Adverjournalism: The Role of Ad Dollars In Journalism

4 12 2007


December 1,2007 – It should come as no surprise that just about every gaming forum on the internet is ablaze right now following the news of GameSpot’s termination of long-time editor, Jeff Gerstmann. This article, however, is not an exposé or look into what really happened at GameSpot this week. Rather, consider this a look at the direction of gaming journalism, advertising, and how this all plays a role in the content you read.

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I found the events that unfolded before our eyes to come at an ironic time, because it just so happens that I was attempting to put together an extremely complex feature based on the direction of gaming journalism and its spoon-fed state, the disparity between “professional” and “community” sites, and the role advertising dollars play in journalistic integrity. I contacted about a dozen public relations representatives that we have good connections with looking for people to participate, but was told by nearly every single one that they were either not at liberty to discuss some of the topics I wanted to touch on, or that the issues were too sensitive to talk about on the record. There was only one representative ballsy enough to give an answer and she even wanted to remain anonymous.

This should act as evidence that gaming journalism is in a sensitive state. The profession is growing as exponentially as the industry, but it seems that the growth comes mostly on the part of “professional” sites such as GameSpot, IGN, and 1UP, while hundreds of “community” sites bicker and battle over the scraps left behind. But when any publication gets to a certain size and generates a certain amount of money in advertising revenue, the question of journalistic integrity becomes an issue. And let me be the first to come out and say that what happened to Jeff Gerstmann happens all the time. I do believe that what happened was an atrocity; but at the same time realize that if you look at the much larger world outside of the gaming industry, you can see that such injustices happen fairly often.

I’m the Publisher of this outlet, which is typically a business-related position; my “professional” background, however, is in journalism as well as advertising/marketing. What that means is that I have a fair understanding of both sides of the fence, whereas most publishers strictly have a business background, as is the case with Josh Larson, the man who took over as the head of the Games and Entertainment Division after Greg Kasavin left GameSpot for EA (according to recent comments by a presumed GameSpot employee).
I work at an advertising agency which recently made a takeover advertisement for GameSpot, and let me tell you, they are worth a lot of money; more money than I think people realize. And when you consider successive advertising campaigns, the value of an advertiser’s dollar far surpasses any one writer’s annual salary. Once again, I’m not saying what happened was right. What I am saying, however, is that when you get to the size of GameSpot, advertiser and publisher relationships become, what some would consider, too important.

But let’s not pretend that what happened this week is free from comparison. I don’t mean to maliciously call GameSpot out on this, but if you didn’t know, they sell a lot of their content coverage. The front-door rotation spots, otherwise known as “gumballs,” on the homepage are paid for by game publishers at $7,000/2 weeks (March 2006); and if you remember back, they absolutely whored themselves out to Vivendi for the release of 50 Cent: Bulletproof, a game that everyone and their mother knew was going to be terrible. (50 Cent: Bulletproof page, a developer interview, a positive preview, and page 21 of GameSpot’s Media Kit which is made for advertisers).

The disparity between the preview and review was pretty substantial. Ricardo Torres, who wrote the preview and who we believe maintains the brunt of GameSpot’s publisher relationships, wrote a glowing preview saying: “We’re pleasantly surprised to report that 50 Cent: Bulletproof is shaping up to be a strong title capable of gaining notoriety because of its presentation and gameplay, not just its star.” Jeff Gerstmann on the other hand, who wrote the review, gave the game a low 4.8, stating “Whether you’re an action fan looking for a good shooter or a G-Unit fan in search of new material, Bulletproof disappoints across the board.”




One response

4 12 2007

This seriously makes me mad!

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