Trashy articles are synonymous with games journalism : Boobs, top 10s and misleading quotes are the wobbly backbone of the industry. But where can the line be drawn between popular, profitable, content and utter garbage? Daily Reaction’s Seb and Dan discuss.
Seb: Penny Arcade’s Ben Kuchera recently did an article about adblockers (you can see our take on adblockers here), and the impact they have on games journalism. His take on the issue was rather interesting – that, due to the financial constraints adblockers impose, low brow articles about sexy cosplayers or posts with flamebait titles are ok, as they allow a site to fund better quality posts.
I stopped getting mad at the “Top Ten Japanese Panties I Jerked Off To Last Night” stories on certain sites when I realized that the hundreds of thousands of page views those articles received helped pay for a writer to spend a week gathering sources and do original reporting for a feature.
But that’s exactly the problem – Top 10 Panty posts earn a lot more, so the sites that make them generally end up using them to pay for a writer to spend a week pumping out hundreds of other top 10 panty posts so that they make way more profit, instead of funding quality content.
Quality content cannot be a side feature that one aspires to while producing abysmal rubbish that drags the site and its readership into the gutter. If a site creates content that Kuchera describes as “shit. Popular shit”, then anything they do is tainted. It shows that they don’t really care about their audience, about improving the industry or about any commitment to quality.
The fact that awful content makes more money is not an excuse.
Dan: I agree up to a point, the ability to broaden your audience is something all publications should strive for, but to do such by selling out your own credibility or even that of the games industry itself shouldn’t be acceptable. Articles that praise or spread gaming culture are important to the industry on some levels, but the shallow coverage the content receives fails to get most of its readers past the premise of potential tits.
This concept of using subjective material can give spice to a site, as well as act as a conduit to pay writers for better content, but how often do these articles become the mainstay instead of just the tool they were set out to be? Sadly, more often than not, these articles start to have a life of their own. Top 10 articles rarely have the same lifespan as news or editorial posts, because they rarely involve current events and are able to maintain an abstract level of relevance for years to come. That means that, unlike most articles that become almost dead (traffic-wise) within a few days, they can consistently generate hits and continually generate revenue.
This formula of easy-to-do articles that have a long shelf life is a great idea conceptually, but the ramifications of using them far outweigh the benefits.
Seb: Absolutely, it’s a slippery slope. From a purely impartial standpoint, top lists are fine, but the allure to quickly post some cheap content is all too enticing, and, once you’ve crossed that line, there’s no going back
But top lists are only the beginning of all that is wrong – pathetic sexual content like the one from Kotaku shown above (and, god, there are so many more) only serve to prove to the world that gamers are sad little basement dweebs who are desperate for blurry digital boobies on an internet filled with actual porn.
When major outlets produce countless degrading articles that demean women, hype up unworthy games for traffic and purposely sow discontent to spark flame wars, clearly there is something wrong with this industry.
It shouldn’t be allowed just because it is the more profitable route. Saying that ‘shit articles’ are ok is dangerously flawed reasoning that will only lead to worse and worse content because ‘oh, some of it may fund stuff you actually care about’.
There cannot be any compromise if we want sites to create actual quality content.
Dan: There are definitely things wrong within the industry. Just as we are trying to shoot to be more than just a destination point for man-babies and children, we are also supporting and glorifying substanceless articles. Humor and nonsensical material does have a place, as it can add a bit levity to the non-stop articles about mass layoffs or the normal dreary day to day events we try to escape. But, the ability to manage the fine line between quality and humor without corroding any reputation we have built throughout the years, is a difficult premise.
Developers like David Cage have become synonymous with pushing games to become a form of art, yet, those those covering the industry only seem to drag it down.
Kuchera makes a number of valid points in his article about funding journalism and the need for trashy articles, but the reality is that the only reason we have a need for trash is because we haven’t tried to look beyond the simple, yet problematic, answers. We need to strive to be a profitable industry through quality articles, even if it is a tougher journey.
Should sites use awful content to offset the cost of quality features? Is the occasional trash piece ok? Let us know in the comments below, send us terribly written emails to [email protected] and watch us lower the bar on Twitter at Seb and Dan.