An In-Depth ANALYSIS of the Total Biscuit Interview of Steven Totilo
If you have read my People's History of GamerGate, you will know that Steven Totilo is the Editor-In-Chief for Kotaku, the publication who is arguably more in the center of the controversy than any other. It has been and still is my assertion that proper action by Totilo could have prevented GamerGate from occurring at all. Though I will freely admit this is debatable, what is not debatable is that his actions regarding Grayson's relationship with a subject of his stories fueled an enormous amount of skepticism for a large chunk of the gaming audience. This interview was very telling for many reasons.
Foremost is the fact that Totilo admits to certain improprieties. It is important that this is not viewed as a "Gotcha," but rather as a leaping off point. He admits for instance, that it was wrong for Patricia Hernandez, writer for Kotaku, to write articles about people she was involved in a living relationship with. He also discusses the effect of Patreon, saying there are virtually no instances where a reporter should have any kind of financial ties to people in the industry. From where GamerGate has come from, being constantly accused of misogyny and terrorism, to where we are now, being constantly accused of misogyny and terrorism and having people admitting we have some valid points, this is a huge victory. Coming from the EIC of Kotaku, that is an even larger victory.
Namely, it is his assertion that, quoting Totilo here, "I'm uneasy about any written ethics policy because you end up writing your self into corners that are unnecessary..." It is not that GamerGate is even overly concerned with a written ethics code, it's the fact that after a perceived betrayal of trust, there needs to be some show of good will to demonstrate to the audience they are serious about reform. Totilo argued the fact they made changes to the guidelines so quickly after the controversy began, as well as the fact that they have gone back and added disclosures to Hernandez's work, demonstrates their commitment to transparency.
Totilo speaks of murky situations when a reporter is establishing relationships with those he reports on. His assertion is that this is needed.He doesn't want his reporters not to be able to make connections in the industry because it could cause a conflict of interest. This is troubling to hear the EIC say, as he is the one in charge of policing conflicts of interest. He of all people should understand the fine line that must be walked, and furthermore, should understand the importance of not giving his readers an impression that the line could be crossed.
He admits to walking in the "murky territory," but his response is not to prevent the murkiness in the first place. Instead, he asks the reader to have faith that both himself and Grayson have acted appropriately. For a publication so embattled, that is a large amount of faith required. The primary problem is that he recognizes these issues but does not think anything needs to be done about them.
In my mind, Totilo takes one step forward and two back on most points. He acts admirably regarding the articles they have appended with disclosures, and I absolutely admire his strong stance on Patreon and Kickstarter, virtually banning reporters from engaging wih them. I disagree with his refusal to offer an apology for losing some trust of his readers, regardless of whether he thinks anything was actually wrong. It is, however, his views on that murky territory that I have a hard time reconciling in any way with my own. He feels it is up to the journalist to know when a line has been crossed and to trust them to act accordingly when the lines become too blurred. There was a time I would have perhaps even agreed with that sentiment. If you cannot trust a journalist, you are better off not reading them in the first place. Time and attention are too valuable to squander having to second guess the motives of the author. When the editor, the one most in charge of policing ethics in the publication, does not realize the importance of erring on the side of caution, it gives little cause for trust in the publication. Until Kotaku understands the importance of impartiality, readers should be cautioned not to take what they read there on good faith.