Daily Reaction: Press, Pockets and PR: The Ethics of Media Relationships

As E3 edges nearer, the involvement the press has with developers and PR is growing by the day. So the Daily Reaction crew of Sebastian Moss and Dan Oravasaari do a Q&A on whether or not the media needs to start drawing lines in their relationships, if freebies are tainting reviews and if sponsored ads influence the industry.

Q: Is the relationship between game studios/publishers too close for related press to be honest and objective?

Dan: On some levels I think the relationship between people in the press and those that they are supposed to be covering can be too close when they reach a certain status. The major players at the top of the journalistic pyramid can be seen at events being treated vastly different than those who are below, which is understandable on some levels as those are usually the ones with relationships built over time. Industry vets are a great source for first hand accounts, but having seen “journalists” like Geoff Keighley be welcomed with open arms by the CEO of EA or Don Mattrick (president of Microsoft’s Interactive department) is worrying. This is a problem for press as they need a disconnect to be honest with you, the reader, and ourselves.

Having met a number of well known developers and high ranking officials who are genuinely nice people, it is impossible to not develop a relationship with them, which can be an issue as one becomes more ingrained in the industry. But, when I depart from someone who I could consider a friend or friendly colleague, there has to be an understanding that we both have jobs to do, and mine is say what needs to be said – no matter what it means to my ‘relationships’.

To say that I have never been influenced by a developer would be completely false, but I think being able to see where someone is approaching a product can give you more insight on what it was meant to be. Developers are rarely ignorant of a product’s stance in the market, regardless of what you are lead to believe, but that comes down to their own division of control with their PR firm. Some games can be developed as a single concept with a target audience that will appreciate its quirks, but PR can decide that marketing it to a separate segment could have a higher chance to turn a profit. So, getting the ability to speak directly to those that designed the product can allow you to see what is at the heart of it, but at the risk of putting a face to those whose job you could be putting on the line.

Seb: Yeah, that’s the thing. There obviously needs to be some sort of relationship – we’re in the same industry, and we’re reporting on them. Developers are a great resource for journalists and people love to read what they say, but they are generally protected by PR people.

Games journalists want connections in the industry so that they can get scoops or exclusive breaking news, positive or negative. The PR companies and publishers, on the other hand, just want good publicity.

This drive for free publicity means that they first won’t bother having a relationship with small sites. PSLS is a medium site, we have an audience, so PR people try to use us for their own ends – but when I worked at a small blog, or whenever I talk to bloggers, it’s clear that PR is only interested in sites with an Alexa ranking below 100,000. To a degree, that makes sense, they have limited resources, and need to focus it on where it’ll reach the largest audience.

But the second issue is that, once a site has got this relationship, they often don’t want to lose it. They want to keep the easy access to dev interviews, they want to keep the exclusive reviews, the exclusive access. They don’t want to anger the source of all their news, so they become press release machines.

The entertainment industry as a whole has an uncomfortably close relationship with the companies they report on. They rely on them too much and, unlike politicians, there isn’t as big of an onus on PR companies to reply to hard questions.

A business relationship (and even a friendly one like you said) can be unavoidable for a site if they want to do interviews or go to events. But everything needs to be transparent, and the site can’t be scared to piss off PR people, even if it may hurt the relationship. The truth is all that matters.

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