and the like? Because the former I don’t think is a problem, whereas the latter definitely is.

    Mark Clapham

    24 May, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    • Ripping content. It’s happening in various forms across media formats and people don’t seem to care that it takes a lot of time and effort to produce media texts.

      Emily

      24 May, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      • Absolutely agree. It pisses me off no end that I can’t google books I’ve written/written for to check something without throwing up numerous torrent links to steal my own work. It’s a hard problem to deal with, but surely it must be possible for the search engines to deprioritise what are very obvious piracy sites, rather than pushing them to the top of the results?

        Mark Clapham

        24 May, 2011 at 2:30 pm

  9. These are all excellent points and it’s nice to see that this post has stirred the pot, as it were!

    Now let’s discuss how my living on the East Coast of the US, has cost me…oh, I don’t know about 27 jobs in the video game industry.

    Jbonner71

    24 May, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    • Yeah, I meant to ask you about this. I know that over here there’s a definite advantage to living in London but it’s still possible to work as a game journalist elsewhere in the country. What’s it like over your way?

      Weefz

      31 May, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      • Working freelance from anywhere is fine…but if you want a “real” job in the industry you pretty much have to live on the West Coast, with a real bias leaning towards San Francisco based people. I know for a fact that I’ve lost out on many jobs because I live on the East Coast. And that goes for game development and well as journalism.

        Jbonner71

        1 June, 2011 at 6:30 am

  10. […] And because I’m a shameless self-promoter, I shall point out that this is just another ugly side to the gaming press’s dependency on PRs for content that I talked about in my personal blog last week. That’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it? …Who advertises on games websites? Games companies. Who provides the content? Games companies. Everybody knows this. – Debbie Timmins, Am I Destroying Games Journalism? […]


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