JTP Members: Gaming Journalists Must Always Engage the Community

If there's one thing aspiring game journalists always need to remember, it's that the community is a top priority.

If you’ve attended any journalism classes,  you’ve learned the proper way to break news, write headlines, etc. You’re told to maintain the highest integrity when it comes to delivering information to the public.

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I’ve done all that. It remains a must in the world of traditional print, as far as I’m concerned. But in the online realm, things are much more complicated.

I’m all for adhering to the strict tenets that are the foundation of journalism. I wish print publications weren’t dying left and right because in truth, when they die, all journalism will be changed forever. When you must engage the readers in a way that encourages immediate and widespread discussion, it becomes about more than just delivering the news.

Traffic is a bitch

That’s really the best way to put it. Without traffic, no website will last very long. A journalist who doesn’t generate that traffic for a website will be without a home. Unfortunately, this problem leads to an immediate conflict of interest: Many times, the easiest ways to generate traffic often fly in the face of standard journalism rules.

Sure, it’s cheap. Sadly, though, it works. That’s why you see a lot of websites doing very well simply because they write leading and even inflammatory headlines, which subsequently get a ton of attention at places like N4G. This is the way of the Internet world and it’s even more important among gamers.

I’m not saying it’s a good thing; I’m saying this is the way things are. 99 percent of all game coverage is done online, from the smallest to the biggest sources. This means that the vast majority of the community is also online, and that community demands potentially loaded headlines and stories. The news? Only the biggest news generate any traffic for a site and even then, that site needs to be one of the first to have broken said news.

You’ve got to go a step further.

Walk that tightrope: Keep your integrity while appealing to a wide audience

Journalists are never supposed to have an opinion. However, if you want your voice to be heard, if you wish to generate discussion among the millions of gamers who head online to participate in forums, you’re going to have to engage them. You have to check the hottest stories of the day and expand upon those stories. For more on this particular tactic, check my secondary reporting piece.

The point is that you can’t be outside the community. You have to be part of the community. You want to adhere to the highest standards of journalism while still creating pieces that get attention. This may involve poll-like articles that ask the community at large questions, or it could be a piece that highlights your own personal voice. If you’ve got a point of view on a hot topic that runs counter to the majority, speak up!

Do some research on a unique article. Look at things from perspectives that aren’t obvious to all. When it comes to reviews, go ahead and break free of the expected mold and try something new. Write it differently than other reviewers, focus on different aspects, etc. You want to stand out. This is what the community acknowledges.

Who are you? The community wants to know

Faceless journalists don’t get very far in this industry, if you haven’t noticed. People know who Jim Sterling is, for example, and it’s simply because he was the polar opposite of “faceless.” Even if you post up intriguing articles and headlines on a daily basis,  you won’t do as well as someone who isn’t afraid to stand up and say: “This is me, this is what I think, take it or leave it.”

“This is me, this is what I think, take it or leave it.”

And it isn’t over after the piece is written and published. The community is just starting to respond, so why disappear? That’s counterproductive. Responding to comments further engages the community; tailoring your replies so they generate even more discussion will expand the reach of that content.

Get on social media and step forward. If you’re just not a fan of Destiny when it launches, even after all the critics give it 9s and 10s (this is a hypothetical scenario, of course), get on Facebook and explain why you think it’s overrated. Don’t be afraid to Tweet at developers and other industry individuals; keep yourself circulating through the gaming world, and make sure everyone knows who you are.

Anonymity will get you nowhere. I don’t mean to say that you have to strive to be a celebrity, but if you want a following, people are going to have to know you. Nobody follows a ghost who occasionally writes something worth acknowledging. Ultimately, you want people seeking you out, rather than you constantly attempting to bring your work to the readers.

Be vocal, be active, be everywhere you can be. Yeah, it’s going to require a little work. 😉

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A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.