Stop the high-quality-fanzine presses!

The other day I linked to 1up.com editor Sam Kennedy’s posts about “game journalism.” I don’t want to belabor the point or harp on this issue too much, because game magazines (and websites and blogs) are what they are. They’re fanzines, and you know what you’re getting. Anyway, newspaper reporters like Brian Crecente at the Rocky Mountain News, Mike Musgrove and Jose Antonio Vargas at the Washington Post, and Seth Schiesel at the New York Times (and me, once) are picking up the slack.

But Kennedy said something that goes to the heart of why game mags are lacking:

I find our industry’s reluctance to actually help push journalism forward a mighty shame. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve worked on potentially incredible stories that just fell apart because of the uncooperativeness from a publisher. … it seems as though a lot of companies are simply reluctant to give you access to their talent unless it’s directly tied to the promotion of a game. It’s such narrow mindedness, and it really hinders us from moving things forward. I remember God of War developer David Jaffe recently griping about not enough great stories in gaming publications — hate to say it, David, but a lot of the blame also falls onto you (well, not you specfically — you’re one of the few really vocal people we’ve got — but publishers and developers as a whole).

Leave aside the fact that game companies can get away with this largely because magazines have been in the business of promotion for so long. Kennedy is right: When I was writing my article on next-gen game prices, it was very hard to track down people at game companies. Out of at least two dozen calls and emails, I spoke to four people in the industry. Most of the time, people just didn’t call back, but a couple times I was asked to submit sample questions and then was refused interviews (or given one-sentence, utter PR answers).

But that’s what journalism is. A majority of the time, people don’t want to talk to you. A reporter’s job is to figure out how to get around that. I’m not even a reporter — I’m a copy editor and wrote the game prices story on my own time — and I was able to write a decent article. Blaming the gaming press’s failings on a lack of cooperating sources says a lot about what “game journalism” means to Kennedy and his colleagues, and goes a long way toward explaining why game magazines are the way they are.

— January 18, 2006

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