Robert Florence was right to discuss the issue of journalistic standards, and those who don’t uphold them
The question of how close games writers are to their subject, and if that’s a correct thing has long been bandied about. It’s recently blown up again thanks to an article by Robert Florence for Eurogamer. He argued that the connection is far too close, and as a result the industry isn’t living up to the standards that should be expected of it.
By way of example, he mentioned a Twitter promotion during the Games Media Awards that invited the journalists present to tweet a hashtag for the chance to win a PS3. 66 of them obliged, and Florence reposted messages from one of the entrants who attempted to defend it, and another journalist who didn’t enter, but didn’t see the problem with it. When we’re discussing standards, that’s a totally fair thing to do. It’s probably best to let the extract speak for itself:
One games journalist, Lauren Wainwright, tweeted: “Urm… Trion were giving away PS3s to journalists at the GMAs. Not sure why that’s a bad thing?”
Now, a few tweets earlier, she also tweeted this: “Lara header, two TR pix in the gallery and a very subtle TR background. #obsessed @tombraider pic.twitter.com/VOWDSavZ”
And instantly I am suspicious. I am suspicious of this journalist’s apparent love for Tomb Raider. I am asking myself whether she’s in the pocket of the Tomb Raider PR team. I’m sure she isn’t, but the doubt is there. After all, she sees nothing wrong with journalists promoting a game to win a PS3, right?
Another journalist, one of the winners of the PS3 competition, tweeted this at disgusted RPS writer John Walker: “It was a hashtag, not an advert. Get off the pedestal.” Now, this was Dave Cook, a guy I’ve met before. A good guy, as far as I could tell. But I don’t believe for one second that Dave doesn’t understand that in this time of social media madness a hashtag is just as powerful as an advert. Either he’s on the defensive or he doesn’t get what being a journalist is actually about.
In the context of the article, this isn’t singling anyone out. It’s an example of how easy it is for people to say or do something that calls their integrity into question, and they might not even realise it. Yet Wainwright called the comment libellous, and her employers, Intent Media contacted Eurogamer asking for it to be taken down.
I think that it should be made clear here that Lauren Wainwright is not in fact the devil incarnate. Neither really is Michal French, the man who asked Eurogamer to remove the comments. I do though find it frankly to be an insane stretch to define Florence’s comments as ‘cruel’ as French suggested they were.
All that was done was to publish her own words, in the context of an article about journalistic standards and how easy it is for doubt to be cast on games writers integrity by their own actions. Florence doesn’t suggest that Wainwright herself is corrupt. He actually states that he’s sure she isn’t. Whether she is or not isn’t actually relevant, because what’s more important in this is people’s perceptions. And if neither Wainwright, French, or any of the others who rushed to defend her can’t see how what she posted on Twitter can very easily be read in an unflattering light then I’d suggest they need to re-assess their position.
It’s an unfortunate fact that games writers do not have a very good reputation. It’s not fair at all, but you only need to read the comments section of CVG’s Resident Evil 6 review to see that very little has to be done to see accusations of corruption get thrown at writers and publications. Because of this, you need to be very careful what you say and do. Not seeing the issue with PS3’s being given away to journalists in exchange for posting about a game on Twitter and publicly stating this is never going to look good.
It really doesn’t help either that subsequently her conflict of interest in regards to Square Enix has been revealed to be something more than just a writer adorning her Twitter with one of their unreleased games. She posted: “Just to clarify on Square Enix: I’ve done consultancy work for them. I’ve never reviewed the products”. Which would be fine was it not for the fact that, among other things, she reviewed Deus Ex: Human Revolution for The Sun. Nor does the removal of Square Enix as a former employer from her Jounalisted profile. I really do doubt that there is a conscious effort to deceive here, but it just doesn’t look good at all.
Ultimately, games writers need to be a lot more careful about what they say in a public space, and above all they need to think about how close their relationship is to their subject matter. It’s the job of PR to try and get the best possible promotion for the games they represent, but writers should be aware of this and try to limit the effect as much as they can.