Opinion: How the media can learn from the Last Guardian reporting fiasco

For anyone anxiously waiting for any word on Team Ico's The Last Guardian, Saturday was a harrowing roller coaster of an evening. Word had seemingly emerged about the long-awaited PS3 exclusive and the news did not appear to be good. It was the headline that briefly blew up Twitter for anyone that followed video games. "The Last Guardian cancelled" But minutes later, Sony's representatives vehemently denied the story. More than that, they even mocked it. And in many ways, the mocking was justified. Saturday was a shameful night for the gaming media. There was irresponsibility nearly all across the board and I can only hope such an egregious error can lead to everyone re-thinking how to approach these delicate stories, myself included. The debacle is indicative of a growing problem with the media and that's a Talledega Nights type of approach with news. In an era of SEO numbers and results based on hit numbers, the priority for media outlets has turned into getting a story up first rather than getting a story right. It's the kind of mentality that can lead to a news site running a story on a single source before reaching out to confirm with others. After all, a headline like "The Last Guardian cancelled" grabs eyeballs and gets clicks. Whether it's factual or not is irrelevant. It's an environment that stems from pressure to keep clicks coming and ad views prevalent. The pressures to keep a site fiscally sound are very real, but this should not excuse behavior that brings integrity into question. For the sake of full disclosure, I was not immune to this. Upon seeing Twitter explode with reaction to IGN's report, the immediate instinct became to get the story running as soon as possible and reach out for verification second. When I found out the story was false, I immediately pulled it from the site with a great sense of personal shame. Yes, I fully admit that I came undone with the pressures of getting to a story first before making sure I got it right. It's a mistake that I greatly regret and one that I vow not to make again. Sadly, another problem quickly surfaced. Suddenly other sites began running stories with the headline "Last Guardian cancelled, Sony issues denial," running with the false report alongside Sony's rebuke. This in itself felt like a dishonest practice. Once Sony issued the steadfast contradiction, there was no longer anything to report. There was officially no story. Instead, headlines went from a game being cancelled to the denial of a blatantly false rumor. The media went from reporting the news to becoming the news and that should never be the case. Readers have called out this behavior and they're absolutely right to do so. One of our collective responsibilities as reporters/journalists/writers/whatever is to deliver news and do so truthfully. Nobody's perfect and mistakes happen. My outrage doesn't stem entirely from the false story, but mostly from the aftermath. For the original false story to remain on the site for as long as it did (with the original headline, no less) and other sites to link to that story with their own misleading headlines is utterly dishonest.

Saturday, the media was all-too-quick to declare this game cancelled

In the years that I've been working as a writer, I've been blessed to work under some of the best in the business. One of them was former Shacknews Editor-In-Chief Garnett Lee and he taught me one of the most important lessons I've learned in my career during one of the final episodes of Weekend Confirmed. That lesson is that readers have every right to keep the media honest and question the process whenever things get shady. Good media folks want their readers to keep them honest, because without the readers, the media is a worthless institution. My intention with this article is not to purposely call anybody out, but rather to point to a disturbing trend and begin working towards a different direction that stamps out this kind of deceitful behavior. On Saturday, the readers spoke out and mocked the gaming media for getting a story outrageously wrong. Since then, IGN has issued a full apology, with IGN Editor-in-Chief Steve Butts bearing all responsibility for the false report. All appears to be forgiven across all sides and it looks like everyone is ready to move on. But this episode represents a learning experience for anyone either currently in the media or anyone aspiring to enter it. There's a very real reason why a sector of gamers, such as a growing number of NeoGAF posters, inherently distrust the gaming media. Nights like Saturday only served to reinforce this distrust. It's time to examine the reporting tactics exercised on Saturday and leave them behind. By approaching stories the right way, the media can become a positive institution, one worthy of a reader's trust and one that can stand proud.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Shacknews and its staff.