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How To Betray Your Audience’s Trust — A Primer

Alright, I just cranked out a little over 1,200 words on Guild Wars 2 yesterday, so I’ll keep this one short.

Recently, a writer for Polygon attended a Rock Band 4 preview event, and did not play the game in question. Instead, he wrote about other people playing the game, and affected a level of distance from his subject.

In his defense, authenticity is important. You need to give people a reason to come to your video-gaming website as opposed to anyone else’s, and the only way you’re going to do that is by being yourself, cranked to eleven. Being real with your audience and telling them you don’t enjoy Rock Band games is one way to be authentic.

Also in his defense, he didn’t skimp on the facts. Despite not liking Rock Band games or playing Rock Band 4, he wrote down most of the things that fans of the Rock Band series would want to know. As a result, I respect Polygon’s decision to publish the piece.

However.

We as journalists have an incredible amount of trust placed in us by our audience. The audience reads our pieces, watches our videos, follows us on Twitter, and discusses what we write because they trust that we will do our absolute best to be a proxy for them. To go and experience things in their place, and to communicate those things accurately, truthfully, with context, and with the benefit of our institutional memories.

We are incredibly lucky, and we have the best jobs in the world, because we have the trust of our audiences. We can never betray that. It is a mortal sin.

If I am a Rock Band fan, and I read Colin Campbell’s piece as linked above, he has betrayed my trust.

The whole point of video games is to go and experience something virtually. I firmly believe you cannot accurately, truthfully, with context, and with the benefit of your institutional memory, write about a virtual experience you have not had.

Colin Campbell’s audience does not simply want facts. They want to know what Rock Band 4 feels like to play. He had the chance to play Rock Band 4, and tell them, but he did not, because he does not like Rock Band games, and would have preferred to be discussing politics somewhere else instead.

He let them down. He betrayed their trust. And that is something we cannot do.

Jesse Mackenzie is the Managing Editor for AYB Online. He can be reached at jessem@aybonline.com. His opinions are his own.

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