Should “Venomous” Journalists Feel Untouchable?

Should “Venomous” Journalists Feel Untouchable?

Duke Nukem Forever has finally been released, and many of the reviews aren’t exactly charitable towards Gearbox Software’s newest game. Some are indeed so viciously negative that it’s rather hard to take them seriously.

Unfortunately someone did take them seriously, and The Redner Group (the PR firm that handles the promotion of Duke Nukem Forever) reacted via Twitter in a rather unbecoming way, as Joel already and aptly described in his article on the issue.

On one side, it’s definitely not amusing nor edifying to see publishers and PR firms trying to pressure journalists with the perspective of denying future review copies (and in fact an apology has been immediately issued), but on the other side…

Yes. There is another side and Duke Nukem Forever is just the tip of that Iceberg.

Some say that many writers are scared to be too harsh, and that’s actually true. But for any scared journalist there’s one that feels untouchable and regularly goes way too far in his negativity, especially when he feels that doing so will bring more controversy, and with it more visibility.  Some of the rants I’m reading on Duke Nukem‘s latest gig (but not only) go beyond the review and drop dead into the gratuitous mudslinging in order to grab more hits in the increasingly competitive online gaming journalism business.

Quite often such deliberate operations aren’t even aimed at poor or mediocre games, but even at good ones, since giving a scathing review to a popular title (regardless of it’s quality) is a very effective way to stir trouble and grab attention.

This doesn’t mean that I think that gaming journalists should be PR machines at the service and call of publishers and developers, but the harsh reality is that publishers and their PR firms send out review codes in order to promote a game and sell more copies, not out of the goodness of their heart.

That’s why I wouldn’t really be surprised if some publishers would start to look not so fondly towards websites and writers that go out of their way to do their attention grabbing at the expense of the publishers themselves.  Mind you, I wouldn’t even feel the slightest bit outraged.

When writing the review of a game, it’s advisable to leave considerations like “If i give this a two, the crowd on N4G will be all over it!” out of the door. Unfortunately I’m seeing more and more writers that seem to decide their scores (and the amount of nerdrage displayed in their articles) more on that parameter than on the actual quality of the game, while others stress too much on their personal vindictive feelings at the expense of the fair assessment of a game’s quality or lack of thereof, doing a disservice to their readers in the process.

In the end a gaming journalist (like any journalist) is given quite a bit of power as an opinion leader in this market, but as uncle Ben used to say “With great power comes great responsibility”.  Too many writers tend to forget that part about “responsibility”. A gaming journalist’s responsibility is to be fair and balanced, leaving the venom and instrumental controversy out of his reviews, because in the end he’s judging and publicly criticizing someone else’s hard work.

This doesn’t mean that a gaming journalist should be excessively lenient, but he should embrace that professional integrity that so often is missing in this industry, and most definitely shouldn’t feel untouchable when he’s going out of his way to try and make himself more popular at the expense of others.

Venom and sensationalism belong to yellow journalism. I personally doubt that’s the example fledgling (or even veteran) gaming writers should follow.