What if you thought you (and the perpetrator, of course) were the only person in the world who knew that a crime had been committed? If you were a journalist and said crime happened in your industry, would you feel a duty to report it?
Yesterday, Owen Good of Kotaku posted a story about a tweet by someone apparently affiliated with the hacker collective Anonymous who was claiming to have hacked Sony’s Playstation Network and obtained the usernames and passwords of 10 million accounts.
If you read the article now, you’ll see an amended headline that reveals that the entire story was a fabrication, and that there was no hack of Sony’s PSN today. Sony commented on the story after Kotaku published it and revealed that the tweet was a hoax.
In today’s interconnected world, journalists of all walks are put in an incredibly tough spot. We have access now to literally hundreds of thousands of sources at any one time, and you often have to make a snap decision as to whether or not something is credible. In the case of this story, who was available to be reached? It’s not like the reporter could have gone to the head of Anonymous and ask them if this was true, and the last time there was an attack on Sony’s network, it took them a full week to respond.
So, how do you confirm what might be unable to be confirmed? As a news organization, Kotaku has a duty to report the news. Had they not reported the story before receiving confirmation (which, mind you, they had no way of knowing would come quickly, if at all), are they doing their duty in properly reporting the news?
Every once in a while, a journalist has to make a judgement call. While we are taught that ethically any story is supposed to be corroborated, today’s world of sources as unreliable as they are numerous, and companies that act like the CIA when it comes to releasing information, having what you think is first hand account of a potentially large news story is as tough of a situation as any journalist is going to find themselves in.
We had a similar situation here at VGRevolution early yesterday morning. I discovered some tweets by Xander Davis that accused Vigil and THQ of leaving him and many others off of the credits of Darksiders 2, among other unfair practices. Here at VGRevolution, we don’t necessarily have the access to THQ and Vigil that larger sites do, but I felt that it was an important story that was worth reporting on. So I did the best I could to report the statements as they were, and use our platform to get the word out, thereby forcing THQ and Vigil’s hand when it came to responding. Had we waited for the confirmation, we risked the story going unreported, snuffing out Mr. Davis’s voice. Even then, the “confirmation” that we received from Vigil was (of course) noncommittal at best, leaving us with a classic “he said, they said” situation.
We trust journalists to bring us the news, and we trust them to be right. However, we also implicitly give them permission to make judgement calls from time to time when necessary, especially in situations such as these.
Kotaku did the best they could when it came to reporting this story. The headline itself was accurate. There was a person claiming to represent Anonymous who claimed to have hacked the PSN. That was the story, and Kotaku reported it. They made a judgement call and tried to alert the public to a potentially huge (and not unprecedented) situation which involved their identities and bank accounts. However, since Kotaku is a large entity, and was the first outlet to report this story, it is left with the egg on its face, and many on the internet are very eager to point it out.
Think about the criticism for a second, though. If the people throwing tomatoes at Kotaku are to be believed, the proper course of action is to wait for a large corporation to confirm an embarrassing story in an expedient way. Furthermore, the implication is that the word of said corporation is to be believed, every time. Since when is that the purpose of the press? We report on the gaming community and the people and companies that comprise it. We should not, however, simply report what they say. There’s a substantial difference. The gaming press these people would like you to have is one where the only news every posted comes from the carefully curated hands of PR, whose only goal is to showcase their games in as good of a light as possible. That’s a noble profession, but the job of the press is to uncover the truth, above all else.
Sometimes, that means making a leap of faith. Better hope you don’t hit the ground.