Words convey ideas that we associate, from experience of general use, with those words. So we know the word table and call a table a table because we’ve associated it through long experience with other people using the word table to refer to that table thing. (Thanks for attending linguistics 101.)
Some things aren’t that clear. Games journalism isn’t that clear. Some people don’t think it’s journalism, and they think that using the word ‘journalism’ in combination with games is bad for communication, as it weakens the acuity of the language, and especially bad for journalism, as it associates journalism with something distasteful. It’s something I’ve heard repeatedly over the years, but I heard it most recently in reference to Pat Garratt’s polemic on the games news business.
Here’s the definition of journalist given by the Devil’s Dictionary (X), started by Ambrose Bierce, vanished Ur-father of modern columnists:
2. a writer who uses marketing in lieu of judgement, appetite in place of taste, and style as proxy for skill.
Not so useful, but quite funny. Here’s the dictionary definition:
1. the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.
writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition, conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing
So it’s not scholarly – well that’s for sure. It seems to mostly fit the first definition – but is there an implication of anything honest or creative in journalism? Well, the word news is key; strictly speaking it means “information about important or interesting recent events”. Does that information have to be accurate? Well, inaccurate information isn’t really information – it’s noise. So, yes. there’s an implication of truth – journalists attempt to convey information that they have a justified belief to be true. Not fact-checking when you could, fabricating facts, or deliberately putting out information that can be mis-interpreted – all these seriously undermine an individual’s claim to be a journalist.
Pat et al *do* occasionally take quotes out of context, and report rumours (labelled as such), but they’re careful to apologise if they screw up and they mostly report accurately – even with those rumours. I’m less pleased with tabloid headlines, especially when they’re misleading, which all the news sites regularly indulge in – the red in tooth and claw nature of internet news is an explanation, but it can’t serve as a justification, especially not for established sites like C&VG or VG247. Moreover, as most of these sites share in the general games industry plea to the outside world to ” treat gamers like grown-ups”, one might think they had a moral responsibility to behave like adults.
However, most of the time, news sites are reporting the stuff that the PRs want them to – what they’ve been fed, the assets and information that’s timed to be released now, and so on. Is this journalism? Well, yes. Even if it isn’t creative, it’s still putting the interesting news out there, still acting as a filter for the audience of the messaging coming from companies (I’m betting a suprising amount is filtered out by these sites) and mingling it with the information coming from the world at large, still editorialising the message. Who judges what’s interesting? Well, the journalist tries and, if he succeeds, he gets the readers. They both judge in other words, and good journalists get to keep working.
So I’m going to say that. Journalism doesn’t have to be good writing; it doesn’t have to be creative writing; it just has to be accurate and not misleading. Games reportage fills that remit, so why not call it journalism? Just because it’s mostly fed by PRs, just because it’s often things that snootier people would want to call pettifogging rubbish, not fit to be called news, doesn’t mean it’s not information that someone out there wants to read – and the games journalist does his job by conveying it.