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

Saturday was a bad night for the gaming media, with a false Last Guardian rumor briefly taking the internet by storm. It's also a night that everyone in the media should back at and take a moment to learn from the many mistakes made.

6
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.
Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 9, 2014 7:30 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Opinion: How the media can learn from the Last Guardian reporting fiasco.

    Saturday was a bad night for the gaming media, with a false Last Guardian rumor briefly taking the internet by storm. It's also a night that everyone in the media should back at and take a moment to learn from the many mistakes made.

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 7:32 AM

      Its pretty simple don't report on rumour and hearsay, and if you do put in large letters in the headline that its a rumour and is not confirmed.

      • reply
        June 9, 2014 7:41 AM

        And on top of that, don't take word from one guy that works for Sony Russia as "official". No offense to Russia, but I suspect they don't hold a very big or important Sony office. If it's not coming straight from Sony Japan, or maybe US/UK, I wouldn't trust it any more than some random internet dude.

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 7:44 AM

      I like that you did this up as a full article! I agree, the other sites continuing to run the story with a 'denial' attached gave it a very "Well, Senator, how long has it been since you stopped beating your wife?" feel.

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 8:06 AM

      Everyone is going to feel foolish when they really do announce it's canceled.

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 8:10 AM

      "There's a very real reason why a sector of gamers, such as a growing number of NeoGAF posters, inherently distrust the gaming media."

      Maybe it's because things like this have been happened for a while. It's not just NeoGAF, it's any gamer who's old enough to remember when 'gaming journalism' was actually reputable. Most gaming sites are nothing but clickbait pits, platforms for social justice pandering, or just extensions of publishers' marketing departments. The internet allows anyone with a half-passing interest in games and a competent handle on the English language to hop up on their soapbox and say what they want, and that's done nothing but hurt the industry. It really makes my brain hurt when I think about all of the now-shuttered gaming magazines that have been replaced by people more interested in ad revenue than reporting the facts.

      I've always held Shacknews in high regard because it's always just been about the news, without the sensationalism of Kotaku and the SJW mindset of Polygon. I really think it's one of the last few good gaming news sites out there, and I'd like it to stay that way.

      Ozzie, if you really believe that we as readers have the right to keep the gaming media honest, keep writing pieces like this. Keep putting the spotlight on the ineptitude of so-called gaming journalists. Keep it out there that we could do better, and that we deserve better.

      • reply
        June 9, 2014 8:13 AM

        Truth.

      • reply
        June 9, 2014 8:17 AM

        Our goal is to be the best gaming site we can be. Even if we have a fluff piece here and there, it's ultimately for the purpose of being enthusiasts. We love games and we want to show how much we love games. But yes, as we've shown in past weeks, if something doesn't work with our audience, we aren't afraid to scrap it.

        Just know that even if an occasional fluff piece does pop up on this site, it will never be at the expense of our regular coverage.

        • reply
          June 9, 2014 8:33 AM

          I think there is a good balance right now. I'm human, I like goofy fluff pieces, but I have been reading most of the long form articles around here lately too. I'm a big fan of the throw everything at the wall and see what sticks way you guys have been running these past few weeks. I have noticed myself visiting other sites less (even Giant Bomb O8) and watching the Shack's videos and reading their articles.

          • reply
            June 9, 2014 9:03 AM

            Balance is definitely key and it's something that we will remain conscious of. There's room for news, reviews, live content, and an occasional food recipe video here and there.

        • reply
          June 9, 2014 8:59 AM

          I kind of like the occasional fluff piece. They're fun. I hate click bait stuff, but as long as the article is honest about what it is, I'm cool with it. Especially if it supports some good gaming journalism, which is really needed.

      • reply
        June 9, 2014 8:19 AM

        Well said.

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 8:25 AM

      Great write up on the situation Ozzie. Glad to see you do a well thought out and 'from the heart' piece rather than lashing out foolishly about it. Would love to see more opinion stories like this from you.

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 8:47 AM

      Good writeup sir.

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 11:23 AM

      Honestly I think the only the only reason why this is such a big deal is because it is so believable, and is kinda just what everyone has been waiting and anticipating to hear. The "development" of the game has been dragged on so long that we all just wonder what, even before the stories, has happened to to the game, is it still alive? is it dead?.

      I highly doubt the game has been in constant development, so there is also an onus on Sony for not letting people know that "hey we may have possibly, kinda, sorta put the game on hold until we know what direction it is goign in"

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 2:57 PM

      Despite the full apology from IGN, I'm expecting more of the same from them.

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 6:01 PM

      Nice article.

    • reply
      June 9, 2014 9:26 PM

      Well, I still bet it is cancelled. It's a stain in Sony's shield and I don't think they will ever confirm that it is cancelled even though it is. The original developer is not even working on it anymore.

      It could have a great game however, one of the games that I expected to have on my PS3.

Hello, Meet Lola