APGNation was recently given an opportunity to speak with Lee Williams: noted political scholar and critic, and creator of the gaming media watchdog project The Sentinel Wire. This project aims to review prominent and emerging journalists involved in the gaming industry and community via published articles, using a grading rubric based off the Society of Professional Journalists’ standards. In this discussion, Lee talks about accountability, media consumption, and the implications of gradually shifting to digital journalism.
APGNation: What were some of the most relevant experiences that led you to start The Sentinel Wire?
Lee Williams: Well, in the whole discussion of ethics in gaming media, especially journalism what really stood out to me was that there were a lot of people upset about instances where they felt basic ethical standards were being violated in certain articles, but no one was really being specific as to why they felt that way. I started The Sentinel Wire to look into that and give folks a tool to frame further discussion on that.
APGNation: Was this based on recent events, or something that goes further back?
Lee Williams: It’s always been something I’ve been interested in, and I’ve written little blogs or blurbs about it, but the recent events are what gave me the idea of The Sentinel Wire.
APGNation: The Sentinel Wire seeks to (re)instate a standard to web-based journalism “to make gaming media more accountable to consumers”. Why do you think this is an important distinction to make?
Lee Williams: Because I feel like that’s one of the most problematic issues when considering the ethics issue. There’s a problem with accountability. I commented recently on an AMA for /r/KotakuInAction that the biggest ethical problem in the industry are these cliques and the mindset that goes with them. From their point-of-view it seems they feel a larger responsibility for Editors to protect their journalists and journalists to protect their ideologies, but no one is protecting the consumers, which even in enthusiast media and journalism is really important. Now the consumers feel like they need to protect themselves, and hopefully The Sentinel Wire can become a tool they can use in that.
APGNation: You cite the Society of Professional Journalists as the standard that The Sentinel Wire uses to review journalists. Why SPJ in particular, and not the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) or another organization?
Lee Williams: From the ones that I read, the SPJ seemed the simplest to translate into the sort of ‘question and answer’ format I’ve been doing reviews. However, in the future I plan on expanding the criteria to include other codes and eventually work with journalists and academics to create a more exhaustive set of criteria. But, for now I think this is sparking some good and interesting discussion on the issue, so I’m happy with it.
APGNation: Am I correct to say that you adhere to a singular standard of journalistic ethics?
Lee Williams: If by that you mean The Sentinel Wire reviews for adherence to one standard of journalistic ethics, then yes.
APGNation: ONA is a site that features the project “Build Your Own Ethics Code”. How do you respond to moral pluralism in journalism?
Lee Williams: I think… it’s a good idea. You can kind of tell by the actions of some online publications that they wouldn’t even know where to start in making a code of ethics because they’ve become so used to just doing their own thing for so long. My concern is that using a tool to make that code simpler to create might eventually cause the same problems we’re seeing today. Except, instead of publications not having a code of ethics, or having really low standards in their code, they have this great code generated but they don’t really understand it because they haven’t taken the time to really study ethics and how it works in their craft.
APGNation: Sounds the concern is for digital newsgroups that don’t have a strong journalist backbone, or at least people who are acquainted with working in a brick and mortar newsroom?
Lee Williams: I’d say yes. The blogger-turned-journalist, especially.
APGNation: The lines definitely blur there. Digital journalism has been trending in the past decade and it’s been difficult to pass some of the issues that are hotly debated in academic circles to the public. Would you say that’s one of the biggest challenges that journalists face today? Traditional press is dying or switching over to digital, and this has its share of strengths and flaws.
Lee Williams: I would say that. I think people are turning towards new media and sort of catching them with their pants down. …Not trying to allude to any specific events there… But anyway, they’re suddenly being held accountable in ways no one cared about before.
APGNation: Does the SPJ’s ethical standards apply to pieces of opinion journalism or advocacy journalism?
Lee Williams: I think journalists have a responsibility to adhere to some type of code of ethics whatever they’re writing. But, I try to be very selective in the pieces I pick for The Sentinel Wire. I don’t pick game reviews or certain very subjective op-eds, for instance. I do think it would be a little unfair to take something like musings about living inside a Dragon Age game and kind of rip it apart in review.
APGNation: Well we can frame it in the context of the articles you’ve reviewed thus far.
Lee Williams: Well, so far I’ve reviewed two of Leigh Alexander’s “Gamers are Dead” articles, only one of which has been published, and Milo Yiannopoulos’s “GameJournoPros Exposé” which hasn’t been published, either. [since the time of interview, the review has been published]
APGNation: Ah, both figures have been very controversial in the recent months for their coverage and commentary on GamerGate.
And since mainstream newsgroups have been doing some coverage with little to no insider information on the community, it feels like gaming journalists have turned into pundits of sorts. Thoughts on this?
Lee Williams: A lot of people have attributed this to corruption or collusion but I don’t think it’s either. It seems to me like complacency and laziness. Calling GamerGate a misogynist hate-group out to destroy women in the gaming industry is an easy story that a lot of people will read, shake their heads and whisper, “That’s a shame, that is,” before going back to whatever they were doing. Getting to the real story would take at least a little more work, interviews, critical thought and so on. You’d have a much more engaging story that way, but it’d take longer.
APGNation: Let’s talk about accountability in digital journalism: does blame fall solely on the author of a particular article, or is this shared equally by the author and the editorial team?
Lee Williams: Oh, editors definitely share in that responsibility.
APGNation: In times of political crises, journalists have faced criticism from audiences cross the political spectrum because of slanted or selective coverage of incidents and persons of interest. How do you reconcile with this?
Lee Williams: My response to that would be it falls to the [newsgroups] to make new precedents if they see that their consumer base isn’t satisfied. There doesn’t seem like much to reconcile there, other than the [newsgroups] needing to evolve to new demands from their audience. But if they do make those changes, I’d hope the consumers give them the benefit of being open to it.
We would like to thank Lee Williams for taking the time to answer our questions, and our readers for helping APGNation improve on its journalistic standards. APGNation strives to present comprehensive stories so that you can stay informed of the industry and the community that you support. Who would you like to APGNation to interview next? Let us know by tweeting us @APGNation! Have an interesting point to make about the interview? Post in the comments section and we’ll try to get back to you! You can also follow Lee Williams on Twitter @DemiSaysStuff.