By John Walker on October 30th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.
Last week, as some may have noticed, Robert Florence wrote a piece for Eurogamer, criticising the appearance of corruption amongst some in the gaming press. Stressing that he believes the vast majority of writers are good and honest, he pointed out – inspired by an image of Spike’s Geoff Keighley sat surrounded by Doritos and Mountain Dew – that writers could do a lot more to put themselves above suspicion.
In doing so, he mentioned by name other games journalists who that morning had been on Twitter defending a dubious competition held for journalists attending the Games Media Awards. In particular he pointed out how Dave Cook had told me – as it happens – to get off my pedestal in criticising the competition. And Lauren Wainwright (employee of Intent Media, organisers of the GMAs) who had most vociferously been defending the competition, while, he observed, tweeting from a Twitter homepage so decorated in Tomb Raider images that it could be mistaken for a Tomb Raider advert. Wainwright, a self-confessed Tomb Raider fan, strongly objected to this, and issued a legal threat to Eurogamer to have the article changed. And then all hell broke loose.
We’re posting about this story now not because any new developments have occurred, but because it seems not posting about it was causing us more accusations than we can stand to listen to. We had previously considered the story to be one of internal wrangling amongst games journalism, and RPS is primarily about games. While we certainly do cover stories about the media, these tend to be about the representation or misrepresentation of games or gamers. So personally considering it a matter not directly within our remit, I chose to write about it on my personal blog (here, here and here). (I link it here because it’s relevant – I can assure you that with no adverts on the site, I get no benefit whatsoever from directing traffic there. Also, the opinions stated there are entirely my own, and not necessarily shared by RPS.)
This has been perceived as RPS’s trying to “stay silent” on the matter. Something that was never our intent, and something we’re confused to know why anyone would think would be in our interests. Many RPS writers have expressed their feelings on their Twitter accounts, and as I’ve said, I wrote extensively about it, and weirdly ended up being a source for almost every story written about the subject around the world. It didn’t feel to us like we were staying silent, and we have no notion of why we would want to.
And before I go on, to be completely clear, RPS has partnered with Eurogamer to provide our advertising. This means that Eurogamer employees acquire and organise the advertising you see on this site, and we split the profits. It’s a fairly normal practice, but one RPS ensured would and could never have any impact on our editorial freedom. We are completely editorially independent, and at the same time have almost no involvement in what advertising appears on the site. The degree to which we are involved is to have laid down strict rules about what types of adverts we’re willing to have (as in, none that play sound, none that obscure the site content), and to complain when an advert is inappropriate (for instance, depicts naked people).
(It’s also worth noting that Rab’s article discusses me in a very positive light. I find this very kind, and somewhat embarrassing. I want to stress that it has no bearing on my approval of the rest of the article, and would have felt just as strongly about how important a piece it was had he not mentioned my name. Which would have made life a bit easier now, I guess.)
Quickly, here are the details. At the Games Media Awards this year, there was a competition organised by Trion Worlds and GMA organisers Intent Media (owners of MCV, who happen to be Wainwright’s employer), where journalists were invited to tweet a hashtag mentioning Defiance in order to be eligible to win a PS3. 66 journalists at the event took part, an act condemned by many as compromising their position and inappropriate. This led to a Twitter argument amongst a number of the UK’s press, me included, that Robert Florence noticed and included in his article about journalistic ethics. You can read the original version of the article here.
This led to Wainwright’s issuing legal threats against Eurogamer. Eurogamer’s operations director, Tom “Tom Bramwell” Bramwell, told the Penny Arcade Report,
“Lauren told us that she intended to pursue the matter with her lawyers and made it clear she would not drop it until it was resolved to her satisfaction.”
Eurogamer sought legal advice, and decided to remove the lines mentioning her and Cook, and publicly apologised on Twitter. Before making the change they consulted Florence, who understood their position, but also felt that he could no longer continue writing for the site if his article was to be changed. He stepped down. This led to an enormous amount of anger, directed partially toward Eurogamer, but mostly toward Wainwright, whose entire journalist history has been dug over for faults, mistakes and failures of integrity. As has been universally reported, in attempting to silence Florence, Wainwright invoked the full, cruel power of the Streisand Effect. In response to all this, Florence wrote another article discussing all that had happened, which was also published on my personal blog. In this he stated,
“I want to clarify here that at no point in my column did I suggest that either Dave Cook or Lauren Wainwright were corrupt. Their public tweets were purely evidence that games writers rarely question what their relationship with PR should be. In Lauren’s case I made the point that her suggestion that it’s fine for a games writer to tweet a promotional hashtag for personal gain could make everything she tweets and writes suspect. I was saying – “Folks, be careful what you say. You might make yourself look bad.” There was nothing libellous in that column.”
RPS’s position on this matter is as follows: We fully support Robert Florence (who is also a freelancer for us), and think his article raises important issues. We understand Eurogamer’s position that when legal threats are made, with the UK’s despicable libel laws, the burden of time and finances to fight any such threats is gruesome. However, we’re also disappointed that Eurogamer didn’t stand up to these threats and call Wainwright’s bluff. It is our opinion that the correct response from Wainwright would have been to request a response column on Eurogamer to make her argument, or at least post a response on any of the public outlets to which she has access. Silencing journalists is a terrible practice.
Of course this is an ongoing subject, and has raised many questions about journalistic ethics amongst the games industry. Those debates have raged since the 1980s, and they will continue forever and ever. As well they should. Scrutiny is a good and vital thing, and the perception of poor practice should always be questioned. (However, it should be questioned reasonably, and we will not tolerate any abusive comments below. We also suggest not libelling people, because we’re in the UK, and we can’t afford to go to court.)
PS. As I was just finishing writing this, weirdly, Eurogamer also have posted an article about this. You can read theirs here.