Our lovely editor compiled his thoughts on the funding of games writing a few days ago. He defined “good” games journalism by tying it to profitability. This is a viable metric for determining the relevance of a journalist’s content to the public, and of course it’s good to write relevant content.
But it takes a lot of indisputably good writers and lumps them into a big bad closet. I can’t rest there.
I study journalism in school. Therefore, my point of view is loaded with academic idealism. I believe journalism is truthful at its finest, and yellow at its worst. This determines whether a public should trust its perspective.
My major is literally called Public Affairs Journalism. So, what are public affairs?
If a video game is coming out, I should write up a preview. The public should know how the game is shaping up so they can prioritize their attention.
If a game has been released, I ought to review it so that a public who has agreed with me in the past, or a public who has agreed with the publication in the past, or even a public who is willing to trust any old person, can decide whether or not they are interested in playing it.
If I think a video game has a dated perspective on gender politics, I should write an editorial about it. Maybe I’ll do a full report if I could find enough different voices to talk with me about the issue. I do this all for the public, who I judge would find some truth among all the sources.
When it comes to the latter, there’s plenty of potential for disagreement; I couldn’t possibly fit every viewpoint into that report, much less could I play devil’s advocate enough to make an editorial worth reading. Odds are if I post it to 4chan, no matter how thorough I am, I’ll get a bunch of critical responses.
But those negative responses are worth their weight in gold. To me, a reaction is cause for their own reflection. Reflection cleans up our brains and makes them bear fruit. Not every reaction will cause reflection, but I have a duty to create that potential.
What is my definition of good journalism then? It’s truthful writing that serves the public. Suddenly, a lot of writers are respected again and the world feels nicer. So I’m going to keep using that definition.
But this runs counter to why the public read! I’m a journalist, so I’m always thinking about this stuff. After all, readers are readers are readers. What I think is pressing might not pique their interest. There’s the rub: you can’t serve a public who won’t read what you write. Moreover, a public who doesn’t read what you write won’t pay you to write it. You’ve just got to hope the right people take your bait.
Your editors are hoping too, since they’ve got their eye on ad revenue. A little public is only profitable if it’s a consistent draw, enough to balance out its size. If you believe you are doing a strong service for the public in your writing, that is perfectly fine. It’s just tougher to get new people to read and react unless you evangelize. If you evangelize, you are also fighting against a current who doesn’t either believe or care about what you’re saying unless you can really sell it. It’s a risk for the outlet to trust that you will build a flock.
Writers with different outlooks are emerging in the press, but usually as columnists and not regular contributors. It’s a shame, because they serve the public by offering a fuller truth for them to reflect upon.
Then, the junior salaried positions are filled by the whim of profitability. Whatever fish swims the trimmest makes the cut. Also, whichever fish is a white male. The circle of patriarchy. But this isn’t a place for me to talk; ask me and I can point you to other places to learn more about diversity struggles.
In this way, the press serves the same public it always has. It’s reliable for them, but who knows what the future holds. It’s not a stretch to imagine the fall of gaming publications that are frustratingly samey.
This stuff isn’t the marginalized writers faults. They are still good journalists, even if they aren’t making enough money to support themselves with their writing. They’re serving the public, all the same. As long as they do that, they deserve to be read, and they deserve to be making money.
But the field is only so big. A writer is bound to take a few knocks based on impartial budget concerns. And I guess that’s where I’ll leave things, with a question I can’t answer: how do we support this volume of writers when more and more of them get better and better every day?
Regardless, these writers will find success because they serve the public. They will not become good by being successful.