Examining University Practices

Nik Bear Brown graduated from UCLA with a major in Physics and Biology and later a PHD in mathematics and computer science. He worked at a molecular biology institute in Berkeley, at a think-tank at Stanford, as a roadie for Cirque du Soleil, and taught at LA Film School, Santa Monica College, and The Arts Institutes before Northeastern.

Pixel Art Rendition of Nik Bear Brown

How did you first arrive at Northeastern?

“They accepted me here primarily to teach game programming. I had taught game programming for about four or five years at LA Film School and The Arts Institutes.”

I didn’t know they would teach that there.

“At arts school they’re primarily teaching animation. Arts schools are very different from other schools because they’re accepting a group of students who typically didn’t do well in high school, and then teaching them very technical skills. And it’s just the opposite here. Nobody in the game program here actually made a game. They all did what they call “user research.” They did surveys and statistics related to games. So even though they have a game program here, none of them actually programmed a game or know how to actually build one. More theory of games and playing games so the extreme opposite. Art schools is going to be very technical, supposed to be like a trade school. Where some academic schools have a nice mix. Like USC has a good mix of people from the industry who have made games for years that are teaching there, where others are purely people who like the concept of games.”

So they can sell kids tuitions for a degree in games.

“They have the game dev club here. Most of the actual learning of how to build a game comes from that. I taught a game programming class, but that doesn’t come until your third year. In Arts school they start making games from the first day you’re there. You have a first year portfolio, a second year portfolio, a third year portfolio, a fourth year portfolio. And a fourth year portfolio they normally rent a restaurant, you know, it’s a big deal. Here you’re taking Racket for two years. Fortunately at this school the game dev club organically realized they aren’t learning how to make games and we should teach ourselves how to build games. So students often have that ingenuity of “hey we have all these online resources on unity and yada yada yada because the professors can’t teach us this since they’ve never built a game.” So often you have students with the desire but there isn’t that structure.

Sounds like the program needs a bit more work.

“One other thing I learned here, is they come up with a new degree every, week? And that screws a lot of students. For example they wanted to switch the game design and programming degree to just a degree in games. Stupid idea. Stupid idea because nobody knows what a degree in game design is… A degree in CS [Computer Science] is like a liberal science degree. There isn’t a field where it doesn’t apply to. When you’re in your early 20’s you don’t really know what you want to do, I don’t even know what I want to do. But it’s good to have skills that people want along the way. Computers apply to everything. When I was a student studying computer science I also took a class in dance, the reason being the CS classes were 98% guys and the dance department was like 98% women, so it was a nice balance. Everyone’s all lovey you all get A’s where the CS school was all “I’m smarter than you” and that throws a lot of people off who don’t want to be in that alpha male environment. Even when you think you know what you want to do, the world will be very different in ten years from now. So people should be coming out of school with a good foundation of skills. Where a game design degree is just a bad idea. Game companies don’t give a shit if you have a game degree. They care about your portfolio and what games you make.”

You need to make things!

“You need to do to learn. The first thing I tell all my classes is half of what I say is complete bullshit. So everything I say try, see if you can do it. That’s the only way you’re really gonna learn anything.”

What was your experience like teaching at other colleges?

“When I taught at community college they kept teaching kids Cobalt and WordPress. In California professors at community college get tenure after two years. So no matter how irrelevant their class ends up becoming in twenty years, because they have tenure they’ll keep teaching it. The system needs to change and there needs to be competition for the system to change.”

Sounds like we need more incentive for the system to change.

“It’s often hit and miss in academics and whether you resonate with them. Particularly the bigger schools, like when I was at UCLA, the professor would come in one minute before the lecture, start talking for fifteen minutes, and then just leave.”

So no time to approach him after class.

“No time to approach him and he really didn’t give a shit whether you learned it or not. Very often if it’s a big research institute. They are there because they’re getting grant money from the professor so they need to give them a course to teach, but it’s really up to the professor if whether or not they care about teaching. Other schools have teaching faculty. So here there’s teaching professors and teaching faculty, so their primary evaluation is their teaching. These days I think most schools are getting teaching faculty along with regular faculty, but some schools don’t. Like Harvard tries not to have lecturers or teaching faculty, they have some, but they want their professors to teach courses when possible. The problem with that is sometimes the professors don’t give a shit about teaching and just care about their research.”

Students just have to get lucky with who their professor is.

“Particularly with these game programs is if they come up with a degree and end up making it, the problem of having a specific course required that only one professor teaches and that professor leaves, it leaves the students stuck with this unfinished degree. So it leaves the school to hire these adjuncts who literally get paid half as much. Like for example there’s another professor here named Nik Brown and I get all his emails. Even though I’ve emailed them twenty times saying I’m not the same guy. But I got his contract once, you know the yearly contract of “this is how many courses we want you to teach and this is how much you’ll get paid.” It’s half of what I get paid. Literally 50% of what I make for the same amount of work in terms of course loads. In fact when I switched to this department they reduced my coursework by a third so I could spend that time doing research at Harvard. And those adjuncts also don’t get benefits.”

That’s so underhanded.

“It’s a bit shady and I don’t fully understand it. I understand why they want research people because they bring in the school grant money. And they won’t get tenure unless they bring in more money than they’ll get paid. So they are little cash cows for the university, meaning they don’t really care what they do so long as they bring in money. And the university typically takes 40% of that grant money, and you can’t get that grant money unless you’re with a university.”

And this is seen in all universities?

“When I leaving the CS department I ended up applying to different schools while also applying to different departments in Northeastern, and it’s interesting how the schools are different. Like Northeastern literally, I want to make a new degree, they just make a new degree. In fact in data science, they have a data analytics degree and a data science degree just in CS. The problem is no one besides Northeastern knows what that is. It’s just jargon. In their mind data analytics is data mining light and data science is both data science and data mining.”

So Northeastern doesn’t care about how supported a particular degree is?

“Northeastern is very concerned about their ranking. But at the same time they want to get money from as many people as possible. So they created another school which allows them to accept people who wouldn’t otherwise get into Northeastern and charge them Northeastern prices without affecting the undergraduate ranking statistics of Northeastern proper. In those programs they’ll literally say I want this degree in whatever, start it, and their just in the mindset “we’ll just create degrees and figure out what they’re about afterwards.” Where Boston College was interesting. Their computer science program is literally in a church where the first floor is monks who live there, Jesuit monks, I don’t know what they’re called. And they say “data science is interesting, but maybe in ten years.”

Is all of Northeastern like this or just the CS department?

“Northeastern is also particular interesting because each college is like a particular fiefdom. Like when I was in CCIS, I worked very closely with CAMD because CAMD was where the game design program was. But literally the deans would not talk to each other. Would not talk to each other. For example they wouldn’t give money to this yearly thing we do Global Game Jam and it’s like “but these are your students, can’t you contribute to that?” But the money they care about is whether they are their students or not. So they would then end up doubling courses, teaching programming a couple different ways between CAMD and CS. There’s both positives and negatives to this. The positive is it really promotes the innovation of creating new programs and new degrees. Part of the incentives to collect more students is they are making these new programs all the time, but they don’t really think it through. So it’s mostly decided by the particular people that are running it at the time, and their own personal biases and preferences. Like the people running the game programming really wanted everyone to be in games. And that would become a political thing because that would bring the CS people into CAMD, because most of the game faculty was in CAMD. It helps the department but it doesn’t help the students since most people don’t know what the fuck a degree in games is. Like if you decide to do games and in five years you decide not to, a degree in CS is a lot more versatile than games. So the negative is a lot of replication. For example you can get a degree in data analytics and data science from three different schools in Northeastern.”

The Game design program seems like a mess.

The game dev club is where most of the game students learn to build games, and it’s not part of the program. And there’s really no support for it and in fact it’s just the opposite of it. When they want a little money to do a game jam once a year, we’re only talking about a couple thousand dollars here, it doesn’t come from the departments. In a sense these students are doing your work for you because these students coming out of the club can actually build games. If you had a game program you’d send people to game companies and you send people to a game company but they can’t build games, how does that look on your program? Eventually it’d create a “well here’s another one of those Northeastern students who can’t actually build a game, doesn’t have a portfolio.”

Do you respect Northeastern?

“I like Northeastern but all the schools are different and they have their pluses and minuses. Where I think I’m a little different is I’ve seen a huge range of schools. So like community college has their needs and their clientele. A community college takes everybody. You get 15-year-olds and 70-year-olds in the same class. It’s cheap, it’s accessible, it’s often a gateway to getting to a 4-year school or whatever they’re doing. But the way community colleges work with their tenure and such makes it so they don’t change very much. The so called “for-profit” schools like LA Film School and The Arts Institutes. They are good at teaching technical skills but they aren’t really academic schools. Like they can teach you how to be an animator and get a degree in animation, and there’s maybe one class you have to take in arithmetic, like literally arithmetic you learn in 4th grade but some people still struggle with that type of academic course. But they are often dealing with some of the most diverse students. Like you get transgenders and this and that. They are dealing with typically a population that has been abandoned by whatever reason from the public schools and going to these “for-profit” schools. Northeastern is a different philosophy. There’s some departments I like and others I don’t like, but it’s very dependent on the department. So they give departments a lot of free reign. And the plus of that is they give the people running the department a lot of control, meaning they can do great things, or not so great things. So the Northeastern experience is very different between just different departments. If you’re a student coming in to Northeastern how do you know the differences between EC, and engineering, and CCIS, and CAMD, as a 19-year-old coming in? Like if you want a degree in games do you get it through CAMD or CCIS? If you get it through CAMD you may not have to take certain courses you don’t want to take, but the degree may not be as flexible down the road.”

So what is the ideal school?

“I don’t think there’s a perfect school. Like I don’t think Boston College could be more different than an arts school. Which is all about getting a technical skill. It’s not that different than learning how to fix a mechanic or be a carpenter. Unfortunately one thing I don’t like about the American education system compared to say the German education system is they have a lot more trade schools in Germany, and trades are a lot more respected. In America we go to college because we feel like we have to have a bachelors degree, even if we want to be an artist or a cook because somehow you are a lesser person if you learnt to cook. I don’t think that’s so much a school thing as it is cultural and I don’t know how that happened in America. Like in Germany 50% of high school students end up going to trade schools. Because not everyone needs that. The problem is in America those trade schools are looked down upon and they become those “for-profit” schools, you know the bad schools. When really there should be a Harvard of technical trade schools, and there’s not. What people don’t often realize is that [for-profits] do teach people technical skills, they just charge them an arm and a leg for it. So that part of the education system is not a Northeastern thing but a general thing in America and I don’t know why.”


Game Reviewers’ Integrity

Whether you participate in the industry or not, video games hit $23.5 billion of revenue in the year of 2015, a 5% increase from its previous year, and sales are expected to rise. Like any member of an industry that sells a product, especially one in the entertainment industry, video games are highly subject to reviews. The significance of that review holds a varying amount of weight depending on who did the reviewing, what that review said, and most importantly: the rating. Reviewing a game by sharing ones opinion on it is more than merited and should exist in abundance, but assigning a numerical value by which many will base their opinions on raises an ethical dilemma.

To understand just how influential ratings can be, a study was done in 2010 by the Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR) and The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University (SMU). The study involved the game Plants vs. Zombies, where 188 students were divided into three different groups. One group was told the game got a score of a 90, another was told 61, and a control group that was not told any ratings. After playing the game, the mean of the students who were told the game got a higher score rated it an 85, the lower score’s mean was a 71, and the control group’s mean was a 79. The results of this alone clearly demonstrate that when having knowledge of a rating, the number alone is enough to alter the judgment people have when rating the product themselves. Additionally, after playing the game the participants were offered either $10 in cash or a copy of the game as compensation. Those who rated it higher were twice as likely to accept the game as payment and 40% more likely to recommend it to a friend. So not only do higher ratings cause people to think more highly of the product, but it increases their desire for it and likelihood of talking about it.


So numbers affect a potential customer’s opinion on the game, but how many people actually read reviews? Ad-ology Media Influence on Consumer Choice surveyed 1105 adults, 38% of which stated online reviews “significantly influenced their purchase.” That was back in 2008, so it would be no surprise since the industry has grown since then that the number of people who read reviews has also increased.

The primary source of a number by which to judge video games by is Metacritic. Metacritic does movies and music as well, but there are already sites like RottenTomatoes that are more popular. The Metacritic number not only affects the consumers’ chances of purchasing, but it also affects wages inside a company. One example of which being the game studio Obsidian (under contract from bigger company Bethesda), achieved a score of 84 on their title Fallout: New Vegas in March 2012. Due to the score being below an 85 (one point mind you), the employees failed to earn a bonus. The “Metacritic 85 or bust” mentality has become so prevalent, that developer Irrational Games had a job listing in 2012 where the applicant had to have “Credit on at least one game with an 85+ average Metacritic review score.” That same company ended up restructuring and experienced multiple layoffs a mere two years later.

The fear of being the difference between someone getting a bonus or not has certainly made an impact on reviewers themselves. Reviewer Liana Kerzner said “I stopped giving out 7.5’s when I found out you needed an 8 to get your bonus. . . Even if the game deserves a 7.5, I’m gonna give it an 8.” This is a contributing factor to review inflation, which may benefit companies, it hurts consumers and leads them to lose trust with reviews.

Independent games are almost worse for reviewers for many reasons. An independent developer may have spent years pumping time and money into a game that might very well be bad. Those developers are at the mercy of reviewers arguably more so than AAA companies because review websites are their biggest avenue to achieve free publicity. These factors naturally influence reviewers to be kinder when reviewing independent games, especially when the developers personally reach out to those authors.

Aristotle’s golden mean philosophy directly pertains to this issue of giving games an 8 when they should be a 7.5. The argument is that the reviewer is achieving a middle ground between benefiting the game studios, and being fair to the consumers themselves. The issue with working under this philosophy is the reviewer is slowly chipping away at the trust of the consumers. By constantly nudging the number a little higher than it should be, consumers will grow to expect less from games with higher numbers, despite some of those games actually being worthy of that number. The only people that it truly benefits is the reviewer and the company, by making the company’s employees happy as well as improving the relationship between the reviewer and the company.

Applying either the ends-based (teleology) or rule-based (deontology) philosophy would better serve this situation. One could argue ends-based could result in the same place of the golden mean, but the true best result would be in the benefit of the consumer, not the companies and those who review the games. The industry is fueled by people actually buying the products. Sure fudging a review might not do much damage in the short-term and seem to only grant benefits, but in the long-term it’s damaging a consumer’s trust in reviews, which could lead to inactivity with the industry. Thus, rule-based would work because as long as the reviewer strictly adheres to the same ethical rules for reviewing as he or she does every time, there is no thought of making unethical “exceptions” for things like turning 7.5’s into 8’s.

When viewing my own ethics code, what two points strike me as the most relevant are “Is it for the right reasons?” and “Is it factually sound?” The answer to the first is seen in the good intentions of the reviewers wanting to help out the developers by giving their game a bit higher score than it truly deserves. That is a good reason with immediate positive effects, but like stated earlier, the long-term repercussions is the loss of faith readers have in the reviewer and thus reviews in general. Once a reviewer starts making an exception for one game it becomes easier and easier to keep doing so. Thus, despite it seeming like increasing the score by a tad as the right thing to do, it is more right to maintain integrity and be honest. As for the second question, that also dips into the reviewer wanting to give a game a higher score than it deserves, but this time over the issue that the reviewer is not informing the reader of his or her intentions. If an individual who has been working on a game for three years emails a reviewer some heartbreaking story about the difficulty they have had making the game, that reviewer is immediately going to be biased when writing the review, but readers are kept in the dark about this information. It may not be against the facts to not state the sob story, but it certainly is a fact that leads to a bias readers should be aware of to know the full story.

A core ethical principle reviewers are faced with is transparency vs. minimizing harm. When writing a review, it is obvious that it is the writer’s opinion about the game. Unfortunately, even though it is just an opinion, when a number is attached that opinion it feels more like a fact to someone who may just be skimming the article. If a number is necessary to the site the reviewer is working for, it is vital to explain every piece of why that number is as good or as bad as it is. One needs to be sure it is clear to the reader what prevents it from being perfect, what makes it good, but perhaps most importantly, who the game is for. If a game is good, that does not mean it is good for everyone. For a reviewer’s opinion to benefit everyone, the reviewer needs to be sure to paint the review in context to their opinion on the game and games of that sort, not in context to disillusioned facts they rate games through. In other words: the reviewer needs to let readers know what type of game it is, their experience with those types of games, and how this one compares. That also means if it is something entirely different that should be made clear to the reader. This transparency of opinion when it is used helps minimize harm to both readers and developers, so readers can more accurately get an idea of if the game is for them or not, and so developers can feel the review was fair in context to the writer’s opinion.

Will Harlan is an ex games reviewer for a site called CultureMass.com. Years after being a part of the industry Will says he “can’t help but feel disillusioned with the way a lot of websites review.” Like the reasons talked about before, Will is familiar with the corruption that plague review sites, for even when he was reviewing he was scared “to screw up [the] community’s reputation” by giving a game a low score, so he would settle with a “polite review score of a 7 or 8.” Today, he cannot help but see-through reviews as consisting of more advertisement than genuine opinion. Additionally, he finds something egotistical about reviewers writing as though their experience is the premier experience to guide your understanding of the game. Due to all this, he cannot help but stick to only buying games from what his friends recommend or those he has done extensive research on.

Mr. Harlan is an embodiment of that distrust readers can garner over game reviews, thanks to the biased nature of them. When a reviewer feels the need to help out the game he or she is reviewing, it creates the type of “advertisement” feeling Will experiences. Sadly, constant existence of that has pushed Will away to the point where he is buying less games than he used to.

The stakeholders in this issue of game reviews extends to anyone who cares for the success of video games in general. Whether or not one gamer reads reviews or not, many do, and many might not even purchase games if they did not have the guide of reviews. That guide’s dishonesty is becoming increasingly transparent to the public, which is why reviewers need to take their power and integrity more seriously. Developers in the now may be happier with reviewers giving them undeserved plusses, but it ends up being detrimental to the growth of games in general due to it causing readers to lose faith in reviews. Video games are showing no sign of declining in popularity, but they could be on the rise to even greater degrees if reviewers do their part.

All of the above goes over the notion of dealing with the number system, when in reality, a number is not even necessary to a review. Thankfully, there are some major gaming websites like Kotaku who do not include a number with their review, keeping it opinion focused, instead of the reviewers potentially treating their opinions as facts, or at least preventing readers from interpreting them as such. That would be the ultimate solution to the issue, but sadly the number has far too much significance for all review sites to feel comfortable doing away with it. Making that number easy and accessible to readers gives readers a reason to pop on the site for a few clicks, even when they do not feel like reading much. Kotaku does however provide a box at the bottom of reviews to give some sort of replacement to the number most readers expect. They used to even have a statement saying whether or not the writer would recommend the game but now they have chosen to even do away with that, further reinforcing the notion that the article is an opinion.

Kotaku does a great job of outlying some pros, cons, and facts while still providing a quick-glance tool for readers without the use of a number.

A suggested process to help better the ethical quality of game reviews would be to consider answering and somehow including the following:

  1. Did I actually enjoy the game?
  2. Am I familiar with and enjoy games of a similar genre?
  3. How did I find out about this game? Has that influenced my opinion?
  4. If I knew nothing about this game, or even games of this genre, what would I want to know?
  5. If I didn’t like this game, is there someone who might?
  6. If I liked this game, is there someone who might not?
  7. How might my experience of the game differ from others?
  8. Do I have my facts straight?
  9. Do any of my opinions come off as facts?

Since the number is almost too much of a financial opportunity for sites, the least reviewers can do is be more ethical in the process that leads to that assigned number. Doing so will only increase a sites reader base, thus increasing interest in reviews and therefore games in general. If reviewers want games to succeed to the best of their ability, they have to do their part by being ethically sound in their reviews.

A Number’s Everlasting Impact

Reviews are a natural part of the video game industry. Creators and users alike are eager to know what score a game gets. Good scores are used by the game studio’s marketing team to help advertise the game, bad scores are ignored. Sometimes though, those scores are tough to ignore. This is certainly the case for Blizzard and the game’s fanbase when it comes to Mitch Dyer of IGN’s Heroes of the Storm review.

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The score is a 6.5/10. For perspective, the metacritic score (cumulative sum of all scores found on the internet) is an 86. Completely fine to rate a game lower than the rest, especially since reviews are mostly based around the writer’s opinion. The part that’s inappropriate, is the review is filled with numerous factual errors.

Some of the errors include: saying every hero is $10 when they are not, thinking a character can incapacitate a hero for 15 seconds when at maximum they can for 8, stating objectives are random when they occur at set intervals, and more. The first mentioned has since been corrected while the second was removed entirely from the piece.

The most glaring concern that still exists in the piece is the persistent naming the game a MOBA. A MOBA is an acronym for multiplayer online battle arena, a genre dominated by the games League of Legends and Dota 2. Blizzard, the creators of Heroes of the Storm, have made it clear that they do not believe their game is a MOBA, but instead a “hero brawler.” The article linked was written almost two years prior to the writing of the review, so it is not like Blizzard recently made these claims that their game is not a MOBA.

Despite not being a MOBA by Blizzard’s standards, it does not stop the reviewer from making the assumption it is and thus comparing it to existing MOBA’s. Mitch Dyer writes “The rewards for taking the secondary map objectives are so disproportionate that they discourage laning and distract from the primary goal of sieging the enemy base,” displaying the author fundamentally misses the point of the game. Those “secondary map objectives” are not secondary, but the main focus of the map, and “laning” is not primary, but secondary. This misconception is drawn from him comparing the game to other MOBA’s, where the focus of those games is the “laning,” which is a term used to describe your character progressing in one of the two or three lanes of the map against the enemy. That title “hero brawler” that Blizzard uses to describe the game, comes in the fashion of team fights at the map objectives. The game is designed to have the whole team’s heroes on both sides go to those objectives and brawl each other, not stay in those lanes and push forward like they do in the MOBA’s DOTA 2 and League of Legends.

Mentioned earlier, Mitch Dyer has since changed some of the long list of his errors in his article, but only after receiving intense criticism for the piece. He was featured in a podcast on Rebel FM where he was told directly that some of what he said was flat out wrong. He also made a tweet response to people criticizing his review.

This response comes off quite unprofessional, when a good bit of what he wrote is misinformation. To display the community’s perspective: his tweet got 12 likes when one of the comments calling him out got 39.

What was a simple mediocre score, has escalated to meme status, where now if you google “6.5/10,” below Google’s calculator the first 7 links are all surrounding the score Mitch Dyer gave. Misinformation is likely the reasoning behind this number becoming a joke, not the score itself.

At the 50 second mark in Blizzard’s recently released trailer for upcoming content in Heroes of the Storm, you can see a banner in the back reading “6.5/10,” showing the company’s memory that the score persists.

The fact that even the company continues to carry out references of this review shows the longstanding impact a negative, but more importantly factually incorrect, review can have on a game.

Heroes of the Storm is far from the first to suffer from a bad review and will not be the last. Smalltime game journalism sites can get away with their review being a bit wrong, but when your review is in the top hits for googling ‘review + title name’ then maybe it is best to get those errors sorted out.

Two solutions can be done for a situation like this with the first simply being to correct the original review. The second is a bit more unorthodox, but the precedent already exists, even from IGN. The idea would be to write a second review, analyzing the game from where it is today. This is relevant because unlike some games, Heroes of the Storm is a game that puts in updates every single week, making the product that exists today far different than what it was a year ago, and continues to advertise itself instead of slowly fading out of existence. The point in this instance would not only be to review it without misinformation, but to provide a resource for what the game is like today.

Mitch Dyer no longer works for IGN, but that did not stop me from reaching out to him to see if he would correct his remaining errors. No response was given. I also emailed IGN’s media inquiries contact Kiersten Slader about the errors and perhaps a re-review, but also did not receive a response. Will update if I get one but seems unlikely at this point.

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The fact that neither responded displays a clear lack of care for trying to remedy past mistakes or care to promote true information, despite a re-review being a worthy enough article to get new and profitable clicks. Truth is too time consuming it seems.

*Note to William Mitchell – I am looking to do my final paper on the topic of those two solutions: fixing errors in existing reviews and potentially re-reviewing games that have evolved significantly from their original form. This is important in terms of the greater public having an understanding of what a game is like in its current state and for marketing the game. This could then expand to the core issue of giving numbers to games, where I could reach out to sites about their general statement on giving or not giving numerical values to games.

Dan Kennedy Talks Gawker & Newsworthiness

Journalists posting stories because they know people will click and read it, but do not consider the ethical dilemma of making certain stories public, is becoming dangerous territory. On October 27, 2016, Dan Kennedy guided a discussion about balancing newsworthiness and ethics, using the Gawker v. Hulk Hogan v. Peter Thiel case as a backdrop.

What is newsworthy means something different for every journalist. For some, ethics does not even come into consideration for what is newsworthy and what gets click is all that matters. Gawker is one of those companies that is infamous for publishing articles with no regards to the ethical concerns of negatively impacting people’s lives, and now primes as an example of why ethics needs to be an important aspect to one’s take on what is newsworthy.

First, it is important to talk about relevant past examples of Gawker media. They did good reporting exposing Rob Ford’s crack habits, Manti Te’o’s fictional dead girlfriend, and Facebook’s manipulation of Trending Topics. However, they also did despicable reporting when they wrote about a one-night stand with Christine O’Donnell, refusal to remove a sex video, and getting someone fired over a rude tweet. So they are overall a mixed bag and most people have a polarizing view on Gawker in general, due to them often reporting with little-to-no care of the ethics involved.

Now to bring it back to Hulk Hogan: Gawker published a sex video of Hulk Hogan and Heather Clem having sex. Hulk Hogan immediately attempts to sue, but Heather Clem does not join in. Gawker tries to fight that he is a public figure so it is newsworthy. It is not the first time a public figure has had a sex tape released on them, and Hulk Hogan has even bragged about his sexual history, so why would this be any different?

Well, it’s good to know Hulk Hogan had a helping hand. Peter Thiel, who had a hurtful article written on him via Gawker has made it a hobby of his to fund any sort of destruction that could make its way to Gawker. So naturally, Thiel heavily funds the defense of Hulk Hogan.

Now, the case itself seemed to boil down to the questions of whether the tape was “highly offensive to a reasonable person” and if it was “legitimate concern to the public.” The class was mostly in agreement that it was both highly offensive and not of legitimate concern, with the arguments on the other side mostly discussing that though it is not a clean story, it will get garner readers, which is often the primary goal of news organizations.

Hulk Hogan wins $140 million, forcing Gawker to become bankrupt. Old news, but still resonated deeply within a crowd of future journalists. Despite few defending the publishing of it, those who spoke up at the end all were dismayed by of the outcome. The amount Hogan won was extremely excessive and unnecessary. Ethics say one should probably not report on a topic so inappropriate, but it does get readers, and therefore giving you a profit.

Is it wrong to publish a story when you have all the material you need? Well, clearly in Hogan’s case it was wrong for Gawker to do so, but to a lesser degree, it can be viewed as ethically wrong to publish Hilary Clinton’s emails. The information was out there for all to publish, but the ethics of whether it was right or not to do so can be questioned. It gets clicks just like the Hogan story, but it negatively impacts Hilary Clinton while feeding into the motivations of whoever leaked them. The ethics would be less questionable if it leaked information on both sides, but to be ethically okay about exposing one side has to be done with almost ignorance  of the possibility that there could be the same thing happening on the other.

The media should not have to worry about getting sued when they report negatively on public figures, but sadly the results of this case add to that fear. No matter what side you are on for the Gawker case, the outcome is unsettling for journalists and hopefully will not seen replicated to such a degree in the future.

Coming to Terms with the Election

The United States’ 2016 election has been undeniably unlike any other election in the nation’s history. Despite statistics overwhelmingly predicting Hilary Clinton as the winner, Donald Trump claimed victory. Early on November 9, 2016, the Northeastern University School of Journalism held a meeting with faculty members and students alike to discuss the results of the election and their implications. This led to the discussion of ethical issues journalists were guilty of this election cycle and ethical concerns moving forward.

There was not an empty seat in the room with at least twenty people having to stand or sit on the floor. Before it had officially begun it was rather quiet for the amount of people in the room. There was an air of uneasiness wafting around the room, with many individuals wearing a solemn expression.

Three faculty members led the event: Jonathan Kaufman, Dan Kennedy, and Dina Kraft, where the latter two of the three gave opening remarks before opening it up to everyone else. It took a bit of prodding before someone finally felt comfortable to raise their hand. Not long after that first thought was shared, professor Carlene Hempel chimed in to comment that the opening remarks displayed a clear anti-Trump bias, which was undoubtedly true. In fact, the opening remarks from Dina Kraft included the statement “[I think some of us] are surprised by the America we woke up to.” This statement set the scene for a room against Trump. Despite this fact being recognized and it being iterated that the room was a judgment-free space, throughout the entire discussion not a single soul spoke as though they supported Trump. Maybe everyone in the room was pro-Hilary but if there was anyone who was not, they likely were too intimidated to speak, and understandably so.

An interesting point emphasized by Dan Kennedy was how monumental of a failure polling was this election. Prior to election day, polls favoring Trump were practically non-existent, with some reaching as high as Clinton having a 98% chance of winning. The discussion led to deciphering why exactly the polls were so wrong. One train of thought was how most of the polling was done through major news organizations, which have grown smaller in number and primarily only exist in major cities, which commonly vote democratic. Though this fact is not new, so it would be thought that pollsters made efforts to reach more out for the opinions of more rural areas. Another idea was that folks misjudged the amount of people who came out to vote who historically do not. It was mentioned that Clinton went down the list of expected locations for her to hold rallies at, and did not spread out to places where she thought she had already won/lost or did not think there were many people who would vote at all there. It would seem Trump took advantage of this and hit those very locations, creating influence in locations where Hilary did not even try, naturally giving him the upper hand.

Another point discussed was how evident it seems the people of America desire change. Obama can be viewed as priming this philosophy of change, being the first African-American president and having served only two years in the senate prior to being president. Retrospectively, Clinton can be seen as an embodiment of what the democratic party stood for as a whole, where Trump appeared to hold allegiance to no party in-particular, with the word “republican” being more of a label to him than a loyalty. His stances did align more conservative than liberal but an almost unprecedented amount of fellow republicans stood against him as a candidate, with Trump holding stances and ideas unique to him alone. Though Clinton held the card of potential first female president, her political stances did not push for anything the American people had not heard before.

Unlike many other elections, temperament played a major role. The overall attitude of Trump, as unorthodox as it was, resonated with people. Unfortunately for Clinton, her temperament had widely become associated with dishonesty. This is where it was argued news organizations did a horrendous job covering, most specifically in regards to hacked emails and everything WikiLeaks. Professor Laurel Leff raised the point that it was wrong to write about anything on WikiLeaks, especially when only one side is damaged in doing so. This basis stemmed mostly from the thought that the leaks came from the Russians, who had intentions to sabotage Clinton and elect Trump. By reporting on the leaks reporters were playing into the hands of Russia, who of course did not make efforts to reveal any corruption existing in the Republican party or Trump himself. Leff’s both passion and dismay about the results of the election were evident via her shaking as she spoke and tone of voice. This sentiment was commonplace around the room, perhaps furthering the discomfort any Trump supporter would have in revealing his or her political stance.

An argument against not publishing what is on WikiLeaks is that at the end of the day, a news organization is out to make a profit. If there is a “juicy” story found on public leaks and other news organizations have or are likely to write about that information then it would be a missed opportunity to get readers. Financially this argument is sound but ethically it does not justify the act. Doing something because others are doing it and it will make you a profit should not outweigh unfairly damaging a political party. One middle ground would be to publish the information but also provide insight to the reader on potential motivations for it being released and to do research to uncover or at least call into question if the other side (in this case the republican party) has signs of corruption as well. Again though, this may not have damaged Trump much due to him being such an outlier of a candidate who represents himself more than the republican party. Trump had numerous allegations made public. There was an agreement amongst the room that Trump supporters did have knowledge of Trump’s skeletons and it was not as though the media refrained from reporting on them. News organizations fed the sensation that was Donald Trump. They provided him with free publicity. Dan Kennedy brought up the fact that the owner of a major news organization was well aware of how potentially negative it was for the people to report so voraciously on anything Trump but how good it was from a financial gain perspective.

In many any parts of America, especially in the less wealthy and rural areas, citizens may only have access to one source of news. If this news source is biased in either direction, then that means the only perspective some individuals have is through the lens of that bias. Some may be wise enough to see past the bias, but sadly in the case of less wealthy and rural areas, it is not uncommon for a lack of education to exist in that environment, leaving citizens without the proper tools to analyze the news given. This notion should invoke the necessity of ensuring people have access to as neutral as possible source of news. One example could be making sure the most basic of cable packages does not only include Fox News (right leaning) or CNN (left leaning) as the only news outlet. Though the ideal news is as objective as possible, it is often unavoidable. Not to say it is necessarily wrong to mix opinion with news, but it is wrong when the difference between fact and opinion is not clear to the consumers, especially when that is a consumer’s only option for news.

Even reporters have a right to pick a side, but when they let that side interfere with their reporting of the news it creates a ripple effect for all who consume that news. Showing favoritism for one side over the other, or being emotional about the outcome of the 2016 election, was not inappropriate for the setting, but it might have dampened the ability for one side to learn about the other. Whether people like it or not, a candidate has been elected. That outcome is not going to change. Now it is of prime importance for both sides to help understand each other. The issue of the discussion, and this point was raised, it was kind of an echo box of people who all held similar beliefs. Without a doubt it was a productive discussion, but due to the clear favoritism of Clinton, it increased the difficulty to understand the side of Trump. Progress was made in understanding, but that progress could have been exponentially greater if it was not multiple people from one side making assumptions about the other and instead had individuals from that other side speak about their personal feelings on why they feel the way they do.

Thanks to the outcome of this election, something positive will come: change. Moving forward, reporters should and will act differently on how elections are covered. Polls will be viewed with immense skepticism and what it means to be presidential will take on a whole new meaning. The American people seem to want change, and it would only be appropriate for news organizations to adapt and make some changes themselves.

Personal Ethics Code

Writing without some sort of regulation works for poetry, but not journalism. Below lists important questions that must always be asked.

  1. What’s the point? One must first internally realize why the story is important. If an answer cannot be given then the story is likely not worth writing about.
  2. Is it for the right reasons? One should not publish an article demoralizing an individual simply because they can. If there’s nothing to gain for people outside the individual being talked about, and only seeks to spread negativity on that individual, it is for the wrong reasons. Someone who is running for presidential office is a good example of someone who should have negative articles published on them if it is factually accurate.
  3. Is it factually sound? An article with any incorrect facts immediately loses its credibility. Research is an important part of the journalistic process when writing a piece of news and cannot be skipped due to laziness.
  4. Are there any spelling or grammatical errors? Spelling errors are hard to miss with today’s technology, but names of people is an easy but fatal error to make.  Additionally if the language of the writing is awkward or simply grammatically incorrect then the integrity of the piece is diminished.
  5. Do facts tell the story or does your opinion? Personal opinion should be avoided as much as possible to avoid bias in your story. If opinion is stated, it should be clear to the reader and not perceived as a potential fact. This extends to quotations; for when you are using quotes let the person speaking say his or her part in the light they meant it to be and not you twisting their words to meet your agenda.

Establishing your own ethical code is important because asking these questions only strengthens your articles.

The Deep-Rooted Issue of Incentivized Reviews

YouTube personality videogamedunkey, also known as Jason Gastrow, was offered payment (4:55-5:22) from Microsoft in return for creating a series of YouTube videos showcasing some of their new games. Even when asked, Microsoft failed to provide any requirements Jason needed to meet in his videos. When the first was created, Microsoft forcefully took the video down, cancelled the contract, and provided zero compensation.

Videogamedunkey is not alone in YouTubers being offered money to release a video regarding a company’s video game. Mariella Moon wrote an article titled “Warner Bros. paid YouTubers for positive game reviews,” which discusses the topic of YouTube personalities like PewDiePie playing the game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, but does not disclose in the video itself that he is being paid to talk positively about the game. In the contract Warner Bros. states that the video “should not communicate negative sentiment,” which of course is not disclosed to the viewers.

Incentivized reviews are nothing new, but recently their existence has become more clear. Amazon is one of the most prevalent victims, and has even sparked websites like ReviewMeta to exist in order to help readers eliminate incentivized reviews bias. On October 3, 2016 however, Amazon announced that they will “prohibit incentivized reviews,” a major step in the right direction.

Video game review websites, such as IGN Entertainment, are especially susceptible to writing incentivized reviews, even if money is not involved. There exists an undeniable favoritism websites like this have for the publishers and developers instead of the consumers themselves. Let’s look at IGN’s articles regarding the game Mirror’s Edge Catalyst: during the two months leading up to the games release, 12 articles were written, and zero articles have been written about it since. It is clear the website cares about hyping up the game, but when it is finally out and everyone has had time to play it, there are not any articles further discussing it.

The bigger issue is that journalists, of all mediums, who are tasked with putting out their opinion on a company’s product, are subtly pressured to speak positively about the product.

Graph provided by WebRetailer

Looking at popular gaming website IGN once again, when viewing the 50+ games reviewed in the past 3 months (as of October 2016), the lowest score given was a 5.4. It is not that they fear not getting paid like videogamedunkey experienced, but that they merely want to remain on good rapport with the big companies that give them free games; the simple fact that people like getting free stuff.

Much of the issue with feeling pressured to give positive reviews of games can be traced back to the fact that many websites assign a numerical value to games. Metacritic can be viewed as the epitome of everything wrong with giving reviews a numerical score, for it has even caused “publishers to withhold developer royalties.” If unaware, Metacritic compiles all the numbered scores given to games and displays the average of all those scores. This number has become so significant that publishers have been making deals with developers to alter the amount of money earned by the developers, depending on the resulting Metacritic score of their upcoming game.

Not all major gaming news & review websites use a number though, like Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Kotaku for example. Though Kotaku is often criticized for its style of writing for video game journalism, the site does a solid job of providing a short visual-aid to their reviews. In the IGN review of Destiny: Rise of Iron, many readers scroll to the bottom of the page to find the number, where in Kotaku’s review they see the image below; displaying pros, cons, a quote from the article, details on time spent with the game, and more. This is done in all their reviews as an alternative to a conclusive number.

From Kotaku writer Kirk Hamilton’s review of Destiny: Rise of Iron


Video game journalists have to fight a battle of independence when it comes time to review a video game. On IGN ,their reviews are seen on the first page of every google search for reviews on X game, and thus what they say is going to be under close watch by the creators of the reviewed product. That watch creates a struggle for the degree of separation needed between the reviewer and the creator. More websites need to adapt the practice of eliminating a numerical value to their review of video games.

Reviewers of any sort should uphold the journalistic integrity of eliminating outside bias towards the product they are reviewing, and it is important for the owner of the product to not punish them for any negativity the reviewers write. Accepting money to write about a product becomes an issue when that is not explicitly stated for the readers or viewers, but without the transaction some may be unable to afford the life of a video game journalist and/or YouTuber. Though everyone should, big companies like Microsoft should especially be held accountable when creating deals to promote products. No one should fear speaking negatively about something they did not enjoy. Eliminating this fear will help the reviewers, but most importantly, the consumers like you and me.

A Concerned Community

Newly planted trees are dying on large scales in the Cambridge area, an epidemic the Cambridge City Council is making strides towards fixing.

Many community members came to the City Council meeting on Monday, October 19 to share their concerns over the matter and insight on what more can be done to fix the issue.

The policy order reads “[t]hat the City Manager is requested to consider expanding the hose distribution program indefinitely for all new trees planted in sidewalk wells or behind sidewalks and explore establishing a credit to be applied to the water bills of participants, not to exceed $50 a year.”

The current state of the policy merely tries to not punish those who try and help care for the trees by increasing their water bills and to make it slightly easier for them but does little else.

First up to voice their concern over the issue was Carroll who stated “the policy order does minimal in addressing the massive problems that we’ve seen increase.” She then went on to list several environmental areas that lack funding. The care and worry about the current state of public greenery could be felt in her voice.

Later, Florey Westport came up and gave specific solutions to what else could be done on the matter of trees while outlining some of the existing problems. Some of the problems that currently exist are trees not living past their first year, putting salt on trees kills them, natural gas leaks are also killing trees, and an oversight of pruning. Some specific plans of action are to teach residents how to care for trees near them, requiring homeowners to pull weeds, and to have the community give extra care to trees under two years.

Issues like orphan trees were later brought up in addition to why trees are so important, like to help prevent flooding.

Ken Taylor from 23 Berkeley St. in Cambridge talked about a different matter, policy order #23. The policy states “[t]hat the Manager form a working group with representation from Harvard, MIT, the city, the residents and other interested parties to determine the feasibility of a “light Cambridge” initiative.

Ken’s concern was that many significant landmarks in the Cambridge area are poorly illuminated. He looked to Boston for his inspiration who had recently undergone a program to illuminate historic landmarks in the Boston area.

“It all needs to be done in the name of energy conservation,” Ken pushes.

A group of Spanish speaking workers in the community came to speak their mind on issues and were accompanied by a translator.

Margarita Ortiz was the first of the Spanish speakers who kept it short and sweet, backing the idea that the minimum wage should be raised to $15.

Two more members of the Spanish speaking community came up, spending the majority of their time doing nothing but thanking the Council for the opportunities they had and spent only a fraction stating that they support greater benefits to be included with their salaries.