Covering controversial stories is often considered journalism 101 – cover a story that strongly divides people, and you’ll have an instant talking point. Nothing drives discussion more than divisiveness. However, this has predictably produced an environment where those who wish to take advantage of this trope, can, and often, will. And while by no means am I suggesting the complete halt of covering controversial topics, I believe the media needs to revaluate what they consider to be worth reporting.
A recent example in the video game industry, would be the coverage of a comment made by the well-known video game analyst Michael Pachter. In a recent YouTube video of his, he called the now deceased and former president of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, “the late and not so great.” Nearly every major video game publication covered this story to no end, drawing great attention and anger from the video game community. Some may argue Pachter’s relevance to be waning, yet with one short quip, he’s made headlines. While Pachter has since apologized for his comments, he has drawn considerable attention from one short quip.
While the aforementioned example is illustrating how one could use the media’s thirst for controversy to one’s own advantage, publications themselves are also guilty of producing their own grabs for attention. The gaming website Polygon seems to be an expert at such practices. From their controversial refusal to review the video game Star Fox Zero, to breaking NDAs from both Bethesda and Ubisoft (eventually leading to their blacklisted status from the two companies, omitting them from private events), Polygon has continually shot themselves in the foot for no other reason than having knee-jerk articles published on any topic whatsoever, in the hope of garnering high website traffic.
The end result is a media environment that prioritizes shock over substance. And in the short term, the benefits are quite obvious: big talking points, coverage, and attention. In the long term, however, I believe the negatives will far outweigh any short term gains. News will grow to cover even the most irrelevant shock factor stories, and could be baited into covering just about anything, and I truly believe the public will grow tired of this. What the media should focus on is unbiased, relevant news, not shock-inducing buzzword pieces.