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Editor’s Letter: Polygon, The Developing Story of Being First

June 6, 2013 Written by Sebastian Moss

polygon

Editor’s Letter is a series of ongoing articles on the state of PSLS, its future and the future of the industry as a whole.

The point of developing stories is to keep you abreast of the news as it happens – the president has been shot; he has been brought to hospital; he’s fine, it was a BB gun. It make sense as it ensures you are as informed as possible as soon as possible.

But, with websites’ desire to be first, the whole idea behind a developing story is being corrupted. As most people follow a number of game sites on Twitter or whatever news feed they use, being the first site to publish guarantees that you’ll get the most clicks, and therefore the most money, so many sites will do whatever it takes to be first, including cutting vital corners. Today I’ll take a look at Polygon, who, along with their sister site The Verge, are repeat offenders, but it is a problem systemic in this industry (and many others).

Earlier today, Polygon published this ‘developing story’, becoming the first site to do so on my feed and earning my click (press to fullscreen):

developing

Apparently, the Xbox One supports used games completely, wholly and freely… of course, that’s not true.

A whole 34 minutes later, after several small updates, it became this, a completely different story:

developed

Now it turns out that the Xbox One has numerous used game restrictions, many of which are confusing – you need to be friends for 30 days, publishers can choose some things and only select retailers take part.

That means that if you read the first version, which many people did, you’ve received the wrong information, you have incorrect knowledge simply because they were greedy for traffic. And, let’s face it, most of those readers aren’t going to F5 for half an hour to get the correct information. And they shouldn’t have to. You are not being as informed as possible as soon as possible.

Of course, the whole issue with a developing story is that the facts do change, so information can quickly become wrong. New quotes, new press releases and new videos can appear, suddenly rendering a story obsolete. In fact, that was Polygon’s defense when commenters complained:

excuses

Right, except no new information emerged. The original story sourced the Xbox Wire public announcement that had all the information at the beginning. It’s here, it’s not developing, it’s been the same the whole time.

This is the problem: sites are jumping the gun on posts just to be first, essentially creating a placeholder page where they’ll put the information in later. They are cheating the system, taking advantage of readers’ acceptance of actual developing stories and using it to trick them into giving them traffic that they don’t deserve. They’re treating their readers like idiots that will lap up anything that is put in front of them, no matter how factually correct it is, or how lax the quality standards are.

On top of that, sites that actually care about posting complete stories end up with less traffic and a worse position on Google News, meaning that more and more publications are forced to do this to stay competitive, ultimately lowering the industry into the gutter. People are writing headlines instead of stories, and those headlines are often wrong, as in this case.

Instead of being the best way to let you know what’s happening right now, developing stories have become an excuse for laziness, a way to get hits for a story that should just have been written better.

This is not journalism, this is misleading, unscrupulous garbage that is an insult to everyone involved.