[Update: Additional e-mails have been added regarding the date of the firing.]
[Update #2: Yanier “Niero” Gonzalez has responded following the publication of this article.]
Allistar Pinsof, a former writer for Destructoid, has come forward after dealing with a year of turmoil and frustration for not having received proper justice, following an unusual situation that spawned from Pinsof warning consumers about an IndieGoGo campaign. Combined with certain e-mails from the Game Journo Pros mailing list, his information corroborates a lot of what gamers suspected but didn’t know how to deal with or expose. For the purpose of this story, some names may be redacted as requested by some people involved with the situation.
A quick recap is as follows: Pinsof was investigating a potential case of fraud involving an IndieGoGo campaign that sprung up back in early April, 2013. In early May, Pinsof exposed certain information about the crowdfunding campaign to the public, but in doing so riled up a lot of vitriol from certain communities. After discussing some of the events on Twitter, both the individual involved with the IndieGoGo and Pinsof resolved the situation in a roundtable discussion at Gamers Against Bigotry, on May 18th, 2013. All would seem well in the world… except, it wasn’t.
Before the roundtable discussion took place, Pinsof was still catching heat, with some Destructoid bloggers calling for his head for leaking information about the individual that was seen as damaging to certain communities.
Throughout the week ending on May 18th, 2013, Pinsof and Destructoid owner Yanier “Niero” Gonzalez had a series of back and forth e-mails. Gonzalez had suspended Pinsof for taking to Twitter to talk about the situation after he advised him not to. On May 17th, 2013 Yanier “Niero” Gonzalez took to the Game Journo Pros group e-mails to consult with other editors, managers and site owners to see how they would handle the situation.
Some suggested that “Niero” seek legal advice, others called for Allistair to be fired. Chris Dahlen, former editor-in-chief at Kill Screen and best known for stating that everyone draws their own ethical lines, stated…
“[Quoting “Niero”] Allistair decides to post the facts on Twitter against our wishes despite not asking him to do so, and also publicly outs [Redacted]. It was an unconfirmed rumor prior to that.” [end quote]
“And by the way, I haven’t followed the story closely and I didn’t see the tweets. I think you should fire him because just based on the way you wrote the e-mail, you seem to think that’s the right [decision]”
Jonathan Deesing, former G4 contributor and freelance games writer, stated the following in the GJP thread…
“Yeah up until this point I was on the side of not firing the guy. This would have been a good opportunity to make an example of him while not firing him. People always love the reformed guy”
Danielle Riendeau, senior reviewer at Polygon, also came forward to note that Pinsof deserved to be fired, stating…
“I’ve been following the situation with interest, and I feel for you, Niero. I think legal counsel is a very good idea, and I also think you probably * should* fire the writer in question,”
Interestingly enough, only one person actually asked whether or not the alleged “victim” in question should actually be questioned first before anyone made any rash decisions to fire a writer for exposing an issue that consumers should be made aware of. However, following through with fact-checking was immediately shot down.
According to an unpublished Reddit post, one that you can read in its entirety and completely uncensored here on Pastebin, Pinsof claims that he was actually fired on May 17th; the day that Gonzalez had consulted with the Game Journo Pros.
The unpublished Reddit post explains that…
“I was terminated on May 17, after which I immediately go back on Twitter. So, I did not return to Twitter during my suspension but only after being fired from the company. My firing wasn’t made public at the time, possibly to build the narrative of me being active on Twitter during suspension so the above accusation could eventually be made for the company’s benefit.”
This was something Allistair states in the e-mail exchange that was leaked, which ended up on NeoGaf. The exchange happened on May 18th, 2013.
If you can’t read it, Gonzalez states…
“You haven’t been fired though, you’re still under suspension, you still work here numbnuts.”
Pinsof replies in a follow-up, suggesting that there’s another undisclosed e-mail that states that he’s fired. He opts to take a letter of recommendation from Gonzalez and part ways with Destructoid on good terms.
Gonzalez asks if Pinsof is resigning, and that the only recommendation he was giving was for him to stay off Twitter.
Allistair repeats an e-mail exchange that he had with Gonzales on May 17th. You can view the original e-mail exchange here.
Pinsof quotes an exchange where “Niero” stated…
“What would Gawker do? Probably run with what they have, threaten her for more info, and posting every step after. If you want to go that route please walk a fine line not to get sued for libel. Use “suspicious circumstances” instead of “fraud” etc.”
“Id pull those tweets down asap. You’re risking over-exposure. If you’re wrong or she can cover it up (better than you can disprove it) I’m going to have a lynch mob pounding my door for you.”
Two links for Pinsof were posted in the e-mail as leads for him to follow, suggesting some kind of support from the higher-ups. The e-mail is dated April 9th, around the time when the whole event was unfolding.
Allistair further stated in the e-mail…
“Even after all the mental stress, libel, and mob attacks you are causing – when we could have all gone our merry by now – you are trying to attack my credibility. Why? I did more damage control today than you did during this whole thing. Good thing you listened to Gawker, right? I won’t throw you or anyone else under the bus because I don’t do that. However, if I apply to a job in the future and if they should ask about Destructoid, I put my trust in you, in hopes you’d do damage control and I could eventually work my way back up through good work. Instead, you do this. You threw me under the bus, lie about everything, manipulated my good intentions, and then try to keep me on a leash. For what? For a mob that already moved on? For a mob that never read our site or a gaming site? For a mob that cared so much about [Redacted] that they sent a total of two emails of support to [Redacted]?”
Allistair asks for cooler heads to prevail and that emotions be left at the door. Ultimately, he just wanted a recommendation from Gonzalez so he could move on with his life. Gonzalez, however, replied with the following…
“Al, [..] I wrote you up for your conduct on twitter and disobeying multiple orders. You remain on suspension. As you know, [D]ale [North] is back from E3 on Monday and we will review your job here.”
What Allistair Pinsof didn’t know was that throughout May 18th, Yanier “Niero” Gonzalez had in his ear the advice of the Game Journo Pros.
Pinsof wasn’t aware of what Gonzalez was discussing with the others, but he was aware of the Game Journo Pro group. In his unpublished Reddit post, Pinsof expressed his disappointment with the rest of the Destructoid staff for not showing more backbone, including Dale North, current editor-in-chief at Destructoid, saying…
“There are a couple major factors to this story I haven’t previously discussed in hopes of protecting people I thought would do the right thing in time, but time has passed and they haven’t. On the morning of May 13, I was told by Destructoid’s associate editor Chris Carter:
“I’m actually seeing people blame Indiegogo for “killing [Redacted],” with people calling for a boycott, and I’ve even seen a few death threats to Indiegogo staff. I’ve also seen a few people call to boycott Twitch.
To think this scammer is getting away with everything, and is passing the blame is pretty unbelievable.”
This was followed by a month of back and forth with Destructoid staff, but rarely my managing editors who, in the past, gave me commands to change or stop a story. What I got instead was encouragement to pursue the story from Destructoid Publisher Niero Gonzalez (who rarely if ever gives editorial feedback to staff), associate editor Jonathan Holmes mocking me for taking [Redacted] suicide attempts seriously, and complete silence from the managing editors who advised me through ethically complex issues in the past (mainly Conrad Zimmerman, but by title Editor-in-Chief Dale North, News Manager Jordan Devore, and Managing Editor Hamza Aziz should have chimed in especially given the serious actions that were to follow).”
On May 19th, Allistair sent the following e-mail to Gonzalez, stating…
I think since the beginning we’ve all been assuming the worse in each other and everyone watching. I look forward to talking on the phone Monday and hope we can all approach with cooler heads. Sunday will just be a Sunday and we can see where all of this is heading on Monday. I don’t think it’s fair to expect me to come to San Francisco for a meeting.” […]
“I’m not against the removal of any information out on the Twitters, but let’s discuss that Monday.”
Pinsof took to Twitter to explain that he would not be posting again until June.
Gonzalez responded saying…
“Sounds good […] Pls pull tweets against me and I will recommend you. No worries. Let’s chat mon”
The exchange of e-mails then discuss Yanier writing out a recommendation letter for Allistair. However, Allistair wanted to discuss a few things with the Destructoid owner over the phone. He was repeatedly blown off and eventually hung up on. On May 20th Yanier “Niero” Gonzalez updated the Destructoid forum thread with the following information.
“In regards to the current situation involving Allistair Pinsof, I felt that the story could have damaging repercussions if published (as it was at that time) and on Monday May 13, I personally instructed Mr. Pinsof to hold it pending further information.
Mr. Pinsof was suspended for failing to act in accordance with these instructions by publishing the details of his research on Twitter on May 14. He was also advised to remain off of Twitter during his suspension, which he also failed to do.”
[Update: Previous to posting the information on May 20th, “Niero” had consulted with Samantha Allen from the Daily Beast on how to deal with Allistair.]
On that same day, Pinsof wrote…
“My only agenda right now is getting out of this with other employers, in the future being able to think I can be trusted and that I’m a thorough reporter. They’ll have their own opinion, good or bad, on how these events went down and that’s fine. I only care about how they perceive me in months to come.” […]
“Termination is final. You can’t turn back on it, neither can I. It also means you’d have to pay unemployment. It means other outlets and parties who know the full story will judge you for your actions and speak poorly about your staff and brand for weeks, months and years to come. I’m already getting those calls and doing my best to distract them. That’s irreparable. It also means a permanent mark on my record. It also introduces the option of wrongful termination since your contract doesn’t cover what you say are saying you are firing me for and the way things went down. I am not threatening and don’t want to discuss termination further because I have a much better solution for the two of us. Please call if you’d like to hear it and move things forward. If you don’t feel comfortable talking, let me talk to Jim or another party that you feel you can trust and can represent you.”
Allistair Pinsof’s aunt Judith P. Meyer, a mediator and arbitrator, also tried stepping in, sending “Niero” a letter to at least convince him to consider signing the recommendation so Allistair could at least have a decent chance of finding work after Destructoid, stating in the letter…
“I am aware that Allistair has been terminated and your recommendation letter of May 19 (which he shared with me) which he so desired and needs for future employment is off the table. He is also very concerned that statements about him from Destructoid that are on the web will destroy any future employment as a journalist. He in no way intended to put [Redacted] at risk. My understanding is that [Redacted] has apologized to Allistair. It was Allistair’s intent only to expose a fraudulent charity that prompted the Twitter postings and it was posted after [Redacted] attempted a suicide.”
What was Gonzalez’ response to this plea for resolution? Well, you can see it for yourself in the screenshot below, which were followed by Allistair sending an e-mail to Destructoid employees and Gonzalez sending a rebuttal.
It is true that Florida is an “at will” state, which means that an employer can fire an employee “at will” for any reason under the sun, save for three reasons. As noted on the Florida Senate website archive: 1.)They’re involved in a whistleblower suit with a governmental agency, 2.) providing information in testimony relating to legal allegations involving the employer, 3.) or the employer willfully had a person commit a criminal act and they refused.
However, there’s also a law in the state of Florida regarding wrongful combinations against workers. In other words, blacklisting. The Florida Senate Statues states under title 31, chapter 448, section 045…
Wrongful combinations against workers.—If two or more persons shall agree, conspire, combine or confederate together for the purpose of preventing any person from procuring work in any firm or corporation, or to cause the discharge of any person from work in such firm or corporation; or if any person shall verbally or by written or printed communication, threaten any injury to life, property or business of any person for the purpose of procuring the discharge of any worker in any firm or corporation, or to prevent any person from procuring work in such firm or corporation, such persons so combining shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.”
Fast forward to May 22nd, 2013 and Dale North, Destructoid’s editor-in-chief posts the following in a thread titled “You-know-who may try to contact you”, writing…
“Ugh. I can’t tell you what to do, fellow EiCs, but I can advise on what you shouldn’t do. Industry friends have informed me that a certain problem child has been reaching out to some of you”
This spawned a torrent of jokes from most members, with a few people genuinely confused as to who they were talking about. Some of the responses are below.
The idea was that Allistar Pinsof was blacklisted and North wanted to ensure that no one talked to him. In his unpublished Reddit post, Pinsof stated…
“I thought, I have the proof of how things really went down. I have the email where Niero Gonzalez encouraged an investigation rather than told me to hold on April 9, as he told the public. I have the email where associate editor Johnathan Holmes mocked me for taking [Redacted]’s suicide attempts seriously. I have the email where associate editor Chris Carter fed me false information on death threats against IndieGoGo and Twitch forming.”
“So, I brought this proof to every major website. I thought if I were them, I would want to look into this as a journalist because this is a sweeping display of corruption within a prominent game business. If nothing else, hear the other side of the story because you can bet they’ve heard Niero’s.”
“Except, nobody did. Nobody wanted to risk writing about a fellow game site because, in more ways than one, they are all in bed together. It’s easier to keep the exclusive club intact than to tackle this ethically complex issue. And above all, there was no immediate financial incentive to reporting corruption in game journalism since it wouldn’t get the views that reporting corruption in game studios would.”
Interesting enough, Pinsof states that only Patricia Hernandez from Kotaku was interested in the story, even though she was close friends with Anna Anthropy, who Pinsof claims was one of the individuals asking for him to be fired on Twitter. In fact, In one of the conversations with Gonzalez, Allistair asks for help in quelling some of the vitriol aimed at the situation that was stirred up by Anthropy…
Allistair further adds…
“I would later learn [Kotaku] blacklisted me and weren’t the only one.”
“Instead, I got Joystiq editor Alexander Sliwinski who called me out of curiosity and laughed at the absurd actions of Destructoid’s managing staff. I felt hopeful. He said that would never happen at Joystiq because they can afford lawyers and don’t throw staff under the bus. But in the end, it was all just a cute story for him to tell others for a laugh. He never spoke to me again or agreed to help me.”
“Instead, I got calls from other journalists involved in past controversies telling me that you can’t trust other journalists to help you, and that you need to keep your head down and accept your situation. That situation being, the site you worked for is corrupt and no one else cares.”
Nevertheless, I reached out to Yanier “Niero” Gonzalez, the owner of Destructoid, regarding his stance on Allistair Pinsof, and whether or not Gonzalez stated that if Pinsof ever spoke up about the situation that he would add to his byline “WORST EMPLOYEE EVER DO NOT HIRE!”. Gonzalez stated…
“He left with universal disapproval of all my staff, deleted some very nasty tweets, and its true that I think nobody should ever work with that guy.”
“The guy embarrassed himself out of the industry. Its sad and we all think hes an asshole but its also a sad shame that he fucked up an otherwise bright career ahead.”
“Whatever you think youre going to gain by publishing this is going to do more harm to his credibilty (and possibly yours) than bother me.”
I wonder if some journalists are aware that colluding to blacklist someone from employment is considered illegal in some states?
Nevertheless, “Niero’s” statements were actually confirmed by Allistair, who wrote in his unpublished Reddit piece…
“I have decided I am done with game journalism, in spite of it being done with me months ago, and that enough time has passed to let parties make the right decisions — time passed and they didn’t. I’ve kept silent due to threats against me by Destructoid’s Publisher Yanier ‘Niero’ Gonzalez — that he would change my byline to “WORST EMPLOYEE EVER DO NOT HIRE!” on all articles and possibly delete my work from the past two years — but I have decided I shouldn’t let fear rule my life.”
Interestingly enough, Allistair isn’t the first Destructoid employee to make this claim. Holly Green, a former writer for Destructoid and current managing editor at GameRanx, unloaded on Twitter (the tweets have since been deleted), stating…
“You know, y’all really piss me off. Radio silence on what Dtoid did to me while you piss your pants straining to defend others.”
“Hypocrites. You’ll take that easy opportunity to prove your loyalty without ever actually sticking your neck out for anyone. So go ahead, keep pressing that flesh with abusers and assholes. Ya pricks.”
“They threatened me, erased my body of work, and repeatedly ignore or deny sexual misconduct. But I’m the bad guy.”
“These injustices you wish to fight for women in this industry? They go so deep. You’ll never know. You will always take the easy route. Pricks, con artists, and fakes. You only speak up when it benefits your career, not when ppl need you.”
I reached out to Holly Green, I was unable to get a response at the time of the publishing of this article.
As for Pinsof… he’s moved on with his life, and yet a part of him still wants justice for what transpired.
If for nothing else, his story and Holly Green’s testimony are at least out there. The blacklist seems to hold some weight, hinted at by Gonzalez’ threats, Allistair’s claims, Holly Green’s tirade, and the Game Journo Pro communications.
Allistair Spinof wants to pursue a career making games, but with such a corrupt system, is it even possible for his game to get coverage from the same people who didn’t mind ruining his career? Things will need to change. This kind of corruption needs to be exposed for the toxicity that it is.
[Update #2:] Yanier “Niero” Gonzalez has amended his quotes on the situation, stating [Full quotes from “Niero” are here]…
“How exactly is it collusion when I very openly expressed my feelings on the web’s biggest gaming industry forum, and LATER nudged others not following that conversation?
You also failed to notice my tone change *after* his personal attacks and insults, which were also public on twitter, reddit, and so on — which hd of course deleted but I have screenshots of.
Beyond proof, he disobeyed my wishes, who is his boss, from hour zero. You do this as vice president or retail cashier and youre fired. End of story. What followed is a mess that you can color any way you want
Destructoid is my hobby. Its a blog and there are blog contributors. I dont enjoy deleting stories or ruining the lives of others in my free time. Dozens of people have left dtoid on good terms and their work is up there.
Im not a newspaper or government service that swears to forever host stories. Nowhere on my site does it say we are journalists. We clown out journalists constantly.
This is my hobby.
I do this because I love videogames and gamers.”
[Disclosure: I was a former member of the Game Journo Pros e-mail group]