Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Ramble Involving Personal Journalist Ethics & Other Random Stuff

...Well, so much for "This blog will not be updated after my next article"!

So yeah, some of you reading this may be wondering where the free video game review for this week is.

Honest truth? I looked over Steam on Sunday, having just got my internet back, and all I saw were a bunch of MMO style games that required a multiplayer audience. And, I’m not going to lie, I felt sick of it. I get why these games exist, but I’m sick of constantly having to hunt down free games, saying the same thing over and over again while the vast majority of developers just keep doing the same things again and again. With music, it doesn’t feel like a chore for me (I love learning about new bands and hearing new stuff, so I’m not going to burn out doing that any time soon!), but, with video games, I just feel like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel. You could fairly put this down to exasperation that there was no quick and easy game to cover after a week that mostly comprised me furiously trying to do what I want to do, but, well...there’s more to this story.

I’ve talked several times in the past about my former editor for the site The Unheard Voices (I will not reveal her name out of respect to her privacy, especially considering she has left the internet over the course of the last week) and, while I’ve gone in a direction that I imagine she might not approve of due to me focusing on receiving promos over the last few months while she has always focused on independent reviewing, I have always kept to the spirit of the journalistic ethics that she taught me about: do the research from respectable sources which can be verified, do not accept gifts in exchange for review copies or to change a review, show respect to those being covered, interviewed or worked alongside regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, ethnic background, etc. and stuff like that. One could argue that receiving promo copies of albums is arguably bending the rules a bit, considering my role on the site is not purely administrative or PR focused, and I would concede that a fair point is being made if such a point is raised, but I would also counter that being an independent reviewer means that you have to blur the lines between being a reviewer, PR person, administrative figure and editor. You have to be a one man company and you have to be able to operate with the professionalism one would expect from such a definition, so it is not entirely fair to run on the logic that being an independent reviewer means you cannot also receive promo copies of albums.

Some may notice that I deliberately refer to myself as a reviewer as opposed to being a journalist. This is not to say that I do not find non-review content enjoyable to do or could not do it: I just feel that my bread and butter are reviews, as they do not require much beyond a laptop with writing software and music playing software on them and, if you’re researching the band being covered, access to the internet. You could fairly argue that I am basically a journalist, but I personally feel the distinction to be an important and valuable one, as “reviewer” implies that the core of my writing is reviews (which it is) while “journalist” implies that the core of my writing is information based pieces (which I have done in the past, but they do not comprise the majority of what I write by any measure, unless you decide to be a bit nitpicky and say that a review is technically an information based piece in that I’m informing a reader about an album and my personal thoughts on it).

However, I digress.
Part of the reason I opted to write this article rather than force myself to play yet another multiplayer game I had no interest in is due to something my former editor posted on her website (which is unlikely to ever be updated from now on due to the wording of it making it fairly clear that she has no intention of returning to writing, but I’m still going to keep the link to the article to myself out of respect for her privacy). To make a long story short, she stated that she has grown tired of how the still-ongoing GamerGate controversy has brought out some of the worst aspects of journalists today. To quote from a section of her post:

Gaming journalism, at it’s core, isn’t a bad thing, but it is lost and rotten. It needed to start fresh and new.

So far this year I’ve had my name slandered, I’ve been doxxed, I’ve been stalked, I’ve had to get the police involved in my life, I’ve been nearly driven to suicide, and at the end of it what did I find?

That as long as someone panders to the reader they’ll get the ad revenue they need. They’ll get the money they need. They’ll get the popularity they need. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle they’re on. Sadly, from this journalist’s perspective, it’s all the same. Just one side yelling at another, and it’s exhausted me.

...I find myself hating it again. Hating the writing. Hating trying to change things. Hating wanting things to be better and finding that if I’m not slinging shit, then I’m considered an unethical journalist somehow. That I must be on the side of the “liberal media” because I refuse to take a side when it comes to reporting the truth.

The long and short of it is: I remember now why I got out of writing in the first place. Because it creates the worst kind of hollow place inside of me to watch something I love become some monster that I don’t recognise.

How much of that you’ll agree with, if any, will boil down to how much you’ve been paying attention to the gaming scene in the last two years. I have already made it very obvious where I stand on GamerGate in the past (I hate the unpleasant behaviour on both sides, but both sides are raising valid points that I feel are unfair to ignore entirely), but the thing that I feel is worrying is that it’s been two years since the GamerGate controversy started to dominate Twitter (for gamers, at least) and yet it hasn’t burnt itself out. It’s still violently ongoing now, and it’s very easy to sit here and wonder whether there is ANYONE in the gaming media who has even an ounce of common sense or journalistic integrity. While there are good independent voices out there who refuse to take a side on the matter, the majority of games journalist sites seem just happy to have a regular source of content with which to exploit for financial gain (if not in the articles, then in the sheer number of people returning to the site to keep the angry arguments about the debate going and counting as page clicks for ad revenue as a result).

Speaking as someone who has done his best to avoid taking a side (one could probably argue that I lean more being anti-GamerGate due to my habit of mistrusting GamerGate as a result of unpleasant incidents related to them, but the journalistic ethic points they raise are ones I find myself in agreement with, so you could equally argue that I lean towards being pro-GamerGate), I feel that this is absolutely deplorable behaviour, and I find myself feeling that the games media and gamers themselves should be doing more to finally put this ongoing controversy to rest. The games media, if necessary, should have a hardline “no GG discussions” rule, not to prevent the discussions from happening, but to avoid profiting off of a controversy that does not need to have practically become a financial lifeline for some places, and gamers should stop screaming at each other and take a few seconds to go “What are they ACTUALLY saying and is it actually important, regardless of the source of it?” instead of going “You’re not on my side, so shut the fuck up!” and continuing the argument all because they go for the knee jerk reaction that is so immature and childish.

Is that too much to ask? Well, I don’t see anyone trying to meet the other side in the middle or saying “You know what? I am not on your side, but you’re right!”, so draw your own conclusions from that.

That, however, is not what the core of this article is about. While this was certainly a factor in my disgust at how the games media has descended into childish mud slinging and has made me VERY strongly inclined to drop doing video game reviews entirely out of protest at being part of a gaming scene like this one (I won’t do that, but this week’s lack of a review will NOT be caught up upon, as I feel speaking my mind is more important on this one than the review would have been), it also made me stop and think on the album promos I get and made me ask myself what my ethics are for journalism.

At the end of the day, I do the music reviews I do because I love music. It isn’t exactly a job for me (I don’t get paid to do the reviews I do), but it is fair to say that I blur the lines a bit between enthusiastic amateur reviewer and unpaid professional reviewer. Part of this is actually somewhat justified, as I would really like to be a professional music reviewer, but I also like the flexibility that independence offers which I wouldn’t get if I was working for, say, Metal Hammer: I don’t have to worry too much about ad revenue being pulled if I say I dislike an album that the magazine has been hyping up or being fired for saying an album didn’t do anything for me, I can allow myself opportunities to explore other genres of music which I wouldn’t normally be allowed to talk about if I worked for a genre specific site (I still like folk and country music when I’m not listening to metal and I can quite enjoy funk and disco when I hear them) and it gives me the ability to separate my writing from my personal life in a way which being a member of Metal Hammer’s review staff probably wouldn’t if I find it gets overwhelming or that I need a break.

The important thing, for me, is my ethics. While it is easy to take the viewpoint that being independent means that I have no rules to tie me down, I’d argue that being an independent journalist requires you to actually be able to follow the same rules that you would if you were in a professional environment, but without the supervision that the professional environment has built into it. So what I’m going to do is spell out my ethics, if only so that people know what rules I operate under. 
  • I do not make cheap shots that have deliberate malice behind them. I will occasionally make digs towards artists, but they’re either easy targets who I have no personal dislike against (usually, they’re just not to my taste, but nothing I actively dislike) or they’re actually artists who I like and felt the dig against would be amusing to those who actually know me.
  • I do not deliberately make political or religious comments unless they are relevant to what I am covering. I have no interest in politics and religion and, as such, it is not my place to force my viewpoints on them onto other people. I am a music critic, not a political/religious commentator, and to talk about them as if I was without it being relevant to what I am reviewing would be wrong.
  • I respect those who disagree with me on my assessment of something, providing they show me the same respect. I am not an endless fountain of knowledge, do make mistakes and have my own personal likes and dislikes, so, if I post something which is flawed due to not showing awareness of a detail which is vital to shaping an opinion on something, post something which is based on errors or post something where my personal likes and dislikes have unfairly tainted my opinion on something, you are allowed to respectfully explain what you think I’ve done wrong and I will consider whether to adjust the article in light of the new evidence.
  • I do not share details which I feel are confidential or will be used to justify hatred towards someone, nor do I talk about private details related to someone without making sure that their right to privacy is respected.
  • If I cover anything which I received a promo copy of, I disclose this and reveal the source of the copy.
  • I treat those who provide promo copies with respect, even if I don’t necessarily show it in my emails. This could be argued as being a business move in some viewpoints, but I know that PR companies and the like have to work hard to get the albums they do and work hard to provide them to critics and yet the vast majority of them receive no recognition for their work among most people. To me, though, their work is part of the glue that holds the music industry together and I will never take their work for granted.
  • I treat promo copies with the strictest of confidentiality and do not disclose what I have received as a promo to anyone who is not a member of the site until the review goes up.
  • If I perceive a conflict of interest in relation an article that I am working on, I will cease work on the article and pass it along to someone else. If I have to do the article, I will disclose the conflict of interest.
  • I do not accept bribes. Not even if the bribe is asking me to do something I was going to do anyway.
  • I will never accept a promo if a condition is attached to it that will influence my review UNLESS that condition matches what I was expecting to say anyway and is not one that is open for abuse (so, I may accept a promo requesting I give a 6/10 minimum for early publication if the later deadline is still more than a week before the album’s release, the material provided indicates that I will really like the record anyway and the band is one which I have not been disappointed by in the past). Even then, I will disclose the conditions attached to the promo and urge readers to wait for the later reviews to be sure that my voice is not a part of the minority of critics.
  • I NEVER treat a poor record as an excuse to hate an artist, nor do I regard popularity as a factor in the expected quality of a record. 
That’s basically all the rules I follow regarding my journalist stuff boiled down in a nutshell. Some people may be asking “Why have those rules?”

Quite simply, because I know what a professional critic has to be like and I want to be like them. I also want to be better than the critics who use their reviews to spout their own opinions on completely unrelated topics at the expense of the actual review (, that’s not a dig against Moviebob, why do you ask?) or fill their reviews with vitriol purely because what they’re hearing isn’t a flawless masterpiece of virtuoso, genre defying performances (generic just means that what is being played follows the expected rules of the genre, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: one can be completely unoriginal and still highly enjoyable, after all!).

I also hold those rules because I want to be taken seriously. Let’s face it, in the internet age, anyone can claim to be a reviewer and anyone can do so through playing up everything wrong with a product. But pointing out what a product does right and wrong and how to improve it for its target audience is actually more in line with what a real critic is, as a critic doesn’t go into something wanting to hunt down flaws or poke fun at it: they want to see how it holds up for what it is, pointing out what it does well and what it doesn’t do well. To point out an obvious bit of internet stuff for people: the Angry Video Game Nerd and the Nostalgia Critic are NOT what a serious critic should be (in fact, both of their creators, James Rolfe and Doug Walker, have outright said that they’re not meant to be serious critics, with the former even being a parody of gamers who complain about everything with games).

So yeah, hopefully this ramble will have proven a few things.

...Don’t worry, I will be doing the Free Video Game Review for next week, regardless of what I have to cover for it. I just needed to get this out of my system!

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