Your Money Or Your Lies

“While various existing codes have some differences, most share common elements including the principles of — truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability — as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.”


– Extract From a Wikipedia Entry Regarding Journalistic Ethics

“Preserve your independence of all demagogues and place-hunters and never submit to their dictation; write boldly and tell the truth fearlessly; criticize whatever is wrong, and denounced whatever is rotten in the administration of your local and state affairs, no matter how much it may offend the guilty or wound the would-be leaders of your party…Make an earnest and conscientious journal; establish its reputation for truth and reliability, frankness and independence. Never willfully deceive the people, or trifle with their confidence. Show that your journal is devoted to the advocacy and promotion of their temporal interests and moral welfare.”


– Extract From a Speech Made By Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune In May 1869

“Sometimes, but never always, a good leap off point to an article can just be a quote from another source” my old journalism lecturer used to tell me. “But never use dictionary definitions” he then added. “It makes you look pompous, implies the reader doesn’t understand language and is the ultimate lazy bastard introduction anyone can write.” Of course back then we didn’t have Wikipedia…

He was an old soak my lecturer, a red-faced drunk with a road map of broken capillaries on his face with all highways leading to a huge purple nose. He loved what he did and god only knows what horrible and twisted decisions he made for his career to end in a small Welsh university lecturing the dregs of Britain’s educational “elite”. However I knew that even as he took nips from a bottle of cheap napoleon brandy when he thought his students weren’t looking that he regretted nothing, that even though it hadn’t worked out the way he might have hoped for at the start, he had still walked the true path of a journalist.

He’s dead now, no doubt his liver finally giving up the ghost before he had time to settle down into every journalists dream to run a small pub in the country, and no-one outside of a handful of people will ever know his contribution at all. Some family, some friends and some students who took his drunken rants to heart rather than simply switch courses when it became brutally apparent how unglamorous journalism actually is and there was always a chance you might just end up like him…


The offending video… See if you can sit through it all.
A decade or so on I can identify with what happened to him. Opportunities are scarce, the lifestyle hard. Walking a tightrope of debt and destroyed relationships you spend as much time hunched over keyboards in dingy rooms as you do trying to explain why what you’re doing is important to someone who is tired of you never being around. This becomes especially difficult if you’re an e-sports journalist. To the outside it’s just kids playing games for money… Which isn’t completely inaccurate in it’s description and is in fact alarmingly more succinct than any true fan would want to admit. The same way football fans dismiss “it’s just twenty-two men kicking a bag of air around” remarks from the non-converted who decry their exorbitant wages. Questions I am asked, especially given my age, are “when will you grow up and write about something important” or “why do you take it all so seriously?” Those asking the questions can’t ever understand the answers you give and sometimes neither do you.

E-sports journalism has all too often swan dived into the gutter. It’s not hard to understand why on the surface of it because the vast majority of people who call themselves a journalist have no concept of what that title truly means nor the responsibility that comes with it. Often they are failed players who can’t handle the fact that their lack of skill will never afford them any sort of status in the smallest of cliques but by controlling a front page they suddenly become valuable in a way clicking a mouse never made them. The rest of the time they care more about some form of e-celebrity status than they do about reporting, determined to push themselves in front of the people that the audience would really like to know about, to become the story rather than the reporter. Bastardising journalism this way can be a great shortcut to e-fame because of the tools at your disposal and even the most well-meaning of journo can be seduced by this possibility. In general the best you can hope for from your e-sports journalists is someone who is hard-working, dedicated but not possessing the full range of journalistic tools required to do the job effectively. These people usually bear the brunt of the e-sports communities ire, well meaning failure despised more than dishonest, self-serving exploitation.

It plumbed new depths for me the other day when I was sent a link to Patrick “chobopeon” O’Neill’s latest scheme, The e-sports reporter. A sickeningly self-promotional video, accompanied by some badly muddled copy about the importance of truth and independence in e-sports journalism, that all amounts to a small scale conspiracy to hoover money out of your pockets so he can avoid having to get a real job for just a little bit longer. I had always vowed never to denigrate another member of the “brotherhood” in print but at the point where you ask for money in exchange for the truth, you cease to be a credible journalist and all such courtesies are duly revoked.

“Instead of smooth-talking CEOs” he intones on his video “you’d like to hear the truth. Instead of short and polite Youtube videos, you’d like to hear the truth. Good or bad but always fair, always interesting, you’d like to hear the truth. Instead of friends patting each other on the back for an hour, instead of “he-said / she-said” internet flame wars you’d like to see a journalist find out what matters most to you.”

There’s so much wrong with this opening it should have become apparent just how bad an idea it was on the paper he read the script from. Desperation does strange things to people though and clearly he felt compelled to go through with it even though it flies in the face not just of journalistic ethics and decency but also logic.

I think most idealistic journalists would accept their work can be summarised as a search for the truth. As such if a smooth talking CEO is working his verbal voodoo it is the job of the journalist to cut through it. If it is in the interests of the subject to lie it is then the job of the journalist to ask the right questions to put him in a linguistic half-nelson, to force them to be left at least looking non-credible if they maintain their position on what is obviously untrue. If an interview of a smooth talking CEO exists that completely serves their needs it is the failing of the journalist. It does not point to a wider-reaching conspiracy, it does not mean we need a super-journalist to ride to our rescue. The audience is not stupid, it will vote collectively with its ears and eyes, and make their views known. This is what separates the successful and the failures in a true journalistic sense. None of this requires the people out there to part with money. It should be inherent with the territory and, of course, is its own reward.

The bit about friends patting each other on the back also seems perplexing to me given that there’s a lot to suggest that the person using that as a way to discredit the majority of the e-sports press has benefited from having such personal relationships. Indeed, rarely did he ever bite the hand that feeds in his two years in the industry you would only have to look at the positions he held and the interviews he got to see recurring names and organisations. Having contributed to some of the most repulsive self love-ins out there in e-sports, you have to wonder as he sat there quietly counting the money and enjoying the compliments from his fans did he feel compelled then to smash the system, to tell the people he worked for they were biased liars and they were smothering his need to tell the truth. There’s certainly no evidence to support that.

As for “he said / she said”… The grim reality is often even the most devoted and labouring journalist won’t get close to the truth. The “truth” is not some all-conquering and obvious commodity that can be easily accessed by those well meaning enough to seek it. The huge amount of information, most of it completely private or at the very least obfuscated, required to arrive at “the truth” means that sometimes the best you can hope for is to present both sides, the “he said / she said”, and let the readership or viewership come to their own conclusions. Empowering people to draw their own conclusions is a sorely underrated part of journalism. Not every story has a definitive “end”.

Now, what I will agree with him on is that there is a petty corruption of sorts within e-sports journalism. If you want the interviews with big players, when you make that discovery that the organisation they belong to isn’t paying out salaries, you’re probably going to hold off on publishing that, right? Not everyone will but there’s a size issue at play… If you’re big enough so that these people “need” you to promote themselves you can get away with that sort of give and take. If you’re smaller, then it’s a real thing to ponder over because you can be frozen out for years and watch your publication crumble before your eyes. The answer? Again, there’s only one answer – run the fucking story. In the long run you’ll earn more respect from the readers and with that traffic will come the reluctant concession to work with you from the people you burned.

Of course, most don’t do that. They want this to be a career, they want it to be lucrative. Again, I’ll tell you first hand if you want to earn money first and foremost, if you want to make a living from doing something you love, then journalism is not the thing for you. And if it is, you don’t care about how much cash it throws your way.

It is also near impossible to suddenly talk about the importance of independence when you’ve fed yourself by hanging off a corporate tit. Leagues want to lie to you and they look to buy up the most credible people in the industry in order to do that. If it comes from their mouths you believe it, which is why they pay them to tell you whatever they want. I know this because I did it myself for a while with the CGS who used me as a mouthpiece to promote something that was simply an e-sports feeding frenzy, a gluttonous orgy of e-sports personalities who felt they deserved a big pay day and got one at the expense of setting the industry back years. Anyone who disputes that as their prevailing legacy is insane.

I felt that I was owed something when they came calling – years of volunteering in e-sports in my fucking twenties, humping a well paid job I despised 9-5 the rest of the time. I was promised the moon for years and over that same span of time all I ever had to show for it was a few press passes that got me into events to work for free and at my own expense. A big pay day looked pretty sweet about then. I got to quit that job in spectacular fashion, felt like my own man for a while, but the rotten lies – that still persist to this day – surrounding that whole debacle really became too much. That, and I was constantly pressured to ditch my personality, no more drunken antics at events while banking the CGS cash. They wanted to turn everyone on their payroll into some slick, corporate mouthpiece and I don’t have that in me and probably never will. I made the decision to quit right before they fired me and then spent the rest of their time trying to ensure I never worked in the industry again, even trying to have me banned from the LAN centre I worked in because their event was held there.

So I know all about the bullshit in e-sports journalism but here’s the reality – only the weak and greedy fall into that forever. It might be easy to say that now as one of the few who make a living from doing what I’m doing but I got here despite burning bridges. Hell, I even burned my bridges with Cadred but now I’m here as the Editor In Chief. Telling the truth can be a barrier to success but if success comes at the price of complete compromise of your values then it isn’t success at all.

Perhaps the biggest lie that Patrick wants to spin is that there are no honest people out there in e-sports journalism, that only an independently funded venture can achieve true objectivity. I’m sure this is my cue to promote my own work but fuck that noise…

There are many that deserve your respect as much as they have earned mine. David Hiltscher of Turtle Entertainment / ESL has been producing REAL journalism in the true sense of the word for years, accurate reporting, the cold facts laid bare and warmed through without the need for purple prose but just well-structured storytelling. The guys at ESFI have put together a great site that produces fearless write-ups surrounding all things e-sports and their crew has yet to produce one piece of work that reads like a shameless promotional piece of flim-flam. And if Chobopeon wanted to take someone’s example, if he truly feels as strongly as he nauseatingly claims, I’d tell him to take a look at James Banks. He funded his own news organisation after being completely fucked over in his previous one, UpCloseGamers, that he had built from the ground up. Out of his own pocket he attends events and provides a high standard of work despite the crippling fear that if no-one watches the end product it could be their last. That takes both balls and passion to do it not once but twice. I never saw him begging for hand outs.

So, there’s a lot of talk about the truth in that video. Let’s see if we can get to the truth about this proposed project. I think first and foremost it’s clear that it’s a massive contradiction. The model allows those who donate to have editorial input, which sounds a lot like “sponsorship” to me and therefore the exact opposite of independence: For $125 you can “Join the editorial meeting. We will have a Skype conversation in which you can suggest stories that ought to be told. Whatever rocks you think need to be overturned, wherever you think the spotlight ought to be shining, you will have a seat at the editorial meeting.”

If you’re willing to pay more then you have more influence – fork over $250 and you receive “All of the above plus the opportunity to have your business, Twitter, stream and so on pointed out as a supporter in one episode. You can write up to 30 seconds on your chosen topic. The plug must be up to the high standards of the show. It will then will be delivered by The Esports Reporter.”

For a whopping $5,000 you effectively own the show. “All of the above plus exclusive promotion on The Esports Reporter for 30-day span. Promote your brand, bring viewers to your stream, direct readers to a worthy charity or spare the audience unsightly ads. It’s up to you!”

Indeed, “it’s up to you – the person who paid me”. Sounds pretty fucking independent, right?

And, let us not overlook this crucial point – there’s absolutely nothing that suggests he would even be capable of finding this fabled truth that is being kept from people. If you go through his portfolio you will see a lot of content that seems to fall under the category of a “short and polite Youtube video” or opinion-based musings, none of which is hard-hitting investigative journalism. I have nothing against what he has done, or what he has achieved, but trying to portray himself as a Seymour Hersh of e-sports (Google him) is way off. If he can deliver this sort of thing then prove it to the people who matter – the e-sports fans. Maybe then he’d not need to beg so crudely for work because someone out there would give him the spot he believes he deserves and the autonomy to do the work he believes in.

The Onion on these kickstart schemes.
Finally, it’s easy enough to read between the lines when he says “. Like all journalism, esports journalism can be consistently good if and only if an independent journalist is paid a salary.

Right now, the “good journalists” all eventually leave for other jobs when it becomes clear that they cannot money off of esports journalism. The volunteers who remain often work for teams and leagues or contribute as hobbyists. When journalists wonder where their next paycheck will come from, they know full well that the best chance for a paying esports job is from within the teams, leagues and other organizations they are currently covering as journalists. Problems of access and respect plague esports journalists daily. This equation rarely equals good journalism.

We can do better.”

We can do better and we do. There are plenty of hard working guys out there that will never see a fraction of what the deserve, nor will they ever have had the same kind of opportunities as the person asking for you to support him financially to pursue his passion. What is this really all about? Certainly not a quest for independence and REAL journalism within e-sports. It’s about him not having to get a job doing something else, plain and simple. With that in mind ask yourself if you’d rather be funding someone that cynical, to manipulate a noble pursuit to such ends, or be out there supporting the people who would never ask, never change and would do it all for free until the end of time because they give a shit.

When you adopt the mantle of “journalist” the part about telling the truth is a given. Without integrity you can’t function. You are not a journalist but a trumped-up PR worker, be it for yourself or others. Apart from the inherent cynicism in the exchange of “money for honesty” this shines a spotlight on something that for me is a bigger issue than one person who has lost the right to call himself a journalist ever again. That is the plight of the suckers who feel so abandoned by the mainstream e-sports press they feel they have to pay just in order to get the truth from those obligated to provide it. Someone, please, point them in the right direction.