I see a lot of blog posts and forum discussions pointing out what’s wrong with print gaming magazines, and a lot of the same unfair points are raised over and over again. So, fully aware that putting a headline of “Top [Number] [Anything]” on my blog is the currency of online content, I present to you the uninformed, assumptive, and just plain stupid things I see people say when it comes to criticizing print magazines.
“I stopped reading gaming magazines five years ago — they’re horrible.”
This one’s my favorite. If you’re completely unfamiliar with what’s new in magazines, why on earth are you criticizing the current state of magazines today? Five years ago this month, Ask Jeeves was looking to expand globally, John Kerry was running for President, World of Warcraft was in beta. A few things have changed since then, you know? Citing outdated examples makes everything you say afterwards utterly irrelevant. Imagine a game review where the reviewer didn’t actually play the finished game, but reviewed a preview build from nine months before. You wouldn’t listen to their opinion based on that lack of experience — why on earth should I listen to yours? And yet, online, it happens frequently — sometimes with smug self-righteousness, like it’s cool to be so completely out of touch with what they’re judging.
Just because the critics do not (or refuse to) see how magazines have evolved does not mean that magazines have not evolved. If you pick up something current and don’t like it, you have a case. But if you can’t point to an issue of a magazine within the last four to six months and speak intelligently about one of its articles…you shouldn’t be commenting on those articles.
“Well, you know all those magazines are getting bought off.”
I believe in free speech, but at the same time, I do not think that just coming out and saying anything you want whether it’s true or not is not a good thing to do. “Never mind the facts, here’s some allegations!” Generalizations with no examples hurt me way more than they hurt you. Do you have something specific in mind — some sort of proof, some specific example, some smoking gun? Or are you just going to pass around the easy lie and assume the worst?
Here’s what I think is the problem. Do publishers approach print outlets looking for a minimum score in exchange for access? They have in the past; I have been in the room when they come calling. But does that mean that the print outlet takes that deal? No, it does not…but people seem to think it does, despite no proof. They assume the worst because it’s easy (if not downright fun) to do so.
Let’s put it in a more social context: If you walk down the street and a guy asks if you want to buy drugs, should you be arrested for that? If you say yes, sure — but if you were simply the target of someone’s request, no. I’d think the sin here is on the publisher’s side for acting unethically, but I don’t see anybody calling for the boycotting of the publishers; somehow it’s the press’s fault for simply being too tempting a target. “They asked for it, they were wearing glossy paper and colorful ink!”
If press outlets are saying yes to these deals, then you should call them out and call for reform — but you have to call them out specifically. I want those unethical people out of power, too. But to do that, you’d need to know it was happening, and frankly, the average forum poster has no experience with or insight into what they’re criticizing — they only have their own biases to support their fact-free conclusions. As someone who has turned down these kinds of arrangements when faced with this choice, I really don’t like being lumped in with the people who made the opposite ethical choice. (Even some of the “white knights” of the biz are guilty of this — they bring the problem to light, which is good, but won’t name names, so everybody gets hurt…except, conveniently, them.) This ethical issue is an individual thing, and it’s entirely unfair to make a blanket accusation…even if you really, really want an irrational reason to hate something.
“Print is dead. Why would anybody want a magazine in the age of online?”
When I was a kid, I didn’t like my parents’ music. Why? Because it was my parents’ music! Les Paul, who wants to listen to him? I also didn’t want to watch anything in black and white. We have color TV, mom! This is 1982, for Christ’s sake! Live in the technicolor now! I think it’s only natural that the current generation rejects what the previous generation deems valuable. It’s outdated. We have something better now — and why would I even go see an old movie in a theater if I can see it on TV? But as you get older and wiser, you realize, hey…It’s a Wonderful Life, 12 Angry Men, these are fantastic movies, and just because it wasn’t shot in color doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
I think we’re at that point with gaming journalism too. Online is new, it’s now, it’s better. And it really is, in a lot of ways, better — or has the potential to be, even if it’s still young and finding its way. But to the readers of online games content, if dad was a subscriber to GamePro, well, it must be ancient and they have no use for it. I understand this logic, because l’ve used it myself…but I was a lot younger and stupider and have since realized that just because it wasn’t created in the last 15 minutes didn’t mean it was worthless. Even in a field like gaming, where innovation is king and new products appear hourly, I believe there is value to covering the new stuff via the old methods. There are so many “outdated” examples throughout art, entertainment, and history that you have probably already thought of three of them. Sometimes, a book or a play or a song is better than a blog or a Flash animation or a video, even if they’re old.
So maybe print isn’t dead; maybe print is simply print. Magazines have accepted their limitations; the key is that the audience also needs to value their strengths. And then, of course, print has to play to those strengths, to do what it does best (presentation, insight, access, tone) even better. As someone who still works in print, that’s how I see what I do, anyway.
I have some theories on why the haters keep harping on these same points and what the source of their hate may be, but I’ll save those for another time.