On gaming journalism and mass media

Originally posted via twitlong, 8 Sept. 2014


I say part 1 because I’m positive I’ll revisit this at some point in the next few days. I have a lot to say and there’s a lot of ground to cover, so I’ll get straight to it despite not exactly knowing the best place to start. I had a conversation via Twitter last week about this, and have been ruminating about it ever since.

Gaming journalism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a niche press in entertainment media, and as such is a microcosm of mass media. Many of the issues games journalism face — yellow press, clickbait, a degradation of standards, a shift to a “blogging” model, the eradication of the wall of separation between news, editorial, and advertising — are faced by outside media fiefdoms and outlets as well. And, like within gaming journalism there is increasing pushback by consumers against these issues and mass media’s inability to handle them to the benefit of the consumer.

To illustrate the point and for a brief humor break that is much needed, I would direct you to this piece by John Oliver on his new show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”:


On the other hand, gaming journalism is a new fiefdom in entertainment media. It is barely thirty years old, and for the majority of its existence existed solely to advertise games. It has only been in the last decade, approximately, that games have been seriously considered a contender as a form of art, and only in the last five years approximately that games have been considered as art in greater social and cultural context. There is a lot of room for gaming journalism to grow, and an accompanying intense pressure for it to grow which has led it to perhaps grow too quickly for its own good, and in the context of gaming journalism as a microcosm of mass media in all the wrong ways.

Is it any wonder gaming journalism is the first to crack, facing the dual pressure?

I say “first to crack” deliberately. It is apparent mass media is evolving yet again in the digital age, if not on the cuff of a paradigm shift in how news and editorial content is produced and consumed. When the information age began, mass media in the face of revenue loss transitioned from print to digital, maintaining the same business models that served them well in print; large, horizontally- and vertically-integrated, consolidated outlets running subscription or fee-based service, supplemented by advertising revenue. Subscription-based or fee-based models went quickly by the wayside, leaving only advertising as a source of revenue. Now, smaller, independent outlets (the “fifth estate”) arise, decentralizing news media production and consumption, catering to niche audiences in the course.

No small part of why the fifth estate threatens the fourth is due to the very problems with which I opened this post. Clickbait and yellow press, like it or not, is popular; smaller outlets lack the clout and resources to attract professionals with experience, or provide them logistic support. Yet, somehow the fifth estate continues to grow, and the fourth must adapt its strategies to remain competitive. It is, in essence, a race to the bottom in terms of standards of quality, and it’s unsustainable.

Where does gaming journalism fit into this? It never in any real sense had a “fourth estate”; it had extensions of triple-A companies’ PR departments. When the “fifth estate” rose, gaming journalism was already close to “the bottom” and had no place to go but “down”, at a period it was expected to go “up”, culminating in Gamergate.

I would scarcely be surprised to see Gamergate-like revolts against the media by consumers in other fiefdoms in the coming years. These will be interesting times.