Archive for October, 2009

Good Game: Why a social media "disaster" can be a good thing

The sacking of one of the hosts of the ABC’s video game review show, Good Game, has been discussed in gaming and tech circles over the past couple of days. Today the SMH published an article which revealed that the sacking of Good Game founding presenter Jeremy “Junglist” Ray has turned into an online stoush between Ray and the remaining Good Game team. But this “PR disaster” could turn into a good thing for the show, if the ABC is willing to listen to its viewers.

As the SMH reported, the ABC had announced Junglist’s departure via a press release. However, there was a backlash by viewers who were upset at the news that Ray had been sacked. (Hint: tell your loyal viewers first, and honestly, via the forums before going the generic press release route). Good Game responded by posting on the show’s message board, saying “The decision to take Junglist off air was not forced upon us by ABC Management and it’s one that is fully supported by all the GG team. We are gutted that it has come to this but in our opinion it absolutely had to happen.”

And then, the online bunfight was on. Clearly smarting from his sacking, Ray is now claiming he was sacked so the show could broaden its appeal by bringing a female presenter on board (he was replaced by Stephanie Bendixsen). Leaving aside the fact that it’s pretty insulting to insinuate that bringing a female presenter onboard is “dumbing down” the show… it was poor of the ABC to set up their new presenter to cop all the flack as Ray’s replacement.

The ABC is now in the unenviable position of having to defend not only the sacking of Junglist, but also their decision to appoint a female presenter in his place. Hopefully they’ll resist the temptation to shut down the discussion on their forum, or delete Junglists’ posts – two things which would be guaranteed to fan the flames of its already disgruntled fanbase.

If GG really had no female presenters to call on (not even guests or occasional segment hosts?), they could have made the transition a lot easier if they’d introduced Bendixsen via a few guest appearances or segments before bringing her on as a permanent presenter (let along the replacement of one of the co-founders of the show). Apparently the show’s followers are angry they weren’t consulted. Why weren’t they? Good Game has an active forum, why wasn’t there a poll asking people what was important to them in the choice of the next presenter? Then, if the ABC was concerned about hiring a female presenter, they could have looked for one who fit those criteria. Or they could have help a competition to find the next GG presenter. That would have been a great TV/online crossover – hell, why not set up an SMS competition to vote for the winner and make some dough while you’re at it? If the ABC Charter allows you to, of course.  Tech savvy audiences really, really like to be involved. Being excluded from decision to bring on a new presenter, and learning about Junglists’ departure via a vague press release just isn’t going to go down well.

One interesting fact which the SMH article brought up which is really worth noticing for those who care about games journalism, is that both Junglist and the show’s producer confirmed that one source of tension leading up to his sacking was “time management” – or in his words, the amount of time the show was giving reviewers to spend with each game. GG viewers will probably have strong views on this – if a reviewer only gets an hour or two to play a game, do you really want to rely on that review and drop a hundred bucks on the game? I hope that some of the GG readers pick up on this and ask the show to disclose how much time reviewers get to evaluate games.

Disclaimer: I don’t watch Good Game, and I don’t know the journos involved. But I have done games writing in the past, and have been known to get grumpy about games journalism and the tricky issue of how long reviewers should play a game before passing judgement on it.

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Twitter in the news, and Media140 Sydney

It’s been a very significant couple of weeks for online journalism, with the first instance of Australian journalists using Twitter to report live from the Federal Court in the iiNet trial (#iitrial), and The Guardian crediting social media for helping to overcome a gag order on their reportage of the Trafigura affair.

The iiNet reportage by The Australian‘s Andrew Colley was made more remarkable by the fact that the Oz pulled the plug on his reporting, out of concern over possible legal exposure. This concern wasn’t shared by CBS Interactive, whose reporter Liam Tung continues to live tweet the trial for ZDNet:

Looks like the Fed Court is cool w/ #iitrial Tweeting – a matter for Justice Cowdroy to decide, it says.

Naturally, news of these developments broke via Twitter, but Margaret Simons has been doing a good job of following up both stories for Crikey and on her blog . (She also covered ABC Managing Director Mark Scott’s recent AN Smith Lecture at the University of Melbourne).

So I think the timing of Sydney’s first Media140 event couldn’t be better. This two day conference is bringing together journalists, academics and online media experts to discuss ‘the future of journalism in the social media age’. There’s a really exciting lineup of speakers, including Jay Rosen (via webcast only, sadly) and Mark Scott. I’ll be participating as a “roving expert” during the Day2 workshops. Really looking forward to this event.

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Player Three – journalism's latest saviour

Is this anything more grating than a journalist who has just “discovered” something and decided they should be the first person to write Real Objective Journalism about it? Ugh.

I’ve just been reading Patrick Brosnan’s guest post on Margaret Simons’ Content Makers blog. Apparently there was never a real games journalist until Mr Brosnan came along. I hope he’s going to let the readers down gently. Or, you know, he could take some time to actually read up on games journalism.

It may be a shock to Mr Brosnan that in addition to the cheap and nasty sold-at-the-supermarket-checkout games mags that rely on teen gamers to write reviews in return for free games, there are also games sites and publications which value quality writing.

Take a look at Atomic MPC – a PC hardware and gaming magazine which was so well respected internationally that the Heseltine-owned Haymarket Media acquired its small Australian publisher, AJB Publishing, largely to get their mitts on it. I haven’t read Atomic in a while, but at the time I was working for AJB, Atomic had a fanatical audience, and a number of award winning journalists who wrote for it, myself included.

Or Mr Brosnan could take a look at Edge, a UK games publication which also had an international reputation because it did a great job of writing up not just games news, but also covering the technical innovations and business dealings of the games industry. (Let us not speak of the horrible, watered down Australian version. That was just a massive disappointment.)

These publications employed Real Writers – both journalists and reviewers. I’d be surprised if any of them weren’t also gamers. Yes, Virginia, there can be Real Journalists who also play computer games. The notion of the detached, objective journalist was always a lie. People don’t get to know an industry intimately in the way that journalists must, without forming opinions on what’s going on around them. It’s just that they’re meant to write objectively, give both sides of the story, and look cagey when you accuse them of being biased. I’m sorry, but bloggers have taught us that disclosure is a far more powerful means of earning credibility than hiding behind “objectivity”. I don’t want to read games journalism written by non gamers.

It’s not just about whether you’re a qualified journalist, either. Mr Brosnan, sadly, seems allergic to opinion. And snark. Apparently you can’t express opinions, or employ sarcasm and be a good writer, or reviewer (That’s me gone then. That’s ok, Patrick. I just want you to know that we can still be friends). He’d better not watch Zero Punctuation then. Shame, because Yahtzee raised the bar for other reviewers by presenting his reviews as hilarious, fast paced animated movies. I’ll happily watch Zero Punctuation reviews for games I’ve never heard of, because they’re entertaining in their own right. Until Yahtzee came along, I hadn’t enjoyed reviews so much since legendary British music mag Select went down the gurgler.

Mr Brosnan proposes a new journalism (sorry, Journalism!), which will be showcased on his website, Player Three. It has at its foundation, Real Journalists. “These journalists don’t necessarily need a vast general knowledge on the gaming industry”. Yes, I can see how that’s a great start for a niche journalism publication. Tell your journalists they aren’t expected to really know their beat. The truth serum will be applied by the editors, who are the games experts. Because people who play games aren’t qualified to write about them. Only Journalists can do the writing, got that?

I haven’t been a tech or games journalist for a couple of years now, which is why my examples are a few years old. There are plenty of examples of rubbish games magazines and websites, granted. And I’ve been highly critical of sycophantic games writers who are in it for the free stuff and don’t think twice about being gladhanded by PR folk in return for breathless  “10/10!…” reviews. The Pollyanna grin was wiped from my face pretty early on when it came to games journalism. PlayStation 2 was launched in 2000 when I was working on a tech news magazine in London. A game reviewer we knew was given a weekend to review 30 games. 30. How many minutes did he get to spend playing each game then, even assuming he didn’t sleep? As a punter who always consulted games reviews before dropping 90 quid on a game, I was horrified.

So no,  I don’t expect “objectivity” as Mr Brosnan describes it, because I want my games writers to *be* gamers. But I do expect knowledgeable and fair reviews, and journalism. And you can get it, when you look around. What a shame Mr Brosnan didn’t actually do that, before jumping on his white horse and riding in to save us.

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OpenAustralia, eDemocracy and education

I’ve been a volunteer with OpenAustralia for some time now, and I don’t think I’ve talked enough about why I admire this project so much, and why I think it’s so important. It’s because I believe in transparent, accountable and accessible government. It’s because I believe in removing the obstacles which keep people from participating in their government. And it’s because I believe in enabling and encouraging greater use of technology, especially for education. OpenAustralia supports and is informed by all these beliefs. It empowers people to use technology tools to educate themselves and participate more fully in their own government.

We’re lucky enough to have a pool of volunteer developers across Australia who are busy working on improving and extending the functionality of the OpenAustralia website and its underlying software. For example, there’s now a mobile version of OpenAustralia, and there are also a couple of nifty new features which make it easier to share and republish information from the website. You’ll now see a “Share this” button next to every speech on the OA website, so you can easily share it via social networking sites. And, for WordPress users, there’s now a PoliPress plugin that lets you easily import speeches to your wordpress blog for commentary or discussion. See the OpenAustralia news post “OpenAustralia goes mobile and gets social” for further information.

I also wanted to mention a very cool school outreach program which was developed by the Victorian Electoral Commission, called Passport to Democracy. It’s aimed at Year 9-10 students, and it’s a program which teachers can use to teach students about how the election process works, by getting students to identify and research issues that they care about, then getting them to vote on which issue they want to take local action on. I love this program for many reasons. It encourages students to think about how they can take action locally on something they care about, rather than removing them from the process by encouraging them to send a letter to their MP and sit back and wait for someone else to take action on their behalf. It is getting them to vote for ideas they care about, rather than a more abstract notion of a political party or official.

If you are a Victorian teacher (or want to recommend this program to your local teacher or high school), then visit the VEC’s Passport to Democracy page, or go to their Edublog, where you can get more information about the program, and read some feedback from a teacher at Strathmore High School.

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