Transparency: How The Escapist was wrong about Star Citizen and how the rest of us can avoid that mistake
Many people believe that games journalism consists of playing games all day and scribbling down a few words about press releases or posts on an official fan site. And there is a bit of that, for sure. But true journalists follow a creed that includes citing sources and a degree of unbiased reporting. Personally, I am not as good as I'd like to be on that last point, but I do attempt to give a mention of both sides of an argument, if there is one. Believe it or not, regular journalists have an ethics code. And I truly believe that games journalists should also follow this code to the best of their abilities.
I understand that not all games journalists are professionals, and many will claim that they aren’t journalists at all. However, I follow the duck principle when it comes to calling someone a journalist: If it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck. If someone does the same things as a journalist -- writing, reporting, reviewing, researching, etc. -- then that person is a journalist, even if they call themselves a comedian or a fansite or an enthusiast. Some people might disagree with me, and that’s fine. But for the purposes of this article it might be a good thing to keep in mind what I said because I want to tell a story that had the potential to ruin a game because of poor journalism.
The Escapist v Cloud Imperium
I don’t personally know the writers at the Escapist, and since most of the people that I did follow have moved on, I haven’t read much of the site recently. However, a recent post about employees at Cloud Imperium, the makers of Star Citizen, caught my attention. The title alone was enough to draw me in: “Star Citizen Employees Speak Out on Project Woes”. But there were also other standout quotes that were highlighted:
“It was incredibly toxic, I had to get out.”
“[Chris Roberts] was actively ignoring the input of people who have been in and a part of the industry that entire time.”
“[The VP of Marketing] would write emails with so much profanity. She would call people stupid, retard, f*ggot. Accuse men of not having balls.”
These statements were too horrible to believe, and as it turns out, they were literally incredible. The quotes were stated as being anonymous sources who reached out to the Escapist, but as it turns out, the sources might not have reached out to the Escapist at all, and the statements about protecting the identities of the CI employees were a misnomer. Evidence suggest that the quotes came from a site called Glassdoor.
Before I continue, I’d like to explain that I still have respect for the Escapist, and I am not saying that the writer of the article is a bad journalist. All of us make mistakes; no one is above them. Making mistakes does not make us bad at our jobs, but failing to learn from them does.
Using this situation as an example, I would like take a moment to outline the issues and how we can avoid them in the future. Most of the issues revolve around the source material.
Cite the original sources
I cannot know the motivation behind the way the Escapist article was written. I am earnestly not accusing the reporter of malice, but looking at the article and comparing it to the evidence cited by a Reddit poster, it’s hard to not see some red flags.
The first line of the journalist’s code of ethics is:
“Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.”
Many sites will have the source of the statements at the bottom of the post. Others, like this one that you’re reading, will put the sources in the article itself. In our example article, the reporter didn’t cite Glassdoor as the source, which led readers to believe that she spoke to the Cloud Imperium employees herself. Now, I guess it’s possible that she did, but the evidence points to her not having done that.
Be as clear as you can about the sources
I think one of the biggest issues that I have about the sources from the Escapist article is that we don’t know anything solid about the sources. We don’t know which department they worked in. We don’t know what their job entailed. There is next to nothing written about the sources other than to say they were employees at Cloud Imperium. It would be nice to know if the employees quoted were department heads or QA testers.
Consider the motivation of the sources
Perhaps I’m missing it -- someone can point it out to me -- but I don’t see any consideration in the piece for why the employees at CI might have spoken out. There is also little consideration for why the employees wanted to be completely anonymous, and out of the nine cited sources, none of them wanted to be identified in any way? Although there might be perfectly credible reasons for not wanting to be identified, it kills the credibility of the piece.
Don’t write sensationally just for the sake of it
I will freely admit that I’ve written some pieces for the sake of being sensational. Sometimes, it was because I was told to, but I’d be lying if I said that none of it was my choice. I’ve written some pieces for the sheer purpose of getting attention. It’s rarely turned out to be a positive experience, and we journalists should strive to inform, even though we are attempting to get clicks at the same time.
As I said, I believe that this article serves as an object lesson, and we should use it as an example of what not to do. If these types of articles happen too often, they cut into the credibility of games journalism as a whole.
If you’re a fan writing for a fansite or a motivated writer for GameSkinny, remember you’re a journalist, and everything you do should be written with a level of integrity and pride.