[Editor’s note: This is a guest piece from journalist and public speaker Robert Kingett. The views and opinions expressed by Robert are his own.]
Typing in “opinion journalism” into Google will reveal a ton of research. One of the top results is a shell of an article on Wikipedia, that has a note at the top of it.
“This article does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (January 2014)”
The definition there is straightforward and direct if it is a bit, well, laughable. The entry is only two paragraphs long and attempts to describe opinion journalism. What it fails to mention, however, is that opinion journalists still should adhere to journalistic ethics and standards and guidelines.
Many are familiar with Ben Kuchera and his work of doing things such as comparing video game lengths to paintings and comparing a PS4 controller to “the best thing ever” without citing what “that thing” is.
For those who don’t know him, Ben Kuchera is a writer for Polygon who recently wrote an unethical piece about why he is taking a break from gaming.
In journalism, it is our job to present facts and cases. This includes sides of a debate, both sides in court cases, and evidence that cancels other evidence out. We are to be the one who parses through all of this information, splice it, research it’s accuracy, and then present both stances to the public. The public look to us to tell the truth when providing news, to showcase conflicting points of view, to be the source for events that will serve the people no matter how many people we have backed on Patreon or Kickstarter
The same is true for opinion journalism as well. While there isn’t any clear standards opinion journalists have, they still have to abide by basic, sometimes common sense, guidelines and ethics.
In fact, this is even more so for opinion journalists. Not only should they present all, and I mean all, of the counter arguments within their topic they are writing about, opinion journalists should operate as custodians of fact with a discipline of verification. Opinion journalists report and tell us what they think about what they report and why they think the way they do about what they report.
On Mar 30, 2015 an opinion piece went live entitled, “I’m taking a break. It’s not you, gaming, it’s me”
The title doesn’t necessarily scream a breach of ethics right then and there but the first two paragraphs do. The first two paragraphs, too, inform the reader exactly what this post will be about. It’s not a debate with links and facts and studies and different voices laying out an argument. It’s a sympathy seeking blog post which violates Polygons own laughable ethics policy, to boot.
From Polygon’s own horrific opinion dictionary, it clearly states that…
“Opinion pieces present one side of debates or issues that are often two sided, and will seek to begin a dialog with our readers and the industry at large. These pieces may be written by Polygon staff, freelance writers or industry professionals.”
While they don’t hold any merits against my stacks of guidelines and otherwise that say that an opinion reporter is to give their educated point of view while clearly displaying and demonstrating conflicting arguments or viewpoints, staff should at least follow their own policies. Ben Kuchera has not.
After the article opens up with a paragraph that begs for pity, the tone continues to rocket down the tone and voice of pity. Here’s just one example.
“This is actually a relatively common thing as I get older, and many industry friends suggested literally dozens of great games I should be playing. I was forced to admit that the problem wasn’t the selection of games on the market, but my own need to get away from playing games for a bit.
It seems like every year or two I hit a few weeks, or even a month or so, when gaming as a whole just doesn’t feel enjoyable.”
The article also vilifies gamers in addition to completely violating their ethics policy. Ben actually writes something as horrible as “What’s striking is that when I talk about these periods to people I know in gaming, they often admit the same thing, but the conversation turns to whispers, as if we’re doing something wrong.” I know that not all gamers are that hideous. Studies also back me up.
Journalists should never, ever, attack their audience. This is in direct violation of ethics such as SPJ’s ethics and the New York Times.
The complaint continues for almost a page with no points, counter points, arguments, justifications, dialogs, facts, figures, or even debates. Even though it’s called an opinion piece on Polygon, it would never be considered an opinion piece in mainstream journalism because there’s no argument to display. There’s just a wash of subjectively brass adjectives and metaphors
By allowing this to happen, Polygon has demonstrated that it will violate it’s own ethics policy to generate clicks and readers.
This shouldn’t be on a video game website that’s supposed to provide news and opinions, actual opinions with an equal demonstration of all parties involved, I meant. It is highly unethical and really illustrates just how lackluster their staff are when considering their work and guidelines..
This isn’t the first time Ben Kuchera has violated journalism ethics, however. This opinion by him is an attack, not an opinion, as well.
In fact, quite a bit of his opinions are in violation of journalism ethics. Polygon and others recently updated their policies and ethics, but it’s about time websites start actually taking journalism and reporting on a cherished industry seriously. It certainly can’t hurt anything. Hell, it may even increase site traffic once in a while.