Polygon and Kotaku Scalded Over Further Undisclosed ‘Conflict of Interest’ Articles

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By Sarah Ryan – 25th August 2014
Polygon and Kotaku Scalded Over Further Undisclosed ‘Conflict of Interest’ Articles

A few days ago I posted an article that discussed in no small part the importance of standards within journalistic media. Gaming journalism is currently enduring a colossal change in tides that has seen several big names within the industry heavily criticised for acts of non-disclosure, censorship, as well the burial and with-holding of information. This string of events has been primarily publicised, fought for and evidenced by the gaming community itself, who have over-come all attempts to prevent the matter from spreading further.

Unfortunately, those attempts to quell the spread of information only served to infuriate and further encourage many gamers to continue calling out press regarding ethical negligence. Today, two more popular writers found themselves on the receiving end of strongly worded criticisms regarding the unreasonable overlap of personal relationships and publications.

Patricia Hernandez (@xpatriciah), writer at Kotaku, and Ben Kuchera (@BenKuchera), editor at Polygon, have been scalded this evening as Reddit users diverted to a highly detailed account of articles in which the two writers had failed to disclose personal interests prior to publishing their work. The accusation is especially scalding since it directly contradicts the recently stated ethical expectations of Kotaku editor-in-chief, Stephen Totilo (stephentotilo).

In a statement made following the accused non-disclosure of Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson (@Vahn16), Totilo commented

“reporters who are in any way close to people they might report on should recuse themselves”

This statement contradicts the actions of Hernandez, who has on several occasions evidenced her close friendship with indie developer Anna Anthropy, with whom she used to live.

Examples:
here
here

Patricia Hernandez Twitter

Submitted by Yo Mero

In a series spanning from 2012, Herndandez has posted 4 articles to date covering the work of close friend Anna Anthropy, without on any occasion disclosing their relationship to the general readership of Kotaku. The evidence that has come to light regarding the integrity of writing staff has rightly caused further (justified) doubt and dismissal of any ‘comforting’ statements made behalf of the media staple. Can we assume then, that the need to “recuse themselves” is indicted only in the revelation of their already public ethical breach? I would suggest that the need to disclose your personal interests might come BEFORE you publish the article in conflict, otherwise it’s entirely fucking redundant, isn’t it.

Here are the four articles in question.

“I Played a Drinking Game Against a Computer” (12/15/12),

Earlier this year I read about Loren ‘Sparky’ Schmidt and Anna Anthropy’s game, Drink, and I immediately became fascinated.”

“In This Game, You Search For The ‘Gay Planet.’ No, Not That One. A Different Gay Planet.” (15/01/13),

“Here is a Twine game by Anna Anthropy that’s all about searching for an elusive gay planet. It’s called, as you might have guessed, The Hunt For The Gay Planet.”

“Triad” (04/04/13)

“Triad is a great puzzle game about fitting people (and a cat) comfortably in a bed, such that they have a good night’s sleep. That’s harder than it sounds.”

“CYOA Book” (18/10/13)

“Anna Anthropy … just released a Halloweeny digital choose your own adventure book. It’s really charming “

Similarly, gaming media site Polygon has an open statement regarding expected conduct and ethics adhered to by all staff working alongside the publication. It states,

Unless specifically on a writer’s profile page, Polygon staffers do not cover companies (1) in which they have a financial investment, (2) that have employed them previously or (3) employ the writer’s spouse, partner or someone else with whom the writer has a close relationship.

In regards to this, Ben Kuchera, of whom I’ve followed the work of for some time, has been called into question for articles written in support of Zoe Quinn, developer of Steam title Depression Quest and cornerstone of recent controversy. Kuchera has been a financial supporter of Quinn on Patreon since January 2014. This automatic monthly donation to Quinn’s work had not been disclosed prior to the publication of his article “Developer Zoe Quinn offers real-world advice, support for dealing with online harassment” (19/03/2014), that you can find here.

“Zoe Quinn is the creator of Depression Quest, and she became a target for harassment when the game was submitted to Greenlight.”

I have in the past been incredibly vocal in my beliefs that journalists do, in fact, have an inherent obligation to their readerships. Unlike creative sectors of the industry, journalism and other forms of reporting media demand a transparency, as they are created for the sole purpose of informing an audience. The large scale of both Kotaku and Polygon throws their entire writing staff into disfavour, and for the sake of a handful of personally tactical articles, has severely diminished the reliability of all past and future publications.

The lack of strict policing on these breaches is a major issue within the respective media of any global industry, and many have argued that gaming media isn’t ‘worth’ the criticism we have afforded, since it has fewer real world consequences – unlike, for example, financial and economic journalism. However, if we can’t find it within ourselves to hold on to these basic virtues within such a comparatively small and introverted division, then how can they be outwardly applied to all larger, more far reaching commerce? The fact that we are a part of this industry, whether you are within development, writing, or community, means that we have the power to influence and control the way in which this industry operates in some small way. If we don’t at the very least speak out against blatant bullshit like this, then can we progress?

You only shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t speak out against this.

credit: Reddit

***As of my posting this, Kotaku and Polygon have not yet responded to these infringements. It's important that we, as a community, remain just as receptive as we are critical to them, should they choose to do so.


Sarah Ryan

Gaming culture and industry critic. A little sharp tongued, and a little short on patience. Follow me on Twitter at @Auseil, or sarah@gamerheadlines.com to contact me directly.


  • We’re still have a couple of issues with the commenting system. If your comment disappears, don’t worry, we haven’t deleted it, it will work it’s way out!

    • pablocr7

      Really good article 😀

    • anon hikka

      Thanks a lot Sarah.
      Love your work.

  • Billy the Squid

    Good to see this is being picked up here.

    Hernandez writes utter click bait tripe, with no cohesive line of thought running through the article, while Kuchera has long been known to write little more than sycophantic drivel which either agrees with everything the largest publishers do, or tells the readers that the community just don’t understand why it’s good. The most notable thing that sticks in my throat was asking for Eric Kain, of Forbes, to be fired, someone who will write better articles than Kuchera could ever dream of.

    Aside from that, I can’t believe that we are now being called worse than terrorists, ISIS, by Devin Faraci (nice one Devin, when in doubt, make a complete idiot of oneself) when this is precisely the behavior we’re criticising.

    Sarah, nice article.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath that Polygon and Kotaku will reply, and I think if they do, they’ll try to gloss over it, again. While calling everyone else off the cuff nutcases for bringing this up.

  • Jack_in_theGreen

    Ive just recently dicovered you guys, for you are the only indie media (that I know of) that is covering this awful mess… 😛
    Keep up the good work!

    I like the press with balls (and ovaries) big enough to call on their peers’ bullshit.
    Reeeaally proud of you. Smdy at least value more the truth and professionalism over how many clicks your story got!! :)

  • Lucas Osse

    If this and the Zoey mess doesn’t amount to anything, I really hope in the least it’ll make concerned people really scrutinize the main “gaming press” and spot mistakes from now on.

    Thank you for being the one website with enough guts to publicize these events, you have a new reader, and I’m whitelisting off adblock too, you deserve the support.

  • pobilo

    It’s kinda sad that a huge story hits and so many outlets bury their heads in the sand. I’ve seen random anons on /v/ do more investigative journalism in the last week than a place like RPS has done in its entirety.

    • Billy the Squid

      Of course, it torpedoes their credibility, haha credibility, I know right? As if they had much to begin with.

      This just painted a bulls eye on their back for everyone to see how feckless they really are.

    • bit_crusherrr

      I remember the good old days when RPS was good

  • donitaruga

    Another great article, thank you.

  • blazingpelt

    I think that controversy was what introduced some people, including myself, to Kain, and might’ve ended up doing him good in the long run, while undermining Kuchera’s already miniscule credibility.
    Gonna be hard to forget “Say it to my face, Ben.”

    • bit_crusherrr

      Ha ha yeah, Erik Kain is a baws

  • creditwherecreditisdue

    Great article, but reddit wasn’t doing all the work, 4chan and tumblr were involved as well.

    • That’s true, it’s definitely been a collective effort from a lot of people. I’d like to think I’ve been as forthcoming with crediting my source as possible, as I am writing up their leg work.

  • Patrick Toworfe

    Dirty freakin laundry. I may have an avid interest in journalism, but the people at the top seem to stain the carpet all too often. Mind you, this isn’t a gaming issue specifically. When you read news articles from people like Jessica Valenti in The Guardian, a notorious sensationalist writer with borderline offensive/misandric rhetoric, you have you think that someone’s doing favours for someone. Take that as you will. Human beings can be corrupt and media is the vehicle with which they spread said corruption. It’s nice to think that our gaming leaders would be free from such ills and we idolize people so easily because they share our culture. However, history serves as an example; so many of the people I looked up to in gaming have let me down, which was my folly since I believed that they were flawless in the first place. Integrity is the word of the month, and it’s important now, more than ever, to know where you stand.

  • Ajt

    Wow! Those are some rather shocking ethical breaches. If this were the real world and not the games industry Ms. Hernandez would be done. Finished. No recovery. security would meet her at the door tomorrow morning and hand her a box. 4 clear cases of promoting her girlfriends work without disclosing it? Over a span of years? Yeah between this and Grayson I think Totilo needs to go. It indicates a complete and utter failure of leadership or the enforcement of anything even marginally resembling ethics from the editors. This one might even shake Denton out of his apparent coma on all of this.

    Kuchera’s situation is a bit less drastic, but still grossly inappropriate. (as is that of numerous other Editors on her list of Patreons). I think he can survive it, but it is a major stain on his resume.

  • longshanks

    Glad to see a gaming site actually covering all of this recent craziness! I’d love to see just how far this rabbit hole goes.

    Keep up the good fight!

  • fauxfiles

    Thank you for actually reporting on this issue in the way that you did. When you see news websites incessantly arguing about an issue from one perspective (however few articles there are), and you look on Twitter and everybody has a completely different point of view, it’s kind of disheartening to not see that reaction at least acknowledged on news sites.

    I think it’s really courageous! Bravo.

  • ZenZurround

    If you keep this up Sarah, it looks like GamerHeadlines will be the defacto place for gaming news.
    This is very good reporting on the issue at hand without all the fuss over Zoe Quinn.

  • Lenny

    More ACTUAL journalism, great to see.

    It’s utterly pathetic how they just pretend nothing is happening and they haven’t been absolutely busted. They write it off as “misogyny” if they mention it at all. Goes to show you the character of their kind of “social justice”, especially when you take into account that they harass other people themselves, and are guilty of pretty much everything they accuse the general gaming audience of being. They’re dishonest and only interested in getting as many clicks on their websites as possible, as many donations as possible, and staying close friends with everyone else who’s doing it. It’s gross.

  • Mike

    Two good articles on the subject so far, Sarah. Thank you for posting this – it’s really, really important that this discussion is maintained until we get some answers from Kotaku et al. I really do think this is by far the most important part of the scandal, as change here will make a huge positive impact. The other side, OK – someone lied, faked hacking attempts/doxxing, and destroyed a competitor’s movement through deceit. She’s evil, but she’s pretty much done now.

    The concern I have is that kotaku and others will simply step forwards and say that they’re blogs in this regard, and as such don’t adhere to standards of journalistic integrity. I’m not a journalist, but I’m curious – is there any tax incentive or benefit to calling a publication journalistic in nature, and if so, what are the requirements? Is there anything that can be done to force publications to either A) Disclose that they’re going to ‘signal boost’ rather than fact-check, or B) adhere to strict standards and can be trusted?

    If not, maybe it’s worth having one. Perhaps we can all find something positive to advocate for, for a change.

  • I am a feminist, and have often been called an SJW. It’s not a generic sweep of ‘feminists’ we need to keep out, it’s people that are entirely unreceptive to alternate points of view and unwilling to build upon their own opinions by considering other people’s ideas.
    Thanks for the positive feedback!

    • Miko

      What’s SJW?

      • Social Justice Warriors.

        • Miko

          AH, lol ok. No worries. Just to make a point about opinions – the fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion. Something to keep in mind.

        • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

          lol

    • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

      Feminists only care about female humans.

      Care to try again?

    • Stormrider

      As long as misogyny is rampant in gaming there will be a place for feminism in the community.

      By feminist I mean the vast majority of the movement who just want equality and are willing to work with the community to get it.

      There are of course the other sort of feminists who are loud and unwilling to consider other points of view. Just remember those people are jerks because they are jerks not because they are feminists.

      • Tim St Pierre

        Feminist like Anita who aren’t gamers to begin with but demand the industry cater to their will when it won’t affect them regardless since they aren’t gamers?

        The basic premise is the industry and the target audience is generally males, that’s just fact and will remain fact. The idea that we need to cater to progressives regardless of the medium just because they’re liberal progressives and can’t ever be in the wrong to me is just ridiculous.

        They just can’t help themselves but try to dictate how things should be, regardless if its TV, movies, games what have you. Authoritarian progressives are just bad people.

        • Stormrider

          You cannot judge all feminists by Anita’s standards. I am certainly no fan of hers. Not because she is a feminist but simply because she lied which is what I think you are alluding too. Generalisations are wrong no matter who they are aimed at.

          The basic premise is that everyone should be equal and should have equal opportunities. It is a fact that the target audience is male but 50% of the gamers are female.

          Women in the industry and female gamers are subject to verbal abuse and misogynistic tirades how is it wrong to try and stop that?

          Finally I have no idea what you mean by “authoritarian progressives” I feel like I have stepped into a half finished conversation you are having or an argument you have had many times before.

          • Tim St Pierre

            I wasn’t, feminist who are actually about equality and are honest about their means which with to achieve that, I have zero issue with, it’s the Polygon/RPS/Kotaku/most of Tumblr brand of feminist/SJW that drive me nuts, because they’re dishonest and not open to criticism by any means.

            They are the progressives I am referring to, and are authoritarian by their very nature of not being open to other view points, it’s their way or censorship because they have no desire to hear any opposing points of view.

          • Stormrider

            Then we are on the same page my friend.

            I misread your post and hold my hands up.

          • Tim St Pierre

            No worries, I didn’t word it all that well to begin with. I think Sarah is doing a fantastic job with these articles. Nice to see a game journalist with some integrity.

    • Jorge Cervera

      Yeah but you are cool Femenist, with integrity, misogyny is a issue in the gaming world but put every single gamer in the bag like Anita does is also a problem that put more fuel to the fire, gaming need more women like you, not like Anita and Quinn.

  • Yo Mero

    Interestingly, Hernandez’ twitter feed is now private. The links in the article could be updated to screencaps or quotes of the original tweets (they are floating around all the place).

    • Good idea! That would definitely improve the readability. Thanks!

  • Nastra

    Well, looks like this’ll be my main gaming site form here on out.

    • Thumb-Up de la Fuente

      Same here

      • Jorge Cervera

        Me too, its a good site.

        • Guardian

          Agreed

          • The rural Juror

            Dito

  • Lawerence of Gamerabia

    I think we’re confronting that delicate line between developer and journalist. When corruption was with AAA it was easy to spot how companies would manipulate websites with ad revenue to prevent bad reviews (read the Kane & Lynch 2 controversy), but things become weird with independent developers. Indies need publicity, but lack the resources to generate the hype machine; this means they oftentimes have to direct contact with journalists at conventions and elsewhere to get their game promoted. The consequence is that professional relationships begin to bleed into personal ones and journalists unjustly promote their friend’s game in professional spheres.

    Note to journalists: I don’t care if you genuinely think your friend’s game is an unbiased 10/10, if you don’t explicitly state your relationship in the review (or better yet avoid reviewing entirely) then you are breaching trust with your readers. If you want to help your friend, then promote the game on your personal twitter and not the publication you work at.

  • Parrikle

    The issues surrounding Herndandez probably warrant a formal response, but to be honest I’d expect more than a few tweets on Twitter to prove a close relationship constituting a serious conflict of interest.

    But I see far less of a problem in regard to Kuchera. The first concerns the nature of his financial relationship – unless he gains from the success of Quinn, I’m hard-pressed to see a significant conflict of interest. While a bit more serious, giving a developer money to support the development of future games, without any return, is not entirely unlike paying a developer to purchase one of their games for review. In both cases there is a financial relationship, but if the relationship is one-way, the extent of the conflict of interest is at best small. However, this would also depend on what the journalist wrote, and in this case I can’t see any significant problems. It was simply a report of direct statements made by Quinn at GDC – no commentary or opinion. Maybe there’d be an issue if there was a review, but as it stands a direct retelling of Quinn’s statements, coupled with a very minimal COI through which the author can expect to gain nothing for their writing, greatly limits the seriousness of the issue.

    That said, I’m glad to see the Polygon have added a disclaimer to the article, and transparency is a good thing. I’m just loathe to see a witch hunt forming where the real issues are being (potentially) missed in favour of minor ones that are easier to spot.

  • myscreant

    Thank you for this! I think the most reprehensible thing about this entire incident is not the initial scandal (which, relationship drama aside, seems minor) but the level of coverup thereafter, especially on reddit (which is supposed to be a site driven by user content, not by any particular editorial stance). The response has discredited any number of ‘news’ sources. Honest and accurate reporting (with due care to avoid tabloid-level material) is not harassment, and if anything your article proves that this can be discussed without that kind of negativity.

  • xy

    i really appreciate that somebody is covering this type of stuff. i wish that it wasn’t necessary but this crap happens in all forms of journalism so i can’t be surprised it happens with games journalism. keep it up and gamerheadlines will be a major player going forward.

  • The last paragraph is a reference to the attitude I’ve seen displayed by so many working within the industry, Kain as well as many others. Unfortunately, I think it’s an incredibly common belief that writers don’t have any obligation of honesty to their readerships.

  • Stormrider

    I am getting really sick of this.

    For a lot of us these games are expensive and the only way to know what we are buying is review sites.

    Thinks like games journalists in the actual game (I am looking at you IGN and Mass Effect) and journalists fired for giving a game an honest review (Gamespot) are really denting my confidence in the industry.

    Other than this site and Angry Joe I am at a loss for other examples of impartial journalism.

  • Thank you! I’ll add that in.

  • Dee Fect

    Thank you for giving this case some light, and getting the word out there, keep fighting the good fight Sarah. Thank you for what you are doing, thank you so much, I’m so happy to see that you agree that this disgusting nepotism needs to stop.

  • sanic

    I’ve added 5 new game websites(including GH) to my bookmarks and turn adblock off on them, it feels weird to see ads again.

    • Vecha

      Would you mind tell me what they are? I’ve decided to stop going to my regular sites since this whole shitstorm

  • Garth Chouteau

    Kudos to you for a fair and balanced article in the face of the overwhelming deceit, obfuscation and other cowardly behavior to which many (most?) gaming news sites are now resorting.