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.
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 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.
***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.