If you’ll allow a bit of public introspection…
In the comment thread for a recent post on the value of media criticism in general, Steve Bauman wrote:
The flaw of this site, and of most “media watchers,” is that you can’t do it while being a part of the media. Only third-parties with no competing interest can properly cover the media. Frankly, Kyle isn’t fully credible when covering all of these media-related issues while he’s writing stories for many of the publications, even if everything is fully disclosed.
You also need to be extremely experienced to do this right, which again I think is a flaw of this site. With all due respect to Kyle and what he does, while some of the pieces are interesting and start nice discussions, others show a pretty fundamental lack of understanding of the inner workings of editorial sites or journalism, probably due to a lack of experience.
I’m all for “media watching” or “media analysis,” but I’m not sure it can be done properly by “some guy” who fires up a blog unless “some guy” has tons of experience and isn’t trying to hit up the people he’s supposed to be watching for work.
These are issues I’ve struggled with internally as this site has grown more popular, and I’d like to make them a little more external, if I can.
As far as experience, I don’t claim to be an expert in all things related to game journalism. When I started this site over three years ago I was just “some guy” lobbing his J-school invective from way outside the industry. Since then, I feel I’ve learned a lot about the game journalism industry through the contant process of reading, writing, and talking about it with other journalists, and that the progress in my writing has shown the benefits of this experience.
I’ve also learned by working in the industry, which brings up the conflict of interest issue. On the one hand, I’m aware of the intense hypocrisy of covering the very publications that I am also freelancing for, and in criticizing them for conflict of interest issues when my own conflicts are far from above reproach. On the other hand, I feel that the experience of actually working in the industry has tempered my opinions and made this site more valuable to the readers. I’m also compelled to freelance by the very need to “stop whining and do something about it” that started this whole discussion.
I’ve tried to be upfront about my working relationships with these sites (in the “About the Editor” page and elsewhere), but I probably haven’t highlighted them as much as I could/should. I’ve also conciously tried to avoid going easy on any outlets that I do work with, but I understand that even the appearance of a conflict of interest can be just as bad as any actual effect on content.
Are these flimsy rationalizations? Strong, intellectually consistent arguments? You tell me. To anyone who’s read this far, I want to know if you agree with Steve that my freelancing undercuts the credibility of the site. If so, how big of a problem is it (obviously not big enough to get you to stop reading, but still…)? Could this problem be solved with more disclosure? Refusal of pay from the publications I write for? Some other method?
If you don’t feel it’s a problem, why not? Haven’t you been listening to me rail against conflicts of interest these past few years? Why should I get a pass?
I’m not just looking for validation here — I really want to know what you think. If you leave lots of comments, I promise never to be this whiny and intrspective in this space again (until the next time I am).
In an ideal world, I’d have started this site after retiring from a thirty-year career that spanned every facet of the industry. Since I’m obviously not in that ideal position, what should I do about it?