In November of last year (that's last year, not today as some outlets might lead you to believe), the Federal Trade Commission took a worrying interest in online media, singling out game bloggers in particular as outlets that need to disclose whenever they receive free items pertaining to reviews published by their site. The New York Times, (late to the party as most newspapers are), has agreed with the assessment, basically insinuating that bloggers are far less trustworthy than real journalists.
"The readers of his blog are unlikely to expect that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact would likely materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement," states the FTC in one of its examples. "Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge."
The FTC seems to believe that this is only necessary for bloggers and not other forms of media, indicating that a site like Destructoid is somehow far less trustworthy than your average print rag. The New York Times goes even further, implying heavily that blogs work to please sponsors: "But unlike postings in most journalism outlets or independent review sites, most companies can be assured that there will not be a negative review: if [blogger Colleen Padilla] does not like a product, she simply does not post anything about it."
Hit the jump for my thoughts.
This is an interesting issue that is going to see a lot of overreaction, but first of all, the major problem here is how one distinguishes bloggers and journalists. It's become a very gray area, especially since many bloggers have found themselves to be more trusted than more so-called "journalists." I'd personally take the words of any blogger over some hack writer for a dishrag tabloid like The Daily Mail or The Sun.
These days, it's both unfair and untrue to imply, as The NY Times has done, that bloggers are somehow less trustworthy than "real" journalists. After all, purveyors of aged news like the NY Times and sensationalist news stations like FOX News, often have to worry about corporate sponsorship and pleasing ad networks far more than bloggers, who are generally independent and free to express their own opinion. To say that it's bloggers who have tainted opinions, when it's "professional" news outlets that are very clearly ruled by marketing, is somewhat hypocritical.
That's not to say that bloggers are, themselves, angels. You get a lot of liars on sites like Tumblr, who will just spit up any old crap in the name of freebies and attention. The point is that you can't really separate bloggers and journalists, and then state that one group is more truthful than the other. Both sets of media have their angels and devils.
As far as the FTC goes, I personally find it very disturbing that a government-operated body wants to exert control over the Internet. Sadly, it's an inevitability that one day the Internet will be as regulated and restricted as television and print media, but I would hope that we still have a few years of free enterprise left online. While The NY Times would like to color our impression of blogs and imply that a lack of accountability (not that print media ever takes responsibility) could lead to corruption, I embrace the freedom that blogging gives us, the ability to say whatever we want.
The FTC states that people have a right to know when they're being "pitched to," which I find hilarious coming from an organization that allowed those duplicitous corn syrup commercials to run. I guess lies and misinformation are okay when they're government-sponsored lies and misinformation. It's alarming to me that blogs are being painted as the untrustworthy ones. Neither the FTC nor print media have an excellent reputation.
As far as games "journalism" goes, all I can say is that, again, I'll trust the opinions of an outlet that simply gets free games than an outlet that works to get hot exclusive reviews and buys its way to the top of the food chain. The FTC and NY Times would somehow have us believe that Gamespot is more trustworthy than an enthusiast blog. simply because one is "professional." As far as I recall it was a "professional" outlet that fired one of its editors for giving a game a negative review.
I just think the FTC has this the wrong way around -- focusing on the accountability of bloggers more than big corporate outlets. It's the big boys who I'd be keeping an eye on, not the little guys who hold themselves accountable to no overbearing company, nor has a marketing department to worry about.
The FTC of course is mainly focused on personal sites written by unpaid hobbyists, but even so, it's a bit cheeky to hold these small enthusiasts more accountable than professionals. While some people are misinterpreting the FTC's guidelines and thinking all blogs are being thrown under a bus, I think the truth of the matter is even worse a little. Why should we make small hobbyists accountable? Let them do their thing.
If the FTC did want Destructoid and other paid blogs to disclose every little thing we receive, that would be fine in and of itself, if rather invasive. However, it's the singling out of bloggers and not "real" journalists that would piss me off. We are not the ones who should be scrutinized, and besides which, I think our readers are smart enough to know that we already get review copies and the occasional bit of swag. We've never denied it, and we've often made fun articles whenever we get cool stuff. That's more than can be said for the average magazine, that rarely ever discloses a thing.
If somebody wants to believe that review copies color our opinions, that's up to them. We can't convince them otherwise. We're not going to stop accepting review copies, because we're an indie site and until one of these morally outraged readers offers to spend the necessary several hundred bucks per month for the review team, we're not going to go out buying every single videogame under the Sun.
I think our track record speaks for itself, however. Just check out Metacritic and see how our scores stack up to those of more "trusted" outlets. You can't ever say that a free review copy guarantees a high score from Destructoid. Just check out the Resistance: Retribution review or the Warriors Orochi 2 review. Both of those games were given to me.
I'll continue to trust bloggers more than "real" journalists, and I'll continue to call myself a blogger. The word "journalist" is a word I'm ashamed of, and it's thanks to just how untrustworthy journos have become. People ought to perhaps consider that the next time they put bloggers under a microscope.
[*].disqus.comto your security software's whitelist.