Wednesday, 26 October 2011

That Which we Call a Journalist...

...probably wouldn't smell very sweet since we're all nerds.

My fellow ESFI writer, Ted Ottey posted a column about the question of whether or not journalists exist inside esports.  I've been around long enough to see plenty of these articles (and write one or two myself) and opinions change alongside perception over time, but I'm inclined to think that we have largely missed the point.

Whatever way you choose to define "journalist" it's clear that the standards in esports are much lower than in other sports.  That goes for pretty much everything in esports, but journalism is especially vulnerable because it has generally been volunteer work, done by those who love the game.  Precious few stick around for more than a couple of years, and the reason is simple: the rewards aren't there.  It was another ESFI writer, Derek Staley, who hit the nail on the head with this one.  There are a handful of talented writers (and a large percentage of them write for ESFI) but they have no real reason to write except when they feel the need to.

My own most productive period was definitely at SK - the one time in my esports career where I was paid for my work.  There was a bit more to it than that, but the reality is that one simply cannot devote too much time to something that offers so little reward.  It's no surprise that so many esports writers (or journalists, whatever you prefer) are harsh on commentators: yes, a lot of them are fucking awful, but they also get paid for being awful.  The best esports writers in the business - at least outside of Korea - earn little-to-nothing.

Back to the topic; I think there are journalists out there but people treat that title with too much prestige.  They seem to confuse it with Investigative Journalism, of which there is a real lack.  But investigative journalism is something that relies even more on funding because it requires a lot more effort.  What came up in the twitter conversation about Ted's article is that in Korea things are a bit different... but, actually, they're very much the same.

Orangemilkis put forward the idea that Korean journalists are the real deal, but the evidence he presented didn't really support that idea.  They suffer from another of the problems that faces the West too, one that has plagued journalism since it first began.  Korean journalists are very close to the teams, which means they get the stories quickly, but this obviously makes for a massive conflict of interest.  How can you be expected to neutrally judge people who are relatively close friends? (Orange cited journalists going on holiday with teams).  Obviously that is a rhetorical question, and I'm sure many of us would love the opportunity to go on holiday with pro gamers.

But the flip side of that coin is that we can't expect to be kept in the know if we write negatively.  Imagine a situation where EG is running out of money and needs to cut some of its stars.  If ESFI broke that news before EG could spin it, they would likely never allow us to interview their players again.  In Korea, it seems the only difference is that the journalists are even more personally invested in this situation, since they literally profit from it.  Is that a fair price to pay for being a bit quicker with news than their Western counterparts?  That one's not so rhetorical and I'll leave it alone for now, but I lean towards "not really."

After that slightly meandering post, the point is that we have plenty of journalists of varying quality.  What we don't have are investigative journalists, and neither does Korea, apparently.  The risks are currently far greater than the rewards, and will remain so until someone works out a way to better monetise esports coverage.  The sad fact is that the press currently needs the teams a lot more than they need us.

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