The Unraveling of GameSpot's Ironclad System of Editorial Integrity

By Chris Remo, Jan 22, 2008 5:04am PST

The firing of Jeff Gerstmann from GameSpot, allegedly due to his Kane & Lynch, has been so widely reported at this point as to have gone past the point of oversaturation. Nonetheless, you should take a look at this blog post by 1UP editor-in-chief Sam Kennedy. He starts of with a reflection on the event itself, which you can safely skip; the more illustrative part is the middle bit, starting after the first blocked quote.

Soon after the initial reports, information started to come out about the management changes at GameSpot parent CNET that were leading to a shift to a slightly softer, friendlier GameSpot--a change from the site's reputation as one of the toughest review sources around. Kennedy's post goes into specific detail about the personnel changes, starting with the departure of GameSpot founder Vince Broady in 2006 and continuing to the ascension of marketing whiz Josh Larson to GameSpot's chief editorial position.

I have long held GameSpot's standards of integrity in high esteem--Shackers with whom I have discussed the issue can verify this. The site has traditionally gone to heroic, verging on impractical, measures to ensure its editors remain clean from influence by publishers or undue attachment to particular games or companies. It is a sometimes sterile approach, but one that has clear benefits if rigid objectivity is the goal. Kennedy describes how writers who preview a game were forbidden from reviewing it later, lest their prior impressions influence the review.

All of the preventive measures, the checks and balances, that GameSpot has employed over the years created a nearly ironclad system of editorial integrity--but despite its nigh-impenetrable exterior armor, such a mechanism requires watchful and dedicated oversight internally, and when your top editorial director is by trade a marketer, that mechanism is unlikely to be impeccably maintained. That is not to say GameSpot is now open to all kinds of publisher influence, but it is clear there are chinks in the armor.

One other GameSpot editor was let go at the same time Gerstmann was, and several have quit since out of solidarity, or frustration with the circumstances of late. All of those staffers had been at GameSpot for many years. It is unlikely the site will see much in the way of lost revenue or traffic, as the majority of its millions of readers are surely unaware of these proceedings entirely--anecdotally, my more casual gaming friends, all of whom read GameSpot, have not the slightest clue--but if nothing else, CNET is clearly taking some bruises on the inside.

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