The leak that wasn’t

Incoming media rant.

I know that online likes to pretend that print does not exist. What I don’t know is why.

Ages ago, print said, “hey, there are things that online does that are immediate and interesting and valid, and we’re happy to tell you about them.” And print changed accordingly; news is not something you will find in any magazine any more, at least not without some other editorial or entertainment slant — interpreting the news or taking it somewhere new. But most online sites act as if print never existed, and that all information dissemination began when DARPAnet made its first connection. When news breaks, print is rarely considered as the source, even when it happens to be the truth.

Case in point: When OXM‘s July 2009 issue started to hit subscriber’s mailboxes over Memorial Day weekend, with a big juicy Mass Effect 2 10-page cover story, a subscriber posted about it to a Mass Effect community forum. No problem there; we actually plan our stories with the first likely subscriber appearance as the “spoil date” for the issue, knowing that when people get it, they will talk about it online. It’s only natural.

Well, that post made it to NeoGAF. Then press outlets like GameSpy and VG247 read NeoGAF and reported on that. Despite OXM being named as the source by the original poster, the online outlets decided that this carbon-copy of a report was not a reader summary of a printed article but “leaked information” by “forum dwellers.” No further research; no contacting OXM to find out if it was true. Nothing that requires effort.

Now, I’m sorry. I’ve worked online too; I know the pressure to get The Scoop and get new information first. But don’t you think that if you were really dedicated to getting all the info you could as soon as possible…you would get a subscription to some of these magazines — the same ones that are always cited as sources for stories that start as rumors and then turn out to be true — and not rely on third- and fourth-generation trickle-down reports? I’m not saying you have to promote the mags, but I do think if you find the information they contain news-worthy, you should cite your sources accordingly. I mean, for fuck’s sake: If you don’t have the time or clout or passion to do your job on the front lines, can’t you at least read the reports of the people who do with your own eyes?

The funny part is, for all the talk about “citizen journalism” and the online revolution, where bigger sites can’t seem to get their sources right or do even minimal research in cases like this, it’s the smaller guys who are getting it done right and showing their work. I wonder what life will be like when the major sites find themselves threatened by the next wave of media outlets, who demonstrate that it can be done both fast and thoroughly.

The media pool is large. We swim in it together. I have contacts at Joystiq and Kotaku that I can ask confirmation of their stories if I’m unclear; they do the same when they need clarification on rumors that involve OXM. It is really not hard for any outlets to take note of a few names and send a few emails when they want to know if something is real or not.

I love online. I use it daily. I have written there and will write there again. But I hate seeing the suggestion that online sites are superior when I see cases like this, where they clearly do inferior work, or no work at all.

By the way, G4 just reported that GameSpy leaked some Mass Effect 2 info. We’re all going to hell.

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