There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about the financial viability of game journalism – every day, more and more journalists are turning to Patreon as an alternative means of funding. This has inevitably led to cries that the system is broken. Well known figures such as Brendan Keogh or Leigh Alexander have said that “good” journalists aren’t earning a decent living, and that more must be done to fix this.
But these people are wrong: the system is not broken. “Good” journalists do earn decently. “Bad” journalists don’t. Let’s explore this.
The issue rests on the definition of “good”. The aforementioned people are using “good” to mean “produces good quality, interesting content”, but I would redefine this. A “good” journalist is one who produces content that people read. If people are reading your content, you are, by default, a “valuable” employee of whatever publication you’re working for – you are bringing in readers and generating advertising revenue.
On the other hand, those who write interesting but less-popular content are not “good” journalists – they are not fulfilling their duty of producing content that will be read. There is little-to-no incentive for a publication to bring them on and pay them – their content is unprofitable. Thus the system we currently live in works: “good” journalism is widely read and profitable, and thus “good” journalists are rewarded accordingly.
One can take issue with this, but then one is taking issue with the entire idea of capitalism – a far deeper matter that cannot be fixed by game journalists. I’m sure it would be lovely to live in a world where the quality of a piece determined its value – but that’s not the world we live in. In any capitalist society, “goodness” is defined by its monetary value. Game journalism is no different.
Thus those journalists who are turning to Patreon are, frankly, not “good” journalists. They need to produce content that more people will read – they need to be “better”. That doesn’t make Patreon a bad thing, necessarily. It’s simply an alternative funding scheme. But in the traditional journalism economy, everything is working exactly as it should do.