I have every faith that dedicated members of our audience know the differences between reporters and columnists and video hosts, but casual audiences also need to be considered. The more popular videogames become, the more coverage from the enthusiast press is going to be widely read as the mainstream press certainly isn't doing the job. This Bloomberg article has you and me buying $4800 60-inch LED televisions to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. I worry about the person who isn't familiar with the vagaries of videogame journalism and who just became aware of Jessica Chobot as a result of this incident and who sees someone who they think is supposed to be a game journalist appearing in a marketing campaign for a videogame.
I did not contact Electronic Arts or BioWare for comment because I don't think they have anything to speak to. I don't even think they had an obligation to ask whether this was a problem or not before casting Chobot. Electronic Arts and BioWare are in the business of making and selling video games and if they think casting Jessica Chobot is going to help sell copies of Mass Effect 3 that's their business.
The lines between entertainer, personality and journalist are entirely unclear to the audience as a matter of course and this incident does not help things. An entertainer doesn't report the news. They don't even necessarily need to know much about the content they're presenting. Their skill set lies in knowing how to present themselves in front of a camera and work in a broadcast environment. An entertainer would host the show that cuts to the journalist who conducts the interviews and provides the event coverage.
A personality is someone who comments on events or games, and is under no obligation to be objective though they may choose to be. A personality has to be truthful and factual to still be credible, but their job is to cast current events through their unique lens, which makes opinion part of the job description. To call them "biased" is to misunderstand their role and purpose.
A journalist is someone who reports the news. They have an obligation to resist bias and report the facts. They have to fact-check their information. They may investigate stories which necessitate sourcing their information. Journalists work under tighter strictures and have the ethical obligation to maintain their editorial integrity by not allowing publishers and developers to insert themselves into the editorial process.
It's our job as members of the videogame journalism establishment to make sure you understand which role is which, because we often wear all of those different hats at different times. In an ideal world we'd all be dedicated to a single role, but I don't think that's practical. Hell, even within this column from week to week I switch roles. I try to make it clear what I'm about in a given column such that you know what to expect of me. If you're going to fairly call us out, I want to make sure you're calling us out on the right thing!
But no matter which of these hats a game journalist is wearing the one ethical responsibility all these roles have in common is not acting in the interests of a game developer or publisher over the interests of an outlet's editorial integrity. I mean that with no disrespect or malice aforethought, but the line has to be drawn somewhere and that sounds like the fair place to draw it.
First Person is a weekly column by Boston, MA-based freelancer Dennis Scimeca. You can read some of his other musings on his blog punchingsnakes.com, or follow his random excitations on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.