Game bloggers aren't journalists, are they?
It's funny: People in the industry can't even tell you if gaming journalists are real journalists. I have been working in this industry for several years now, and it's difficult for me to define what is and isn't actual journalism. Of course, I could go to the dictionary to find out that journalism is "the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business." But does the dictionary definition really tell us what journalism is? If that were true then there would not be four year degrees on the subject, right? Even so, does that mean that you have to have a four year degree in journalism to be considered a journalist? If that were true, then that would mean that many people who write for newspapers and television broadcasts aren't journalists either.
The not-so-simple answer is that sometimes gaming journalists are real journalists and other times they most definitely aren't. If you're looking to write for GameSkinny or some other gaming news organization, then you should pay attention. I have discovered three ways some gaming journalists set themselves apart and take several steps into the realm of real journalism.
1. PR shilling
If you didn't know, online magazines and other news organizations receive press releases on a regular basis. Game sites receive the same from game developers when a new game is coming out or when it's releasing new DLC, for instance. The press releases are written by public relations specialist and much of the time are filled with sales jargon and pre-spun quotes from developers.
I don't want to give you the impression that covering these press releases are anti-journalism. (Even the best newscasts and newspapers learn about events through press releases.) However, repeating these documents word for word is bad. One thing a gaming journalist has to understand is that we are not an extension of game developers' marketing. We need draw out the news parts of the press releases and report on that. A real journalist doesn't need PR speak to make something interesting.
Integrity is really hard to measure sometimes. Most journalists have to keep a metaphorical distance between themselves and the subject they are reporting on. Oftentimes, this can be difficult if the matter touches an emotional nerve for the reporter. Think about controversial subjects or political news. Too many reporters or even whole news networks slant the news to fit their particular point of view.
Gaming journalists have it particularly tough. All of us love the gaming industry in one way or another. All of us are looking for games in general to succeed. It is extremely difficult for writers to keep that emotional distance. Thankfully, our audience feels similarly to us. Where we gaming journalists should draw the line is not in our passion for the industry as a whole but in the particular games or studios that we cover. Just because you believe that Activision is the worst publisher in the world, it doesn't mean that you should fill a Black Ops 2 report with vitriol. Save that for the editorials.
This should probably go without saying, but when you write a piece make sure that you know the subject matter. By no means do you have to know everything about the game or developer, but at least do your research. It is so easy to do now. One quick trip to Google will give you a plethora of knowledge. If you don't research, then you end up looking the fool. There used to be a website that was completely dedicated to how game journalists were incompetent. Don't end up on a site like that.
It was never my intent to give you all the answers or raise your reports to the level of the New York Times in just over 600 words, but hopefully, I've set you off in the right direction. Besides what I've listed, what other concepts have separated gaming journalists from other reporters? Let me know what you think in the comments.