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Big News Outlets Keep Forgetting They Hate Video Games

Everything old is new again

A woman circles job ads in a newspaper
Ron Lach

A few weeks ago, Nathan and I wrote about how Rolling Stone was getting back into games journalism, after previously shuttering a games vertical in 2017. Now, Variety–which also had and then memory-holed dedicated games coverage–is taking a page from the same playbook.

It’s not an entire vertical; rather, the outlet is promoting writer Jennifer Maas, who’s already been covering games, to “lead the entertainment news brand’s heightened coverage of the video game industry.” (Emphasis mine.) Maas will focus in particular on the growing overlap between games and television, alongside another writer, Kaare Eriksen, who writes about games for Variety's paid subscription service.

Cynthia Littleton, Variety’s co-editor-in-chief, is quoted in the announcement as saying, “Gaming of all kinds has grown into a worldwide force and we’re eager to expand our coverage of this important market.” (Emphasis mine again.) It’s likely games have re-attracted Variety’s attention through the popularity of shows like HBO’s The Last of Us and Amazon’s Fallout, as big game publishers embrace these medium crossovers and look at everything through the lens of IP. As stalwarts like the MCU slow, and as box office sales falter, games probably feel like an untapped frontier to editors and media execs who haven’t been paying attention to them lately, even if none of this is remotely new.

I want to be really, really clear that I have no axes to grind against Maas or Eriksen, whose work I am not familiar with and whom I wish all the best; any journalist having good news about their job or their beat these days is worth celebrating. Rather, it’s the situation that made me scream when I saw this announcement–quotes about heightening and expanding coverage of an area Variety decided wasn’t worth it anymore in 2019, but has suddenly decided matters again, enough to ask new journalists to commit to a beat these outlets have already shown they can’t commit to.

That outlets like Rolling Stone, Variety, and The New York Times are wandering back into the games game at a time when dedicated games journalism outlets are being decimated left and right should, in some ways, feel like a win. They could spell more opportunities for freelancers or even staffers. Big outlets with big resources can produce high-quality work that’s held to high standards, work that serves readers and tells important stories, the kind of work that dedicated games outlets can struggle to do in the face of dwindling resources, the loss of experienced writers and editors, and hostile ownership. I want so badly to feel happy that this is happening, even if these new/old forays are rising from the ashes of thousands of laid-off games journalists and degraded or shuttered outlets. 

To detour into another part of journalism for a moment: On Sunday night, The Washington Post announced a surprise editorial shakeup with the departure of executive editor Sally Buzbee and the reveal of a new “third newsroom” that intends to give readers “who feel traditional news is not for them… compelling, exciting and accurate news where they are and in the style that they want…. [moving] away from the traditional one-size-fits-all approach.” Semafor’s Max Tani wrote on Twitter that Post CEO Will Lewis told staff ‘You haven't done it’... when asked about reaching new audiences through the current newsroom structure.” According to Vanity Fair, Lewis told staff, “It’s the most important thing: untapped audiences.” Lewis also reportedly said that he'll be "sourcing talent externally" for this new newsroom, just months after The Post undertook hundreds of buyouts.

If you read this site, you’re aware that Aftermath co-founders Nathan Grayson and I both worked for The Post’s games vertical Launcher, which was shuttered in January 2023, a few months after I was hired to run it. We were, to my understanding, succeeding in our goals and reaching the new, young readers The Post wanted to attract. After Launcher closed, I moved to an entire department dedicated to reaching those new audiences. The head of that department, a brilliant thinker and exceptional boss who was far kinder to me than I deserved, now heads up The Post’s forays into AI; the February announcement of this move refers to our department in the past tense.

So I look out over the last few weeks of journalism news, at these Rolling Stone and Variety announcements, at The Post’s pivot into buzzword chaos, and I feel like I’m yelling at a character in a horror movie as they walk into a basement. These companies asked journalists to do our jobs, and we did them, and then everything we did got wiped away. And then, months or years later, these same bosses decide to reinvent the things we already did, just without us, and dress it up like some bold new idea.

I don’t think it’s cynical to predict where this leads: in a few months, or in a year or two, they’ll get bored of the people who replaced us, or the line won’t go up fast enough, and they’ll nuke the whole thing all over again. They’ll blame a lack of reader interest, or advertising shifts, or–as Lewis seems to do–the writers and their work, but they’ll never take the blame themselves. And then they’ll move on to their next half-baked idea, and we’ll all pay the price.

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