The secrets of GameJournoPros
A large number of high-profile game journalists working at rival publications were secretly discussing together in the mailing list “Game Journalism Professionals”.
Shortly before the outrage following the discovery of the list prompted its closing, GameJournoPros counted almost 150 members, most of them journalists, former journalists and freelancers at high profile publications like Vox Media (Polygon and the Verge), Gawker (Kotaku), Gamasutra, Joystiq, IGN and Reddit owner Condé Nast (Ars Technica and Wired).
The list included the Editors-in-Chief of five major gaming publications, the chairman of the Indie Game Festival, some mainstream media journalists and even a few game publishers PR representatives.
While membership in and by itself is not a proof of impropriety, the group has undertaken a large number of suspicious activities.
Groupthink and cronyism
Created by Ars Technica’s senior gaming editor, Kyle Orland, GameJournoPros held a strict secrecy clause and was admittedly inspired by the controversial JournoList—a mailing list of mainstream media journalists created by the current Editor-in-Chief of Vox, which caused serious scandal and ended careers when it was made public in 2009.
One of the group’s most influential voices was Polygon’s, and previously Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera. Kyle Orland states that Kuchera”s recommendation is “pretty much the reason I have my current position”. There have been allegations that networking through GameJournoPros may have helped Kuchera get hired in his current position as well, since the Editor-in-Chief of Polygon, Chris Grant, is also a member of the list.
After GameJournoPros was discovered in September 2014, Orland and other members denied the accusations of collusion, even stating that GameJournoPros was a valuable resource for receiving guidance on ethical issues. Other members think otherwise, with former member Ryan Smith stating that “the informal pressure to fall in line with the groupthink was very strong”. When Smith engaged with some supporters of then-fledgeling GamerGate, members of GameJournoPros insulted him, blocked him on Twitter and even contacted his colleagues and superiors in an attempt to shame him into silence.
In August 2014, GameJournoPros member Nathan Grayson, of Kotaku, was accused of giving biased coverage to an indie developer in exchange for sexual favours.
Kyle Orland started a GameJournoPros thread debating if it was better to silence discussion of the scandal, or if instead, the GameJournoPros should collectively support the indie developer—who had details of her private life leaked in the scandal.
Soon the thread’s attention was focused on Greg Tito, then Editor-in-Chief at the Escapist, who asked advice on the civil, heavily-moderated discussions about the scandal taking place on his site’s forums—wondering if they should be shut down. He was pressured to censor these discussions by many members, including Grayson’s colleague Jason Schreier, but especially by Ben Kuchera.
Kuchera, who was financially supporting the developer involved in the scandal via Patreon, and had already used Polygon to promote her without disclosure, strongly advocated for closing the discussion — implying that the Escapist was making itself complicit in harassment, calling concerns of censorship “a technicality”, and acting indignant when Tito decided to keep the thread up.
In the meantime, Orland and other journalists wanted to send support to the developer. A debate around a signed letter from the group was held. The idea was scrapped when some members deemed it inappropriate. Even Jason Schreier stated that “this incident has raised enough questions about the incestuous relationship between press and developers already”.
As of May 2015, still-ongoing discussion of ethics in game journalism following the scandal has taken a huge scale and the name “GamerGate”, and has uncovered many other scandals, including a much larger network of biased coverage on friends—at Kotaku and elsewhere—and GameJournoPros itself. The Escapist’s forums are still one of the few places on the internet that allow discussion of these matters, which are elsewhere very strongly censored.
In 2013, Destructoid journalist Allistair Pinsof revealed a scam on crowdfounding website IndieGoGo, where an indie game developer tried to finance a sex change surgery by claiming it was a life-saving operation. This caused backlash, due to the developer having been outed as transgender in the process. Pinsof was fired by Destructoid CEO Yanier “Niero” Gonzalez, despite many disagreeing with this decision—including the outed developer herself, who in the meantime had received Pinsof’s apologies, and wrote Gonzalez asking not to fire him.
The scandal re-ignited in 2014, when email leaks from both Pinsof and GameJournoPros revealed many questionable activities by Destructoid’s management.
Gonzalez’s claims of having forbidden Pinsof to run the story were proven to be fake, and he had also flip-flopped about Pinsof’s termination date in order to justify his firing—by blaming him for actions taken when he was no longer employed at Destructoid. In addition, he had discussed his termination with the GameJournoPros behind the scenes, and threatened to slander Pinsof if he tried to publicly defend himself.
Moreover, right after Pinsof was fired, Editor-in-Chief Dale North posted in GameJournoPros, asking members to ignore him should he request employment or coverage of his side; Pinsof was indeed ignored. Shortly after the emails were leaked, North resigned from Destructoid, citing disagreements with the management as his reason.
Another, more recent leak shows that, just two months later, another blacklisting took place in the mailing list, this time targeting entertainment industry professional Kevin Dent.
It was Patrick Klepek, then at Giant Bomb, who suggested GameJournoPros “collectively stop quoting” Dent, supported in this motion by several members, such as his colleague Alex Navarro, who told GameJournoPros that “we as a collective industry would do well to pretend he no longer exists”.
Dent—whose quotes were previously used frequently—basically disappeared from GameJournoPros websites after this thread.
GameJournoPros members didn’t act surprised by Klepek’s request, and other leaks give the impression that the list’s members considered ruining someone’s career over a disagreement something normal.
In May 2014, on Twitter, an aspiring game developer with less than 30 followers disagreed with an article by Dutch game PR and Gamasutra guest writer Rami Ismail, who retaliated with “bullying” and “attempting to form a lynch mob”, (in the words of, coincidentially, an unrelated, Kevin Dent). Ismail even involved the aspiring dev’s university, while Leigh Alexander also went on the attack, and, in an often-quoted tweet, threatened to “make an example” of the aspiring dev, who she advised to “be careful” disagreeing with a person of her influence — in her words, “a megaphone”.
That this disagreement had severe consequences was considered obvious by the GameJournoPros. Ben Kuchera commented that he was “watching someone burn down the beginnings of their career on social media”, while the mailing list’s thread was also commenting on this “career suicide”, as if it was an expected consequence of not falling in line.