Yeah, so, my name is Lynn Walsh.
I currently am the national president for the Society of Professional Journalists. I also work full-time for NBC in San Diego where I'm the executive investigative producer. I also have an investigative team and also a consumer investigative unit. My background primarily is in investigative journalism in both television, broadcast, and also online-only publications.
And I really got involved with SPJ with people that are passionate about transparency issues and also the public's access to information when it comes to public records. Then it kinda just grew from there.
We talked about this last time we talked -- I mentioned when I saw this piece from Quill about your "aha moment" on anonymous sources that we talked about. It struck me, I've heard of SPJ before but it didn't occur to me that you're on the other side sort of reaching in to the culture that I'm reaching out from.
As someone with a career more rooted in mainstream journalism, how have you sensed that the media has turned its back on providing scrutiny to either videogame industry or videogame culture?
So, I don't know if I would say they "turned their back." I just think it hasn't been a coverage priority. It's been a coverage area that they've focused on. As we talked about previously when we kind of got a pre-interview, when you're in a newsroom, there are so many different stories to cover. There are so many stories out there that are important to so many different people, and you're really constantly playing what you're going to cover with the resources that you have -- and I think, specifically, what I'm thinking of is local television news or just local news in general, which is primarily what I have worked in. You know, you're thinking about what's going to impact, total, everything. They're not really going out and covering it themselves, unless you're in L.A. or maybe New York, Miami.
Those are some, I would say, cities that probably cover more. But traditionally, around the country, you just don't see local newsrooms cover that. To me, the gaming industry, while it's not entertainment, it is a type of, I think, entertainment. Or that's how it kind of started. And so, you wouldn't necessarily see that covered on a regular basis.
What do you think would the most effective things to do to make mainstream media change with regard to this culture and industry?
Well, I think you have to look at it holistically. I was thinking of an example as I was thinking about talking to you, and we cover -- I remember, I was standing in the morning meeting in San Diego just yesterday in the NBC newsroom and all of a sudden we moved one of our crews, a reporter and a photographer, to go cover a deadly accident. Yeah, very tragic. It's very sad. But nowadays, you really think about it, why did we used to cover those? Because it impacted people's drive to work. Because it impacted how people are getting around. Well, nowadays, with technology, we use Waze, right? You don't necessarily need that. We're using other -- we're using Google Maps, we're using GPS, we're getting that information in other ways.
So then, okay, the question is, "Why do you cover it?" Yes, someone did die. Yes, it is sad. What's the impact, though, of that one person? It's important to people who know them. It's important to people out in the story. But that, to me, was an example of do we cover it? Do we mention it? I think so, but do we dedicate a lot of resources, too? I would argue not, and I think as an industry -- again, kind of speaking more for local news but I think also national news as well, we need to get away from the coverage we've always done and start really breaking out into these other areas. I absolutely think that gaming and entertainment, when you look at that, is one thing. But I don't think it's just videogames. It's the whole culture that has come up because of it. And it's not just the entertainment space that.
You know, you and I talked about virtual reality. AI. I mean, all of these things that people are living in everyday -- and, again, it's not maybe a story to those people but I think it's going to continue to flow. How are we covering these industries that will have an impact, I think, help where in the community when it comes to, possibly the justice system, individual rights. There are all these types of issues that are coming up when it comes to technology that I think we need to pay closer attention to.
Yeah, I mean, do you think there's something people in the game industry to help better make these connections to journalism?
You know, I think it's continuing to pitch stories to individuals about the gaming industry. I think that absolutely will help.
Do you mean PR people or who?
No, I mean, even just individuals. Like, I'll tell you, lots of stories we do, if it's coming from a PR company, unfortunately, we're probably almost less likely to do it now.
Before, it was the only way to get information to journalists, right? Well, nowadays, you can just message them on Facebook. You can post something or email them directly and we really want those community stories. So, if we are hearing from our community and they're saying, "This is important, this is what's happening, this is why it's important. Come, let us show you." I think you're actually a lot more likely to get coverage than if you go through a PR company.
No, absolutely. I've sensed that shift as well. There are so many other places to go.
I'm curious, too, because reading this piece that you wrote -- and I was invited to this event but I was not able to attend. But I'm curious: What made you want to go to that Airplay meeting in South Florida in 2015?
Yeah, I think for me, and, again, I was not familiar. I had heard of Gamergate and growing up had played videogames, sort of, a little. But nothing that was very much like it was something I did on a regular basis. You know, I was aware of kind of what was going on. I have brothers that were into it a little bit more than I was. So, didn't really have a lot of exposure, but to me, when I was approached, it was that they have questions about how journalism works, what journalists do, how we make decisions, the kind of things that we're thinking about when we're writing stories when we're trying to cover stories. They had questions about how different gaming bloggers and journalists were covering the industry.
So, I looked at it as an opportunity to really engage with them and engage the public with something I think is so important for journalism to do and we don't do enough to explain and kind of peel that curtain away, because it's not a secret, to keep it transparent about why we do stories about what we're doing. And also, I think it was a time just to kind of educate not only myself but also hopefully educate the people in the room about: Here's what an ethical journalist should do. Are all journalists doing that? Unfortunately, no, but here's how it should look. And if we're all doing it this way, I think you can have better coverage -- more responsible and more respectful coverage. And that, to me, was an opportunity. I really walked away, like I wrote in that piece, thinking that piece thinking, "You know what? We need to do more of this." To me, it's not just with gaming journalism, it's with a lot of different areas and a lot of different members of the public.
Yeah, I mean, you wrote in here about it being revelatory to you about people's perceptions and misperceptions about anonymous sources. I know we talked about this last time, you know, I think I asked you something about the number of people going to J-school who wind up in journalism, etc., etc. I mean, there are these maybe smaller habits that you've noticed. But bigger picture-wise, why do you think there are so many definitions of what journalism is and isn't?
Well, I think it's because -- you know, really, when you look at journalism, what it is, it kind of started because people, typically in the U.S., have a right to information. Our government was set up that way that their rights in this country is the right to free speech. You have the right to share information. It started that way and I think it kind of started with newspapers. Then, with technology now, anyone can basically write anything online, can publish it, and can make it known to the world. And I think that's a great thing.
And I think what you've seen, though, is sort of maybe it was a group of individuals that were producing news. That gradually grew and now, really, anyone is producing content that in all cases is information and in a lot of cases can be considered newsworthy.
So, you maybe don't have the education that has come with that of, "Okay, what comes with the responsibility of being able to publish?" And, you know, it's very simple things just on -- when you have students and college students and high-school students talking and just posting mean things about one another on Facebook to broader, where you have a blogger that might be insulting someone or targeting someone for whatever reason. And so, you kind of have this -- again, this is a wide range of what content is being produced. But at the end of the day I don't know that we've really sat down as a culture and really looked at: Okay, here is the impact of what publishing online means.
And that's something that journalists have been trained to think about, right? And we should be constantly thinking about: What's the harm if we do this? What can we do to minimize that harm, even though it's important that the information gets out there.
Yeah, I mean, I'm curious -- I don't know if you subscribe to this thought or not, that just things are very segmented now because increasingly now everything is online, so people can just run in these circles online and build their own bubbles. But, I mean, do you feel like -- does the general public understand what real news is?
[Pause.] So, I think the vast majority -- I don't know that they can decipher all the time.
I think it's sometimes very clear, right? But I do think there are times, probably maybe 75 percent of the time where it is difficult to decipher between what is a real news article and what is an opinion piece. And now, I'm always careful to say: I don't necessarily blame and think it's the public's fault. I think we as journalists and specifically as news organizations, because sometimes as an individual journalist, you don't really have a say necessarily over exactly how your story is published. But we have not done a good enough job and I think it is getting better.
But we haven't done a good enough job of making sure that we're labeling content correctly, that we're labeling who's coming on the television screen and talking properly. You know, if it's someone who ran as a presidential candidate, they shouldn't be labeled as a CNN correspondent or a CNN political contributor. To me, that's just wrong. Like, they clearly have a bias.
I was reluctant to bring this up and hate to do it here, but I have to ask you about "fake news." You wrote about how at Airplay, people didn't understand what anonymous sources were. When people voice their dismissal of the media today, what do you think they are being dismissive of? What is it that is bothering them or upsetting them the most? Is it the sourcing or are they really talking about a lack of trust? Or is it just a misunderstanding of how news gathering works?
I think people are being dismissive of the 24-hour “news” and talking heads they see on TV. I think they do value real journalism and for the most part do know it when they see it but I am not sure that will last forever and I think we as journalists need to be better about communicating and being transparent about what is news, what is opinion, who is a journalist, who is an analyst, etc. We need to let our users in and have these conversations with them. If we do not, I am afraid more and more people will not know the difference between news and opinion. I think some of this does also have to do with not understanding what journalists and news organizations do, how we gather information, where it comes from, how we determine what to use, etc. That is why I want to encourage these types of conversations more.
Yeah, that was something else I was gonna ask about, too, is because there are so many new destinations people can go to to get news, I mean, one way to ask the question is: Do you feel like editors understand what news is? But maybe the better question is just: How have you sensed what breaking news or what real news -- how that is shifted or what you've noticed at bigger, more popular outlets and how they're either distorting the meaning or changing the meaning or getting the meaning wrong. How have you sensed that shift?
Well, I think, first of all with breaking news, we've seen it -- I think everyone would probably agree that everything is breaking news now for some reason.
How that happened, why that happened, I'm not exactly sure.
Ratings, maybe? If I had to guess.
You know, I don't know, though, because when I talk to the public, they are so sick of everything being breaking news.
It's kind of a joke. I think if that is the reason, I think they're totally missing the mark just because I think people just don't respect it anymore. I think that is -- you know, I remember, and I do work for NBC and this is not why I'm saying this, but growing up my parents did watch NBC. And so, I remember being up in my bedroom upstairs and I would hear sort of their breaking news tune. You know, they have that thing before their show would come and they'd break into programming. That's when I would know, like, "Oh my gosh, something serious is going on.” And nowadays, I feel like if you heard that, I mean, it could be anything. It could be that the president tweeted. And so it doesn't have that same -- it doesn't change our mind or alert you like it used to. And I think that's kind of the problem.
And so, you know, like you said are they distorting the meaning, though, of breaking news? I mean, I don't think they're distorting it because I don't know that we have ever had a definition of what "breaking news" is.
I think news organizations haven't really looked at and said, "Okay, this is when it's breaking news. This is when it’s not." I will tell you, bizarre conversations that I am starting to hear in my own newsroom and in news rooms around the country that: "Hey, before we break into this programming, let's really think about why we're doing it. Let's think about why this is important, because if there is something that really does happen and we need people to pay attention, they're not gonna pay attention if we continue to break in with information that just is not that important."
Yeah, I mean, I've had my experiences with this. And we both have overlapped at NBC but at different outlets as far as where people get it. I've also worked more in entertainment journalism and alt-weeklies, so I don't know much about this on your side of the aisle, as it were. Can you talk about how the internet has affected the formula for local news and broadcast news?
When you say "formula," like, how we choose stories? How we produce content?
Oh, I guess, I mean both. I was thinking predominantly of choosing the stories and the playlist of them. But yeah, I'd be curious to hear about how you produce them as well, how the internet has changed both of that.
Yeah, so, I think anyone who tells you they're not looking at how a news story does -- and this is before even the internet. That's why we had "sweeps" periods four times a year, four months out of the year. We would save stories that we would think would do really well. We would keep track of those different topics that we were covering and see how they did year-to-year. Maybe a story about the homeless didn't do as well, so we wouldn't promote that the next time around, but maybe a story about dogs did do well, so we're gonna promote that next time around. And that sounds -- I mean, that's the reality. That absolutely has been happening for years. This is not anything new.
I think nowadays what you are seeing -- and actually, I think it's better, is you can literally see how many people are watching something. How many people are viewing something. How long they're staying on a page, when you talk about online. Those, to me, are metrics that are way more reliable than what we were getting with the ratings systems of people writing down diaries and sending them in -- I'm trying to remember -- a whole month of what they watched and then getting paid a small fee to do so.
So, you know, nowadays, like, I know on my team specifically, I pay very, very close attention to web traffic, to how long people are staying on a page. Really I do it to try to see: "Okay, how can I create better engagement for the viewer?" And, also, there's a lot of news out there to cover. There are a lot of important topics. So, if I see that one topic is something that the community seems to be really interested in because it is doing well online and that means that people are staying on the page and reading the story for six, seven minutes, that's a lot of engagement. I'm going to cover more of those stories.
That said, if there's a story that maybe isn't doing as well online but I still think it's very, very important -- and we have those all the time -- we will still cover it. The metrics in where I work and where I've seen at a lot of news organizations, they're not the end-all, be-all. But, yes, are we using them to try to understand what the community wants? Yes. I honestly think that is a good thing because I feel like I know my audience better now because of those metrics than I ever would have been able to just with the TV ratings.
What's an example of something you've learned through those methods?
Yeah, so, I know when I first got to NBC, I was told: "Homeless stories: No one really likes them. Everyone talks about it but there's never a solution." It was a story topic that just wasn't encouraged. But here in San Diego, it's a very important issue, as it is in many communities.
And we've seen the homeless population continue to climb here at a rate higher than it's been in five, six years. We continue to cover it and what I saw online is the engagement was very, very high. So, that was something I was able to go to my boss and say: "Look, I understand that we may not be able to provide any kind of answer to any of these questions that people have, but there is interest, and people are reading and asking questions and want to know more.” So, that's something where we actually ended up beefing coverage up.
I'll give you an example on the other side: We have a nuclear plant here in Northern San Diego that was shut down several years ago, but now they're trying to decide what to do with the waste from the plant. They want to place it in containers on the beach. Very simplified version, but that's kind of the situation we're dealing with. It's a very important issue when you talk to the small number of people that are trying to explain to people, like, "Here are the concerns." And, also, trying to work with the government to find a solution that is safe for everyone involved. But, that engagement on that story? Very low. We do not get really that many views. We don't get that much engagement when we share it. But we continue to do the stories and they're tough to tell and they're tough to put together because it's a complicated issue, but we continue to do it because no one else is really covering it, and we feel it that it is an issue that people need to be aware of of what's going on, what's going to be put on their beach steps away from where there might be surfing or swimming in the water. But, like I said, it's one that doesn't have good engagement but we continue to cover.
Has TV news been hit as hard as print by the internet?
You know, as an industry, I would say we haven't. We haven't been hit as drastically. That's, I think, because we do have the visual medium. And, when you still look at -- and I don't know the stats off the top of my head, but I know people still do rely on their local TV news stations or local news specifically, whether that's radio or television, to get news on a daily basis. So, we are not being hit as hard as newspapers.
What about when it comes to hiring prospects? Most journalists I know are fairly defeated and feel their profession has become little more than a hobby, due to lack of meaningful opportunities and rapidly decreasing rates. How do the hiring prospects look in broadcast?
We are hiring. The jobs do not pay as much as they did during the good old days -- I did not work during that time either -- but there are jobs. I will say I am not sure the digital hiring is keeping up with what is needed and you do not necessarily see a commitment from TV stations to put a lot of hiring into the digital-only side. You see some, and there are some promising examples, but for the most part, we need to have more people on the digital side of TV news.
I've seen a lot of online journalists be frustrated, too, as it seems like what few jobs there are go to "personalities" with huge social media audiences they bring with them for the traffic bump. We talked about ratings a little bit, but do you feel that notion for online outlets is accurate? That there's a more pronounced interest in someone's bombast than the merits of their body of work? Is there anything similar taking place in broadcast?
I am not sure I have seen that overall. I think it depends on what publications you are going for, but for the most part, if it is a news organization and not a content or entertainment-based website, the jobs are going to solid journalists. In TV you have always had personalities, so that definitely still happens, but they have to had a solid reputation to go along with that personality otherwise it is not enough nowadays.
Yeah. But you mentioned to me there still are ways that local news could and would do better on -- we emailed a little bit about this last week, so, not to make you repeat yourself, but what are the uphill battles that you're confronting or thinking about in what you're doing?
Yeah, I kind of hinted on this a little bit earlier, but I think it's just -- sometimes there's this mentality in specifically local television news to beat your competitor. You know, you want to be there before the station across the street is there. You wanna be the first to find out who is maybe killed in that officer-involved shooting. You know, those things are important. You know the example with the traffic that I gave?
I think sometimes we -- technology has changed how we live our lives. And so, there are some things that people relied on news organizations. And I think this goes for newspapers as well and really news organizations in general. But there are some things that people relied on news organizations to do that they just don't rely on them as heavily for. Now, that said, if there is a terrible accident -- if there are 45 cars piled up on top of one another, that's a different story. But, if it's one accident here, one accident there, and you're really just trying to make sure people know what areas to avoid, well, maybe we shouldn't focus our attention on that. Maybe we should instead have that reporter take a day to really dive into something that's a complex issue. Or, you know, go talk to different clusters of communities that we don't cover as much so that we can really understand and spend a day with them to tell a better story.
Those are things that I don't think -- I think we say we want to do it, but we're not necessarily always putting the resources behind it to do it.
Sometimes that means making sacrifices and you may not have that breaking news story that your competitor has across the street. But, maybe you can tell it in a quicker way that uses less resources that then you have a better story the next day for the next day.
So, I'm trying to think. Because, basically, when we talk about videogames and journalism about videogames, there really hasn't been a track record of doing this sort of deeper diving you're mentioning. Maybe there's a couple examples here and there.
I told you recently about my experience, like, going out to Michigan and interviewing for the fellowship out there and their not really getting it. I don't know. I don't want to seem like a crybaby sort of saying there's a degree of media apathy when it comes to this industry, but I'm just sort of wondering -- you know, how do you establish this track record when, by and large, bigger outlets, like you said, it's not that they turn their backs but it just seems to be a lack of interest or an assumption that other publications are doing the work that they aren't. So, I'm not really asking for advice, but how do you establish something like that that can't seem to take root?
[Pause.] I think personally when you look at all the stories that there are to cover and all the stories that I get pitched and everything that's going on in the community I live in -- I think people wherever they live would maybe understand this: I don't think necessarily seeing a story on your local news that has to deal with the gaming industry on a regular basis is necessarily going to happen. And I don't necessarily think that's realistic because it's not -- it's like entertainment. How the box office did or what new movie is coming out is not really news, I think. When you look at it specifically from a hard news kind of standpoint and what's impacting people is not going to be something that we're covering on a regular basis, and I don't think it should be.
But I think in the broader context of technology and sort of this culture that has emerged, specifically through gaming but also, like I said, through virtual reality, through artificial intelligence, that is an area that I think we should pay closer attention to because -- and we're already seeing it -- it's going to start impacting I think almost every aspect of daily life, from the justice system. You know, an example of, if you are in a virtual reality situation and you have your person that you've created and it's not really you but it is your image and it feels like it's you and you are there feeling emotions and you are there participating in this alternative reality, what if someone assaults you there? What happens? Can that individual be charged? Are people gonna start being charged? I mean, that individual's feelings, while maybe they weren't physically harmed, emotionally they could have been. So, what happens then? I think we're seeing some of these questions come up. You know, with artificial intelligence, do robots -- do they have a right to the content they create? And that's a question that's gonna be decided at some point. So, I think there are all these larger issues that are going to impact everyone's everyday life and that's why I think we should be paying closer attention to the culture that's going on around it and what people are doing in these -- in the gaming industry and in virtual reality, just in these spheres that maybe we're not aware of.
Well, it's interesting that you bring all this up because obviously there has been, especially in recent months and maybe in the last year specifically, there's been a sharp uptick of coverage of Silicon Valley and workplace practices there. I mean, I wonder -- I don't think it's that binary, but do you feel like we're too focused on Silicon Valley? Is the media not doing a good enough job of connecting practices there with other histories or other industries?
[Pause.] Well, I think, you know, sometimes what you do see is easy, right? Like, that's an easy way to cover tech: Go to Silicon Valley and cover the tech scene just because the companies are there. Maybe you can get access. You know, it's an easy way to do it. Now, is it the best way? You know, I think it depends what stories. I mean, if you're trying to cover the companies themselves, I think it makes sense. If you're trying to cover the culture -- the culture of working in those environments, okay, maybe yes. But if you're trying to cover just the culture of people who are using this technology, no, I would not say that is the best because that's not the majority of Americans. We need to go to where the rest of the country, where people are living and using these technologies. How are they using them? What do they use them for? Why do they like them? What is their experience like?
Well, yeah, there have been these stories about misogyny in Silicon Valley and I'm sure you remember the piece about -- I think it was in the New York Times about Amazon a year or two ago. I mean, do you feel like it's still the media's job to move the needle on companies or issues like this? Do you feel like social media has a role to play? I guess, I don't know. Do you feel like when these stories come out, do they actually impact or affect change?
I mean, I think they absolutely have potential to, but I think the issue is then what people decide to do with the information they receive. So, that's always what I tell my team.
You know, we aren't here to necessarily create change. We are here to provide the most accurate, responsible, ethical information we can about a particular subject. Try to cover it and investigate it as well as we can, and then tell the story. And then it's up to people to do something with that information. So, I think, you know, you've seen different boycotts with certain companies. And I think that, to me, is then -- information is power. So, if we're providing the information, then if the public would like to do something with that to create change -- I mean, that, to me, is how the system works.
[Pause.] Speaking of social media, I'm curious about -- I don't know. Could you talk a little bit about just the way social media has maybe created opportunities for bad habits in journalists? Like, I know that that's a big thing that the SPJ has done is codify ethics. But how do you see social media -- I don't want to use the word "distorting," but maybe muddying the waters as far as ethics for journalists and the way that they conduct themselves?
Well, I think what we do see sometimes unfortunately is someone will say, "Oh, it's just Facebook. It's fine. It's just Twitter. It didn't really mean anything.” But actually, in a lot of cases, that means more than maybe what's going on TV, depending on who's tweeting it and what the subject matter is. So, you know, we always say it doesn't matter what format you are producing content in or you're making content available in. Your ethics bar should be just as high. I do think -- you know, is it difficult to be as responsible and as accurate and as ethical in 140 characters versus a 5,000-word piece?
I mean, it absolutely is. Right? I mean, that's the reality. Like, you can't put all of the same context that you put into even a 300-word piece that you did in a 140 characters. So, you do have to be careful about that and make sure, though, that you are at least thinking about it. Maybe you're tweeting two or three times. Maybe you're writing something, taking a screen grab, and making it an image. You know what I mean? There are ways to do it but you do have to really stop and think because the reality is -- the way social media is it's so quick, right? It allows a sometimes bite-size comment. So, how do you do it in a way that's responsible? First, is if you had 10 minutes to tell a story, you could get all sides in. Well, you should still do that same thing or attempt to find a way to attempt to do the same thing on social media.
Well, how about credibility? How do you feel social media has changed what we look for as far as what makes for a credible journalist?
[Pause.] Huh. I think sometimes I think what does happen is I think journalists do find themselves not in trouble but just in a rough spot at times because social media is a spot where you should have a personality. You know, you should be willing to share information with your followers. That's what it is. It's a social environment, right? People want to get to know you, but you also sometimes then are criticized if you over-share or share too much, that you're biased when you cover a certain topic. I mean, that's a real issue that we are seeing right now and that I do get contacted by journalists a lot who -- they are covering something that might be political, but then because of a tweet from six, seven years ago or even just two weeks ago they retweeted something that they just thought was funny that they then are criticized as being left or being right and then their article is torn apart and it's biased. It can be tough. What I always tell journalists is you have to be really, really careful and you should be. If you want to cover serious news, you have to be careful about what you're sharing online. That's just the reality of it.
Yeah, I mean, I wonder about sourcing stories as well. Because what I see frequently, at least in the games worlds, is writers will make the mistake of thinking that Facebook or Twitter is the whole entire world. [Laughs.] They almost sort of forget that there's still an offline world that is part of these communities and part of these cultures. What have you noticed along that line? Do you think -- I don't know. Have you noticed that as well? Just people seem to forget that the offline world is still there to cover?
Oh, totally. And I think because it's easy to do. So, okay, let's say you're covering, I don't know, restaurant inspections, let's just say.
You want a restaurant-inspection expert, so you just kind of Google and find out who might be a restaurant-inspection expert that talks about this and you email them. You don't ask for a phone conversation, you just have a couple questions, they give it to you, and then all of a sudden you're quoting them in your story. I mean, that's easy, right? But it's not responsible and it's not as ethical as it could be.
Yeah. I mean, there's a whole -- I'm sure you've heard of it: Help A Reporter Out. That resource.
Oh yeah. Yeah.
And, you know, I've used HARO several times.
I've used it a bunch, too. [Laughs.]
Yeah. But, I get on the phone with people, right? Like, I just don't -- especially if I've never met them in person or I'm unable to meet them in person. It's important to background check people. You know, see if they really exist.
I mean, journalists have forwarded me comments about getting caught up in that. You know, you're moving fast and have a lot of stuff to produce and you get catfished. It's not okay. We can't let that happen. But absolutely, sourcing is a real issue. You know, one, working in TV is a little bit different because we really do need to have them on camera to make a story really that we can air it. You know, we are most of the time meeting the people that we are talking to. Sometimes it's just via Skype, but if it is via Skype I'm making sure the reporters are double-checking the identity. Can we verify with Google Images? With a LinkedIn profile? I mean, all that kind of stuff. You know, that stuff is very, very important, and just to take quotes from an email from someone you've never spoken to? You don't know who they are and you found them via Google search. You really want to think twice about that and really try a little bit harder to verify information.
So, I mean, I was gonna ask what gets sacrificed in sourcing things that way. But it sounds like it goes back to my question about credibility.
Yeah, I mean, you really -- I mean, have some people maybe sacrificed? I would say that's just not being as responsible as a journalist. Yes.
And I do think, you know, with texting -- I mean, look, it is easy. I always tell people getting on the phone? It takes time. It's hard. It can be hard to step out, especially if you're working full-time and you're maybe trying to freelance on the side or whatever it is. You're just starting your career and you're going to school full-time. It's hard to take that half-hour conversation. I get it. But it is still important to at least pick up that phone, call them, try to meet people for coffee, try to meet them in person for the interview. It also just makes the story so much better because you get to hear their voice, you get to just hear a context that you totally lose in any sort of text or email conversation.
Yeah, I mean, so this is a circuitous path to making my way back to asking about videogame stuff, but being out at Airplay and maybe -- I don't know, I think I saw somewhere that you did a Reddit AMA. I guess I'm just curious to hear your perspective on just people who get worked up about the videogame culture. Like, if I'm remembering correctly, I think that that Airplay event had bomb threats. I think you got a lot of the worst of the worst that has happened during the spikes of Gamergate. But coming into the culture, being exposed it "from the outside," what were your takeaways? What was revelatory for you to hear about? What were you surprised about? What were you not surprised to hear about? I'm just sort of peppering you with questions to get you talking about anything you might still remember or maybe still think about.
Yeah, so, when I was doing this, there were several different people that said, "Oh no, you're going to get trolled online." All this stuff. Really, I had a pleasant experience communicating with people in the gaming world. You know, there were some tweets that were just kind of inappropriate and kind of harassing, but for the most part I would say 95, 96 percent of it was very good conversations. Curious people asking really good questions. So, that was just for me personally.
But, I mean, yes, there were bomb threats at the event, which, to me, violence at any kind of event, no matter what industry or what's being discussed, where really people are just trying to have a discussion I just think is totally inappropriate and really just crosses a line. I think it really does then taint the industry and the people that are involved. I think that's the kind of thing, you know, that I really also try to tell people as I talk to them: "You know, let's try to move the conversation just towards a respectful tone.” And you'd be amazed, I think, at how far you're able to get instead of this insult after insult. And that was kind of, I think -- again, like I said, I didn't personally necessarily have that happen to me, but I was seeing it happen and I was seeing examples. You know, just as a human being, it's not good to see. I don't like to see that. We should be able to have conversations no matter what the topic is and be able to respectfully hear one another out, tell them our opinions without harassing or insulting or threatening anyone.
So, what did people want to know about then? What were they asking of you?
Yeah, so, you know, there were people that were upset about how the Gamergate controversy was covered by some of the organizations. I think Washington Post was one of the organizations that did cover it -- when you talk about mainstream. Then I think there were some clips that ended up on CNN. Kind of this was in the heat of all of it. This was --
Three years ago.
I don't know how many years ago. Three years? Okay.
So, there were people that were upset with how it was covered. And I think some of their concerns were valid. I think there were in some piece just a lack of understanding and/or just the individuals that were maybe asked to speak maybe didn't represent the community, which you see happen a lot across the board in news stories. And it's not just the gaming industry. It's, you know, talk about Black Lives Matter. Well, who represents Black Lives Matter? There are so many different opinions in this community, so who represents them? And as a journalist, how do you determine who you're talking to? What I explained to them is -- yes, we, as journalists could be getting a better understanding of what this community is like before allowing someone to speak for the community.
But I think, also, my other suggestion to them was when people would ask me questions is: Why don't you contact that reporter? I know we get contacted after a big story airs. We get contacted by people and they say, "You know, that's not been my experience." We get on the phone with those people and we hear what their experience has been like. If we find that the experience that we portrayed or the version of what we portrayed is not correct, we will do a follow-up with those individuals. I think part of the problem is, though, is that the people that were speaking out -- the question I ask them is: "Would you go on the record and talk to these journalists? Would you go on TV? Would you let them use your name or at least speak to them on the phone?" A lot were unwilling. I think sometimes that's hard, too, that if you have people that are unwilling to share their stories, that can also impact the coverage.
Yeah. I've run into that a lot with this project, where I've had people sort of threaten to sue me if I run the interview with them because they fear some sort of retribution from Gamergate or they change their mind because they just are fearful of the culture. You know, they only hear the worst things. I think the end result is just there are certain lapses in coverage or assumptions just because people aren't willing to talk for whatever reason.
That's what I've run into a lot.
Yeah, that was a common theme that I did see. And look, to me, looking at it as a journalist, that doesn't mean I'm not necessarily going to cover it. But it just makes it more difficult, and I have to get more creative, which is fine. I absolutely can do that. But then it depends, okay, then you're looking at: In the realm of all the stories that I'm covering, and if I'm talking about sex trafficking victims that are dying or immigrants who are dying as they're crossing the border. How do you weigh the different things that are going on? Not that harassment in gaming isn't important, but when you put it in the realm of everything that you're looking at, it might become less important and then it means that you're not putting as many resources.
Oh, especially today and recently.
Right. Right. Yes. And so, if you're not putting as many resources to it, it becomes more difficult to dedicate that time to be created. This is just being very realistic about what we deal with everyday. That said, one of the things I told them is: Contact your local reporter. See if they will meet with you. See if they will take the time, even if it's just coffee or 10 minutes on the phone. Try to do that. because I do think -- I mean, look, everyday when they go to work, they have to turn a story. They have to. They need content. I mean, they need to tell something. So, give them something to tell and explain to them why it's important.
I think the other thing that I also mentioned is don't make it a sob story. Make it bigger picture: Why does this matter? We're always thinking about impact. That's something a reporter's boss is gonna ask them: "Well, why does this matter?" So help them answer that question.
Do any people from that summit or since then, have they stayed in touch with you? Are people still asking you questions today?
Yeah. Absolutely. I still get asked questions and I try to answer as much as I can. Sometimes it's difficult because there are so many nuances and I'm not following it as closely, so I'm not necessarily following how the news story or the blog first was published and then how it became the second blog and the third blog.
You know, sometimes it takes time, and then it's following all the tweets and then it's looking at the Reddit thread. So, for me, it's more of a time issue that I'm just not able to dedicate as much as every question. So, sometimes, I do have to give more generic answers: "Here's how an ethical journalist would handle a situation like this.”
Well, so, yeah. To go back to the bigger picture thing, in a bigger picture sense what are the things that people are coming to you asking about or complaining about or seeking guidance or thoughts on? What are they coming to you with?
Yeah, I think probably the No. 1 thing is just feeling or questioning that the coverage of the gaming community is not fair. That's probably the No. 1 thing that I do get.
That they're painted in a way that because of some of the things that happened with Gamergate that it's this community that trolls people, that will harass people. I do think you do hear that. Right? That's a reality. That's something I cannot dispute.
But how do you change that coverage? That's where I encourage them to: "Okay, well, who can speak to why this is not true? Can you make those people available?" Contact those reporters. Contact those news organizations. So, yeah, that's probably the No. 1 thing, just that they feel coverage is unfair and that the coverage is unethical or doesn't abide by SPJ's ethics code. That's probably the No. 1 thing I hear.
Yeah, it's funny because this echoes something either you said when we spoke last or when we emailed, but you said that especially at bigger organizations, some journalists have a tendency to get a little out of touch and make those easier snap judgments or conclusions.
So, I mean, I'll just ask you one last question which maybe you already touched on: What surprises you about the fact that more outlets don't have better, more dedicated, more nuanced coverage of the videogame industry and videogame culture?
Well, like I said, I think for me, it's just that -- and again, this is not specific to videogames, because I don't necessarily think that we're ever going to see a time where someone is covering videogames exclusively in a local newsroom. I could be wrong. I don't think we're going to see that. I think -- I mean, we don't even have people that exclusively cover police anymore. So, it's like they're covering police and city hall and the county government, which is a lot of stuff going on.
So, to think that there is going to be a videogame journalist in a mainstream media television industry, I don't know that I would see that. But I am surprised that we aren't focusing on some of these just broader tech issues. From, one, you can look at it economically. Two, how the culture is and the communities that you live in. I know there's a virtual reality arcade that's down the block from where I live, and I don't know that we've ever done a story on that. And that's something that I think is interesting. I don't know how crowded it is. I've never been inside there, but what is going on there? That's something different? That's something that maybe we'll take a look at. Let's see what it's all about. So I think it's more just that broader -- and again, and I want to say tech, but I'm not talking about covering Uber and covering what's going on inside their offices or necessarily even covering Amazon. I'm talking more about just how people interact with tech, what real people are doing with technology, with gaming, with virtual reality. Those kinds of things.