An Analysis on Kotaku’s Coverage of Jessica Price’s Firing
On July 5, 2018, Mike O’Brien, President of ArenaNet announced on the Guild Wars 2 forum that Narrative Designers Jessica Price and Peter Fries were fired from the company. He cited their attacks on community and failure to uphold ArenaNet’s standards of communicating with players as reasons for their dismissal. If you want a more detailed background on the events that led to the two writers’ firings, I highly recommend watching YongYea’s video on this matter (he also has two other videos covering this incident).
Several video game websites such as Kotaku; Polygon; Rock, Paper, Shotgun; The Verge; and others have covered the incident. However, the coverage and retelling of the story of some of these sites are arguably questionable. When reporting news, a journalist must provide the full context, offer multiple perspectives, and not let personal biases get in the way. This article will specifically evaluate Nathan Grayson’s article from Kotaku to see if it maintains integrity and objectivity.
The analysis will be akin to The Knife Media’s methodology. The news site investigates three specific aspects of an article:
- Spin — “Spin makes language vague, dramatic or sensational — it’s anything that strays from objective, measurable facts. It opens the door to bias and keeps us from a precise understanding of what happened.”
- Slant — “Slant is when you’re told only part of the story, with cherry-picked information that supports a particular viewpoint. This makes the news unbalanced, and keeps our understanding limited and narrow.”
- Logic — “There are the facts, and then there are conclusions we draw about those facts. Logic assesses whether those conclusions are backed up with data, and whether they’re based on valid reasoning.”
A day after Mike O’Brien’s announcement of Jessica Price’s dismissal, Kotaku writer, Nathan Grayson, reported on the incident. He first provides a brief recap of the events as well as talk about the reception of Jessica Price’s social media behavior from the Guild Wars 2 and Kotaku In Action subreddits. For much of the second half of the article, Nathan Grayson provides Jessica Price’s account on her firing. However, the article is mired with very dramatic wording and unbalanced coverage.
From the getgo, Nathan Grayson spins the events of the incident with the opening phrase:
After a Twitter spat erupted into a mob of fans going after a narrative designer for Guild Wars 2 studio ArenaNet.
The writer immediately takes a dramatic approach with the word, “erupted”. However, his description of the fans disagreeing with Jessica Price’s behavior as a “mob” is arguably the bigger infraction. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a mob is a large and disorderly crowd of people, especially one bent on riotous or destructive action. The word, “mob”, has a negative connotation and may affect a reader’s first impression of the fans who criticized Ms. Price’s social media behavior.
In addition, saying that the fans were “going after” Price may have a negative connotation. The idiom has multiple meanings. It can range from “pursuing legal action” to “hunting someone down” to “seeking a person” to “chasing something”. While it would be not advisable to immediately assume the worst intentions, Nathan Grayson’s usage of the word, “mob”, may hint at what he meant at “going after”. Considering that the definition of the former includes “riotous or destructive action”, of the aforementioned meanings of the idioms, “hunting someone down” provides the best fit.
Another problem with this spin is that it does not take into the account of the variation of behavior from fan to fan. Very likely, there were some fans that engaged in uncivil behavior. Obviously, that is inexcusable as rude behavior from one person does not grant a pass for another person to act rudely in kind. However, there were also fans who criticized Price’s behavior calmly.
This amount of attention to just the first phrase of the article may come off as pedantic. However, the beginning of an article serves to tell readers the most important news and sets the tone for the rest of the composition. As a result, distortions placed at the very start carry substantial weight and may lead to the reader acquiring biases before he/she even finishes the article. This phenomenon is known as anchoring or focalism, which is “ a cognitive bias for an individual to rely too heavily on an initial piece of information offered (known as the “anchor”) when making decisions.”
What may be Nathan Grayson’s largest error is his unbalanced reporting of the events of the incident and the aftermath. The majority of the article covers Jessica Price’s account of the situation, but does not reciprocate other perspectives to provide a full picture.
For example, after the article summarizes the initial exchange between Price and Deroir, a notable Guild Wars 2 streamer, that led to the former’s unemployment, Grayson only shared Price’s thoughts in the fourth paragraph. Note that Grayson never shared Deroir’s side of the story nor did he even mentioned about making attempts to contact him. This is a critical error as Grayson did not take all the involved parties into account. If you want to hear Deroir’s side of the story, you can do so from this stream starting from the 4 minute mark.
The fifth paragraph offers a different sort of slant. Instead of providing disproportional coverage to one side like in the previous example, Grayson predominantly focused on the negative traits of the Guild Wars 2 fans and other people who disagreed with Price’s behavior. Some example sentences that demonstrate this are as followed (instances of spin are bolded):
the MMO’s subreddit exploded with threads about the incident, with many calling for Price to be punished or fired.
Some even threatened to stop spending money on the game until the situation was “resolved” in a way they found suitable.
The article only focused on the Guild Wars 2 fans that called for Price to be punished or fired when there were also fans who expressed their disagreement against Price in a polite manner. In addition, saying that some of the fans “threatened” ArenaNet is spin, as the word has a negative connotation.
All the while, people rained down insults on Price, accusing her of being an “SJW screaming child,” playing “the vagina card,” and other nastiness of the like.
According to Merriam-Webster, the phrase, “all the while”, means “ during the entire time”. To say that people sent insults to Price “the entire time” is an extraordinary claim and it must be supported by ample amounts of evidence. However, citing two Tweets is likely not a large enough sample to see the whole picture. Price might have received several dozens of Tweets after she initiated her exchange with Deroir.
One last example of slant that I will discuss is the article’s concluding paragraph, which states as follows:
Price is worried about the precedent the firings set. “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you,” she said. “Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”
Like the first example that I showed, Grayson only provides one perspective which is Price’s perspective. In her statement, Price claims that Reddit is out to get women fired and that they should smile as the players metaphorically hit them, presumably with insults.
However, there are alternative opinions on what kind of precedent Price’s dismissal may bring. At several private companies, employees have to sign a contract that likely contains a social media clause. It is possible that Price (and Peter Fries) violated the terms of the contract, which would give ArenaNet viable grounds to end their employment. As a result, it could just be ArenaNet staying consistent with its policies.
It is also possible that the negative reception towards Price’s statements on social media also led to a significant reduction in earned revenue for ArenaNet, especially considering Guild Wars 2 is the company’s only game out in the market. ArenaNet might have fired Price and Fries in an attempt to prevent the company’s reputation, as a whole, from negatively affecting its revenue. It is not uncommon for companies to take measures to prevent their reputations from falling.
While we may not exactly know what kind of precedent Price’s dismissal will bring, the main point is that the article only provides one perspective on what the consequences will be while not mentioning others. When the reader is told just one part of the story, he or she will only have a limited understanding of the whole situation. It is best that the reader is able to see all viewpoints so he or she can judge the story for his or herself.
Overall, Nathan Grayson’s article on Kotaku contains a lot of sensationalist language and only offers a limited viewpoint on the whole situation surrounding Price’s firing. While it is definitely true that there were people who were angry at Price’s statements on social media, to describe the fans as a “mob” is over-generalizing. In addition, the subjective word choice at the beginning of the article may lead to the reader forming opinions before he or she even finishes the piece. The coverage of the parties involved was unbalanced as the author largely favored Price’s account. Furthermore, Grayson only focused on the negative aspects of the people who voiced their disagreement against Price.