The feeding frenzy: How gaming news sites fail at news
Several gaming news outlets reported Aug. 15 that the PlayStation Network was hacked and taken offline, and hundreds of thousands of PSN users’ encrypted passwords were released into the wild.
There’s just one problem: the story, based on a tweet earlier in the day from the Anonymous News Service, @YourAnonNews, actually happened months ago. It’s the latest entry into a disappointing trend in the world of reporting in general and gaming journalism in particular: What happened to reliable sources?
Anonymous sources have an enshrined position within journalism — with good reason, as anyone who has studied the history of the Watergate scandal will tell you. But anonymity requires careful handling, and that’s not what we’ve seen recently from gaming news outlets, too many of which seem more focused on getting their story out there “first” at the expense of getting it right.
The Associated Press Stylebook advises reporters to use material from anonymous sources “only if … the information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source.”
Of course, clarifying the conditions of anonymity requires contacting the source. Did anyone do that in this case? It doesn’t appear that way, based on @YourAnonNews’ Twitter feed. Moreover, none of the articles seems to mention the motive behind using an anonymous source.
The AP Stylebook also advises, “The story must also provide attribution that establishes the source’s credibility; simply quoting a source is not allowed.” So what steps did gaming writers take to establish @YourAnonNews’ credibility in this case? Again, I strongly suspect the answer is “none.”
Kotaku editor Owen Good originally posted the breaking news story, titled “Anonymous claims PSN hack affecting 10 million accounts,” just before 2 p.m. Eastern Time. Other reporters joined in on the feeding frenzy shortly thereafter, and again, many apparently made no effort to confirm the story with Sony until after they hit “publish.”
To Kotaku’s credit, they updated their story as soon as they got official word from Sony that their gaming network was intact, but they would have been better off waiting until they got confirmation before posting the story in the first place.
Gaming news sites aren’t the only ones who sometimes get it wrong in the rush to get it first. Gaming journalist Willie Jefferson Jr., who tweets as @M4dSki11z, pointed to CNN’s mishandling of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act earlier this year.
“I am not going to run with a rumor unless I get off-the-record confirmation that it’s true,” Jefferson wrote. “I’ll just sit on it. So what (if) I am late with info. It happens. Like how CNN did with the healthcare mandate. In a bid to be first, they were WRONG.”
Compared to Supreme Court rulings, gaming writers’ misstep here was fairly tame. The standard, however, should be no less stringent. News stories need to be reliable, and to be reliable, reporters need reliable sources. A lead can come from anywhere, but it’s not news until it’s confirmed.
So gaming reporters, please, take that basic step: Check your facts. Otherwise, you risk your credibility, and without that, you don’t have much.