To do good writing, read good writing. Here’s the good writing I’ve been reading this week:
Reporters who write for niche publications, trade magazines or cover a beat for any length of time get to know their sources pretty well. So well, in fact, that for some, the line between writer and subject blurs to the point where some forget – or choose to ignore – one of the main tenets of journalism: to be an objective reporter of the facts.
This relationship can be especially tricky for reviewers, whose work is more subjective than other types of reporting. The situation is even harder when a writer’s negative review can result in a company denying them access to the very things that they’re supposed to be writing about, whether that’s movies, books or video games.
These difficulties were brought up earlier this week in a blog post on Eurogamer.net about the current state of video game journalism. In Lost Humanity 18: A Table of Doritos, Eurogamer reporter Rab Florence talks about the too-cozy relationship between game companies and the journalists who cover them, zeroing in on the Game Media Awards, an annual U.K. event that recognizes the best game industry writers. “Games PR people and games journos voted for their favourite friends, and friends gave awards to friends, and everyone had a good night out,” Florence writes. That’s not the way it should be, he says.
The GMAs shouldn’t exist. By rights, that room should be full of people who feel uncomfortable in each other’s company. PR people should be looking at games journos and thinking, “That person makes my job very challenging.” Why are they all best buddies? What the hell is going on?
As a long-time trade magazine writer and one-time trade magazine editor, I get how this happens. Spend enough time with people, get to know them, and it can be easy to stop thinking of them as sources, and especially if they’re stand up individuals, start thinking of them as friends. It becomes even harder if you’re depending on them to feed you scoops, or give you software, hardware or other stuff to review.
But it doesn’t make it right. That’s why publications like the New York Times has detailed ethics policies covering what staff writers can and cannot accept in the way of outside compensation, expense reimbursements and freebies. The paper, and others like it, include similar language in contracts with freelancers.
Historically, publications in some industries haven’t followed such strict guidelines. It’s more common in the travel industry, for example, to comp a journalist for a trip to see hotel properties, restaurants and local attractions, with the understanding (implicit or in writing) that they’ll write about it in the future. It’s also common practice for book publishers to send advance copies of new releases to reviewers.
But it doesn’t make it right. As Florence says, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized by your peers: “But it’s important to ask yourself who your peers are, and exactly what it is you feel a need to belong to.”
More good reads from this week:
Behind the lense: Shooting the Endeavor time-lapse video (Los Angeles Times) – First watch the 2:41 minute video of the retired space shuttle’s 12 mile, two and a half day journey from the Los Angeles airport to its final resting space at the California Space Museum near the LA Coliseum. Then read Bryan Chan’s detailed account of how he made it happen.
Why I Write: Joan Didion on ego, grammar and the impetus to create (Brainpicker) – An oldie but a goodie.
SF Chronicles oldest staffer (93) and youngest reporter (22) team up to cover meteor debris (Romenesko) – Hope I’m still writing when I’m 93!