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Corporate-Owned Journalism Is Dead, Long Live Independent Sites

Another terrible week for journalism, but with a small, Rascal-shaped silver lining

Alexandru Nika / Shutterstock

It’s been a long week – a weird thing to say when many of us had Monday off. However, in the past 24 hours alone, Vice announced plans to lay off hundreds of people and effectively shut down its website, Engadget followed suit with its own layoffs, and DCist closed down. That’s to say nothing of journalist Tim Burke being indicted for simply doing his job in a way that just so happened to embarrass Fox News. This is an extinction event. But from the ashes of the old arises something new. On this week’s episode of Aftermath Hours, we – a group of people with ample skin in the game – discuss that. 

On this episode we’re joined by former io9 staffer Lin Codega, who just launched Rascal, an already-very-good new independent outlet dedicated to journalism around tabletop roleplaying games. We begin by discussing the aforementioned grim tidings before learning more about Rascal and the world of tabletop roleplaying in general. It’s not just D&D, though Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast would certainly like you to think that. This leads to a truly illuminating discussion of the tabletop roleplaying scene, writing that’s been done about it, and the conflicts of interest that arise when developers are – more often than not – just one person designing rules in their bedroom and the relationship between publications and developers is more symbiotic than in other mediums. 

After that, we discuss Elden Ring’s long-awaited Shadow Of The Erdtree expansion – which contains (and is contained by) an Egg – as well as divisive non-video game True Detective before transitioning more naturally than you’d expect into a talk about Final Fantasy VII spoilers and remakes that aren’t just remakes. Lastly, before we sign off, we go deeper than I thought we would on both Starship Troopers and the impact Twitch, YouTube, and TikTok have on cultural literacy around games. It’s a jam-packed episode! Enjoy!  

You can find this week's episode below and on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else you prefer to listen to podcasts. If you like what you hear, make sure to leave a review that will assuredly help save journalism (or at least, you know, do us a solid).

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Gita: One of my former editors at Vice, Janus, posted that Vice employees had lost access to their ability to download emails and received an anonymous tip that the current owners of Vice were going to delete the site, possibly that day. So I spent most of this morning archiving everything I’d written for Vice. I worked there for three years, so this took a very long time. And also – this was later confirmed in a New York Times report – Vice’s new owners are going to lay off 900 people [note: Vice said the actual number will be “several hundred”]. They’ve already laid off a lot of people, so to me that feels like it’s effectively the death knell for Vice as a whole.    

Nathan: Which is just absolutely terrible. And it’s so callous, right? What is the point of any of this? Why even buy a website if you’re just gonna slash and burn it? 

Gita: It doesn’t make financial sense in that they are still able to gain ad revenue. If they’re at the point that the server costs eclipse ad revenue, then the financial problems are so bad that they should have been taking radical action years ago. Of course the radical actions they took were giving themselves bonuses in the C-suite that were larger than people’s salaries, including my salary. After they laid me off, I found out the C-suite were giving themselves bonuses to the tune of $100,000. 

Nathan: But I do think one of the things we can do here today is talk about viable alternatives to corporately owned media, because it’s clear that the entire apparatus is in its death throes, and one of those alternatives – in addition to Aftermath dot site, a very cool website that everyone loves – is Rascal dot news. I enjoy that y’all also have a different dot that’s not “dot com.” But yeah, you just launched this week. You’ve had what seem to be a very hectic past few days. How’s it all going? 

Lin: It’s going really well! The three people who founded the site are me, Rowan Zeoli, and Chase Carter, and we’ve all been writing in tabletop spaces for 5-7 years. So we’re all pretty early on in our careers still. But we’ve never been fully employed; we’ve always been kind of disregarded because of the subject matter we focus on – a feeling I’m sure you guys know well. It was just one of those things where I got laid off from G/O Media along with 23 or 24 other people, and I just sort of looked at the state of media, and I was like “There’s no way I’m gonna get another job doing anything close to this.” So I used the time that severance gave me, and I built Rascal alongside my two other co-founders.   

The past week has been hectic. We launched on Tuesday and had this huge social media response. Someone asked us the other day: “What did you expect? What were your goals for this?” And we were just like “We didn’t have any. We had zero expectations.” Because we had no idea what was gonna happen. Some other people were asking me, “Oh, what are your numbers?” We don’t know. And they were like “What do you think you’re going to make in the first month?” And we’re like “We don’t know!” 

Gita: People have all these huge assumptions when you start a business about how you’re able to predict how things are going to go. I remember, before we even announced Aftermath, people asking me, “When do you think you’re gonna be able to hire?” I don’t know the answer to that question! We just don’t know. It all depends. You have to do everything, and that includes all the metrics-related things that were often given to people that were far away from the journalism desk.

Lin: In terms of a lot of it, we’ve decided “Probably never? Probably never. But maybe eventually.” This is a tabletop roleplaying site. Are you guys tabletop roleplayers in addition to being video game players?

Gita: I’m a roleplayer.

Nathan: I’ve played D&D a few times. That’s pretty much it.

Lin: Alright, I’m not talking to you ever again. You’re dead to me.

Everybody: [Laughs]

Gita: I love to make up a little guy and rotate him in my head.

Lin: But yeah, so people were asking us all of these questions, and so in our Discord we’ve invoked a tabletop roleplaying term: We put it in a clock, which means we’ll just deal with it later.

Gita: Eventually your clock will advance to the point where you have to deal with some of these things. 

Luke: There’s no IRS in your D&D game, but there absolutely is [in real life].

Nathan: But yeah, I was curious about the general state of journalism and media around tabletop roleplaying, because I’ve read some of Rascal’s posts, and it seems like there’s just not very much of this. I’m familiar with stuff on YouTube and actual play shows, but is there much beyond that? Or are you doing a kind of maiden voyage with Rascal?

Lin: We’re definitely not doing a maiden voyage. I want to be clear that there are outlets working in the space. There’s Bell of Lost Souls, there’s EN World, there’s Geek Native. A lot of these are really indie outfits that aren’t necessarily full-time, profitable ventures for the people working on them. A lot of it is consumer-article focused. It’s like “Here’s what D&D is doing. Here’s a Magic: The Gathering deck. Did you see this Tomb Raider tabletop announcement?” It’s very service-journalism oriented in a lot of ways. So we’re doing something in between the stuff that’s out there that we would consider news outlets and then, like, blogs.       

Tabletop roleplaying games have an incredible history of blogs. Literally since the ‘90s – the early ‘90s – people have been blogging about tabletop games.

Gita: Yeah, there’s tabletop channels on Usenet, so the basic foundations of the internet. 

Lin: Yes, Usenet, forums, [and so on]. Jon Peterson, one of our foremost experts on tabletop roleplaying games, runs a blog called Playing At The World, and he’s gotten multiple book deals because of this blog. And he’s done incredible investigations and incredible reporting on history. So we’ve sort of combined the legacy of tabletop roleplaying game blogs – independent people blogging about the games and game design – and the consumer service journalism that’s out there. We’ve been like “How do we do something that we feel good about and that’s sustainable – and that also incorporates the combined legacies of where tabletop journalism has happened in the past?   

(Podcast production by Multitude.)

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