Video Game News and the Pursuit of Self-Satisfaction

If you have any sort of an interest in news gathering or pursuing writing as a legitimate career, this article is important.

http://allysonbird.com/2013/03/19/why-i-left-news/

This article really should be shared with all post-secondary journalism programs. The journalism industry is in an interesting, unpredictable state right now, dealing with two radical shifts in news presentation in about a decade worth of time.

9-11In 2001, we saw the shift to the news wheel format following September 11. No one will ever forget 9/11 or the impact it would have on how news is presented. Constant news at all times. Unfortunately, what this created was news being presented in various states of revision, regardless of errors. You see this on CNN, Fox News, CTV Newsnet and many others. Think of Fox News as the Fallout: New Vegas of news outlets, a clear beta version of what a news broadcaster should strive to achieve.

Then in the time since 9/11, we saw the rise of the blogger, writing news as it happens in their own locations, but with no formal training and no Associated Press Style Guides to refer to. Seasoned journalists will scoff at this, but it’s a real threat to how we do business and a true evolution of the newswheel ideology.

With this constant demand for news, the workload on a typical newsperson in any publication has risen dramatically. Combined with a financial crisis that has stretched most companies’ budgets to their limits, this has resulted in most news people doubling their work load while receiving the same compensation or possibly working harder while receiving a pay cut.

If you think this article has nothing to do with the video game industry, think again.

NP285_CoverThink about video game journalism in its current state. How many gaming publications or magazines have you seen fold in the last ten years? Remember GameNOW, Official PlayStation Magazine, Game Fan, Tips and Tricks or many of the other names that have faded into the ether? How about Nintendo Power, the flagship magazine of Nintendo franchises for countless years? That magazine is also gone, a victim of rising costs and competing journalism found online.

Each of these publications faced the same demand on news generated by 9/11. The average person at home, the consumer of these magazines, wanted as much of a demand for their gaming news as we saw from newswheel formats across the country for traditional news. When gaming publications couldn’t match that kind of demand for news, we saw these consumers turn to other sources.

That’s where the rise of the blogger comes in. Even right now, you are sitting at your computer or looking at your Smartphone while reading this article. We’ve also seen the rise of aggregate sites like N4G and VG247, giving gamers the type of access to gaming news that they have been looking for; constant news at all hours of the day. It also provided a resource for unpaid gaming bloggers to get published, creating exposure and validity for these bloggers, along with needed content for the news aggregates.

So how did the rise of the blogger affect the traditional gaming publications?

N4GLook at how many gaming magazines ceased to exist over the last ten years. With easy access to game news, reviews and codes available online, gaming publications saw their subscription base dwindle, which is essential for these publications to survive, both as a source of revenue and a stat for advertising houses to justify the amount of dollars in ad revenue being spent on these publications.

When facing this kind of pressure for news and the pressure to build this subscription base, along with the additional pressure of adapting a traditionally print magazine to a digital medium, many of these magazines couldn’t help but fold under the pressure, leaving a number of video game journalists without a job.

I think the main issue that journalists need to identify with today is what drives them to do what they do? The way the industry is right now, it’s tough to justify an affinity for writing with the paychecks that come in and the additional pressure that comes from an always news first environment. In that situation, how do you ensure quality journalism, both in regular news and in the gaming culture?

Allyson BirdAs an active member of the news industry, Allyson’s article was tough for me to read. Looking at how old Allyson was when she got into news and the age of when she finally left the business is about the same timeline that I’m sitting at right now.

I’ve now worked for the past eight years for three news outlets across Canada, all in radio. Thinking about it, over that eight year period,  I’ve worked a second job outside of news for all but two of those years. I knew going into radio news specifically was not a lucrative career, but went into it because I wanted to keep writing.

But exactly what are we writing? We talk about highway closures, building codes, political see-saws, and bake sales. In sports, you can write about awe-inspiring local athletes in far-off locations, but all people care about are the NHL scores from last night, even though the NHL didn’t give a damn about its fans when their strike lingered for half a season.

KickstarterIn video game news, the articles of today are largely driven by press releases sent out by the larger companies or by Kickstarter initiatives. The challenge that many video game journalists face today is that with the large number of bloggers chomping at the bits to be the first person to publish that press release, it becomes a graveyard for personalized information. If you take the time to seek out information  and interviews from company executives to release your own unique news item, you will not be the first to publish the story and will lose out on those all-important views to other news sites.

At the same time, if you go to press with simply the information presented by the press release or the media news conference, then your story is largely derived from the game developer itself.  If you have been involved in news in any sense, you know the rule of two sources is essential to provide a balanced story. Video game news derived from only a press release completely goes against this principle, but is a startling reality in today’s gaming journalism. After all, video game news is largely a form of PR for the gaming developers and the best PR is controlled by the company itself.

CJIQYou also have to look at the lack of success seen by many of the potential journalists going into this industry and compare it to video game journalism. Looking at my graduating class from college as an example, out of 35 students that enrolled in my broadcasting program, only two are working at commercial radio stations today. A number of them have seen success working in television or in other fields outside of their studies, but radio is a tough industry to get into. There are constantly new graduates ready to take your place if your current employers decide its ‘time for a change.’

Now apply that to gaming journalism. Who wouldn’t want to work writing about the latest happenings in the video game industry? This is why you see so many video game bloggers are willing to write news for sites for free and why N4G and VG247 are so successful.  This is also why you have seen the downfall of many traditional video game news outlets. The challenge that exists is many of the video game bloggers have no formal news training and will often write ‘rip and read’ news stories, taking their information completely from press releases sent out by game developers. That’s not news gathering, that’s regurgitating, but its a basic principle of today’s video game journalism.

Allyson Bird ReportingSo looking at all of these different factors that play a role in the state of the current news industry, the situation may seem pretty grim. You may be re-thinking why you were interested in getting into journalism or video game press in the first place.

At the same time, you have to identify all of the good feelings you have while pursuing these hard hitting news stories.

In her article, Allyson identifies the adrenaline rush you feel when covering a breaking story. You will never feel that rush anywhere else. Rushing to report at the scene of a shooting or tracking every update in a child abduction case. Floods, fire, windstorms, all of these incidents generate that same thrill, especially when you know there are people out there depending on this information.

The same goes for gaming press. How amazing is it to be the first person to lay your eyes on a new system being unveiled for the first time? Or going onto the ground floor and seeing a game being developed from the ground up? How about being the first person to report breaking news on the Assassin’s Creed series or on the unfortunate closure of a games developer?

Black FlagNot only is there the recognition, but there is the pride that comes from being the first to report these stories and knowing that you’ve made your contribution to news across the world. To be sourced all around the world on a story that you are first to report carries with it a sense of self-satisfaction, knowing your story matters.

I love news, but I won’t say that the spark of news reporting hasn’t diminished for me over the years. Sometimes the returns on your emotional investment does not outweigh the lack of financial returns that you receive from this business.

To be completely honest, I have seen more satisfaction in writing for my own personal projects in my ‘free time’ then I have in writing the major headlines of the day.  Whether it be writing the manuscript for a novel that never gets off the ground or writing editorials for a website you whole-heartedly believe in, these have given more satisfaction to me than any news story that I have ever written. The reason for this is because I feel more invested in what I am writing about. Even though those writings don’t generate any significant investment for me financially, it provides an emotional accomplishment; a feeling of self-worth.

That being said, news is a tough industry with a high burnout rate. You need to find your own reasons for doing what you do and always balance financial success with your own personal satisfaction. If you love what you do, but can’t afford to live, then you need to find a way to supplement yourself so that you can continue to pursue what makes you happy. Too many journalists have given up on the pursuit of their career because of this.

Remember, just because you enjoy what you do, doesn’t mean that you should be given the run around or be forced to work at a rate that is degrading to your own self worth.

I have been lucky to work for employers that values my efforts and employers that provide good security. Not all those in journalism, mainstream or gaming, can say the same thing.

the author

Jeff Johnson is a Canadian journalist and the host of GameOn here at GameNTrain. He was born in Ontario, but moved to British Columbia to learn what it's like to be attacked by deer on a regular basis. If you've got an idea for a feature story on GameOn or would like to be featured as a contibutor, simply e-mail gameongamentrain@gmail.com. You can also find Jeff on Google+ at http://www.gplus.to/jeffjohnsongnt

  • http://twitter.com/LukeShooty Luke Siuty

    Yeah, I’m pretty much in the same boat… oh well, I’ll see how that goes! Jeff, you should also read this if you haven’t http://pattheflip.tumblr.com/post/43735468414/rip-1up-a-meditation-on-where-games-journalism-is

  • http://www.GameNTrain.com/ Eric Hoff

    Excellent article. Inspiring even Jeff. Thank you.

  • http://dontloseyourdayjob.com/ Hassan Fvckry

    Agreed @erichoff:disqus… Inspiring. I am in a state of transition with my career. I’m looking to stand out amongst all the aggregators and monotony that gets published daily. This was a well needed kick in the pants, Jeff.

    • http://www.GameNTrain.com/ Eric Hoff

      100% … nice to see others are in agreement.