The PR for Games Conference, held at the Fairmont in San Francisco, included a late morning panel on blogging, which would turn out be one of the more talked about issues across all panels, titled “New Avenues for Reaching your Audience." Panelists included Gamasutra and Insert Credit's Brandon Sheffield, Daniel Terdiman of Cnet, Mark Macdonald of gamevideos.com, Michael Zenke of Slashdot and Chris Kohler, credited by the conference program as editor of Wired's Game|Life. IGN’s Aaron Boulding handled moderation duties.
Where's The News?
The first point of discussion was where exactly the panelists received their news. Slashdot’s Michael Zenke took the initiative with, “RSS feeds... I read 220 video game RSS feeds a day” looking for what he calls specific voices and “info with a unique twist”. Pointing to Chris Kohler, he remarked that “this guy is one of my favorites.”
Brandon Sheffield revealed that he gets his news via “emails from people” as well as “ridiculous press releases,” to which the room of PR professionals responded with uncomfortable silence. Perhaps hoping to maintain the high ground, Brandon Sheffield added “I only put stuff up I haven’t seen anywhere else.”
What Gets Covered, What's Left Behind
Concerning what they choose to blog about and the decision process, Kohler said it was a simple as “what strikes me as interesting... [there’s] no filter in place.” Sheffield then remarked that “a lot of blogs seems to be about aggregation,” which struck him as an odd tactic since “that’s what RSS is for,” adding that “[blogs] should be based on your own initiative, not just news.”
Mark Macdonald bounced off that idea, noting that what really gets hits on a blog are “what falls through the cracks. The stuff major sites won’t post... news that might be embarrassing.” Sheffield commented that “Nothing is really hidden anymore...” and that he saw blogs “not replacing but supporting traditional media.” Kohler agreed, adding, “Nobody needs to go to Game|Life for news. It doesn’t make sense for me to do news,” clarifying that he's simply “adding opinion to it.”
One of the main concerns expressed by the audience of PR professionals was the potential damage of misinformation that can spread quickly across the internet before damage control can be done. “Game blogs have the same problem with all blogs in general,” Macdonald responded, “That is a blog can say ‘I think this...’ and it gets reported as news [by other blogs].”
He brought up the example of David Jaffe’s public blog, wherein anytime he gave his view on something, it turned into a news story. This led to Jaffe to eventually stop blogging all together, which Macdonald saw as a consequence of “[the] news cycle is getting faster and faster.” He also pointed out, however, that “blogs love nothing more that to point out other blogs are wrong.” Daniel Terdiman of Cnet added that, even on blogs, “every step needs attribution”.
Sheffield said that public perception can help keep bloggers on their toes since “all you have is your reputation,” though the standard of reputation is not as high as in traditional media considering “there’s no boss to fire you.” Zenke continued with “what we’re talking about fundamentally is trust and respect. I’m not beholden to anyone but the readers. If I post something untrue, they’ll call me on it.”
Terdiman added, “Reputation is important for PR people too. There’s a company I won’t deal with thanks to one or two people.”
PR strategy has a hard time trying to figure out exactly how to work with blogs, so the next question was asking the panelists directly how they would like PR to deal with them. Kohler started, “There’s forever going to be tension, and a bit of a gulf between how PR wants things to work and how we want it to work... I am not going to do exactly what you want me to do.”
He brought an example of a PR person who sent him a PDF file. Kohler then posted it on his blog and provided a line by line commentary. The PR person then contacted him again saying it was not meant to be viewed publicly and was willing to send him exclusive screen shots of a game if he took down the document. Kohler responded, “This is the Wired news blog. [This is] news, and I’m not going to take it down, I’m not going to trade it for screen shots”.
For Zenke, “PR can trust me to be interested. The best thing they can do is send me the product. Have faith in me and your product.” For Sheffield, however, there wasn’t an easy answer, since “it’s hard to sell to an unpaid site. They have no reason to cover anything.”
Opinion And Speed
But what actually makes a good blogger? Sheffield responded immediately with “intelligence, humor and the ability to source things on your own... the ability to pull out context and background [from yourself].” Macdonald added that “being trustworthy is huge.” Kohler gave an example, noting that “[Gawker Media gaming blog] Kotaku got banned from the Gaming Age forums because one too many stories didn’t pan out.”
For Zenke, it’s a simple question of “is the community even interested? I am so tired of Jack Thompson right now,” but the readers are interested, and so his stories continue. Kohler was able to sum it up as being able to have “a quality opinion, fast,” to which Zenke suggested to the audience that they could make things better for bloggers by ensuring live blogging is possible for events, with better and more reliable wireless support. Sheffield chided, “Miyamoto is eating a muffin right now!”
Macdonald had to agree with the other opinions that “speed is a huge factor. Traditional media sites are more interested in video games than they use to be.” That speed seemed to be the salvation of niche media was a unilaterally held opinion of the panel.
The final question asked was how quality control is handled on blogs. Sheffield summed up the panel by stating, “Quality control is me and my giant brain.”
[Gamasutra will be running an in-depth write-up from the PR For Games Conference every day this week - articles thus far include a discussion of the interaction between PR and business media.]