Vertical Slice: So Called Journalism

Vertical Slice: So Called Journalism

by July 23, 2014

Journalism. – The activity or profession of writing for newspapers or magazines or of broadcasting news on radio or television.

Above is the Oxford Dictionaries’ definition of “journalism”. Browse the dictionary of any language and the word, whatever it translates to, will likely carry the same meaning. However it’s not a fitting explanation of what journalism truly is and the purpose it serves. For that I suggest the American Press Institutes’ extremely accessible and thorough article “What is journalism?”, an excerpt from which I have included below:

That value flows from [journalism’s] purpose, to provide people with verified information they can use to make better decisions, and its practices, the most important of which is a systematic process – a discipline of verification – that journalists use to find not just the facts, but also the “truth about the facts.

With this in mind, I find it odd when TSSZ readers attempt to criticise my Vertical Slice opinion pieces by labelling me a “so called journalist”.

Ironically it would seem that those TSSZ commenters who smugly encase the word “journalism” in quotation marks lack a firm understanding of what journalism actually is (hence my inclusion of the quotes above), after all:

I’m not a journalist – there is no games journalism.

In November 2013 I attended a talk at Birmingham City University, United Kingdom, titled “The consequences of exposing Savile”. As the title suggests, the talk featured renowned Irish journalist Donal MacIntyre interviewing Mark Williams-Thomas over the fallout that resulted from his historic exposé of high profile paedophile and sexual predator Jimmy Savile.

The lecture hall, full to the brim with enthusiastic journalism students, hung to Williams-Thomas’ every word as he explained the importance of journalism in uncovering and sharing the truth for the benefit of the people.

In Williams-Thomas’ mind, he didn’t simply expose Savile’s heinous acts of paedophilia, necrophilia, and sexual assault because he had the opportunity, he did it because he firmly believed it was his duty as a journalist.

So there I was, listening to a man who put his reputation and livelihood on the line to reveal to the people of the United Kingdom a truth many didn’t want to hear, and many had gone to great lengths to cover up. And there was “games journalism”, still reeling from the long overdue public backlash generated by Geoff Keighley’s infamous “Doritosgate” interview.

TSSZ Vertical Slice Doritos Pope

It was after the aforementioned talk that I began removing any self-reference that contained “videogame journalist” – a title I’d used only due to convention, and one I now found myself embarrassed to utter. It may sound like I experienced some sort of revelation or epiphany while at the talk. But in reality my confidence in the abilities of the gaming press was already waning due to my proximity to the videogame industry as news editor of Sega fan site Sega Addicts.

I took the position, which I held for roughly nine months in 2013, seriously. The rest of the Sega Addicts news writing staff and I had an opportunity to report truths that could better inform Sega’s customers and pressurise Sega into bettering its treatment of said customers. And as was the case with Mark Williams-Thomas, I took this opportunity as my duty – not to Sega, but to Sega’s fans.

But even during my relatively short time as Sega Addicts’ news editor, the quality of Sega’s response to direct inquires deteriorated to a point whereby asking them anything became a tiresome and unnecessary battle of wits.

No greater place is this exemplified than in my final feature article for Sega Addicts titled “Sonic, Sochi and Russia’s anti-gay crisis”. The article itself considers Sega’s ties to Russia’s ongoing anti-LGBT crisis through Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, with myself attempting to contact Sega via email for some sort of comment.

As expected, I never heard a single word from Sega regarding Sochi 2014, prompting my comparison of its non-response to its speedy replies to queries that painted the company in a more positive light. As of now the record is held by Sega’s Megan Davis who replied to an email about the yet-to-be-released Android version of Sonic Dash in a mere 1 minute 16 seconds.

TSSZ has also felt the brunt of Sega’s haphazard and inconsistent approach to public relations, as recounted by TSSZ veteran Ryan Bloom in a recent post on his personal blog. In his post, Bloom talks of the beginning of TSSZ’s erasure from Sega’s “good books” following his 2010 report on four images hosted on a completely unsecured beta version of the official Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing website. The images revealed the game’s previously unannounced character roster – resulting in Sega community manager Kellie Parker accusing Bloom of hacking.

TSSZ Vertical Slice Racing

The severity of Sega’s accusations would only increase after Bloom’s report. Days later Sega Europe community team member Kevin Eva officially requested the removal of the articles in question in their entirety, due to TSSZ’s supposed breach of Sega’s copyright, as well as TSSZ’s supposed implication in “additional legal issues”.

The clashes between Sega and TSSZ came to a head less than six months later when the latter reported on the infamous Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I video leaks originally shared by Sonic Retro. This particular Sonic community saga is worthy of its own article and is far too complex for me to summarise with any degree of brevity, especially considering that I was not involved with said community at the time. Tristan Oliver was of course at the forefront of this turmoil and explained its aftermath in a recent email:

I received rather boneheaded DMCA takedown requests from Sega of America’s internal lawyers over things not even related to the [Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I] content … things like checkerboard textures, or the original Sonic 4 logo that they had in their PR reserves for everyone to use.

I eventually received a call from Sega’s outside counsel, and that’s when I relented for the sake of not putting the rest of the team into the crosshairs. Lycett eventually talked to us for [Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing] Transformed. Kellie and Sega of America reps still won’t unless I ambush them during New York Comic Con.

I won’t fake comprehension of European or American copyright laws, however I think those of us familiar with the basic tenets of journalism will be aware of “fair use” – a doctrine that, in many parts of the world including the US and the EU, allows for the usage of copyrighted material without the permission of the rights holder by those engaged in certain activities, one of which being journalism. Unfortunately for Tristan, Sega’s barrage of legal threats led to him removing the articles containing the leaked Sonic 4: Episode I content, and thus his and the rest of the TSSZ news team’s ability to conduct proper journalism was, at that time, squashed.

sega_japan_business_header

Good journalism encourages political and commercial transparency and brings light to, and puts pressure on to, those committing technically legal, yet morally dubious acts. And as I wrote the very words of the previous sentence, I realised the potency of Mark Williams-Thomas’ still lingering memes, which I’ve since seen in truth seekers the world over, including Tristan Oliver in the closing passage of the Kevin Eva report:

As it stands, it is our principal responsibility to report on matters that you, our readers, care about. We are here first to inform, not to appease. With the combined efforts of a credible news tip, further independent research, and a repeated lackluster effort by Sega to simply protect its content, TSSZ News fulfilled its duty to inform on a matter most readers of this website care about.

Now ask yourself, would Tristan and the rest of the TSSZ news team like to have the same degree of leverage on Sega as major journalistic institutions have on governments and corporations around the world? I’m quite certain they would, and they have certainly been trying to attain such leverage for many years. But do they have it? I think not – the impenetrable nature of the videogame industry, specifically Sega’s PR, simply doesn’t allow for it.

And on that note, do I wish I had the opportunity, resources and journalistic skill set to run a full exposé on Sega and Gearbox regarding Aliens: Colonial Marines? Most definitely – it’s what the people deserve. But until the BBC, or another such institution, grants me a scholarship for a journalism degree, sends me to the US, and funds my undercover operation, it’ll remain my own personal fantasy.

I’m not a journalistthere is no games journalism.

So next time you attempt to refute an argument made in a future Vertical Slice article through the liberal usage of curly quotation marks, remember that I’m no more of a journalist than you are. Yes, I write about videogames and videogame culture, and get paid to do so, but it’s an act that requires no real journalism on my part. And to suggest that it does only acts to insult journalists whose work has, and will continue to, reveal truths that many would rather stay unseen.