And that's a good thing. Journalism is less about writing and more about the journalist's ability to get access to information that other people cannot, which in a lot of ways, requires some of the characteristics of psychopathy. Anybody can take pieces of information and turn it into an easily-consumed article; few know where and how to find that information, for it requires an amalgamation of intelligence, charisma, and fearlessness, among other traits.
I bring this up because journalism has been a hot topic of discussion within the e-sports community lately, particularly involving GameSpot's Rod "Slasher" Breslau and team Evil Geniuses. (No, I'm not accusing Breslau of being a psychopath. Although...) Breslau has broken many a story, usually involving a player moving from one team to another. No one would say that Breslau has done his job unprofessionally or provided low-quality work.
On Inside the Game recently, Alex Garfield, the CEO of Evil Geniuses, took issue with Breslau's breaking of various news items because, to paraphrase his argument, it takes away from the team's ability to capitalize on the surprise and excitement, which hurts the team, which then hurts e-sports as a whole. Garfield's team employs artists full-time to create web pages and videos to draw in eyeballs, which then are applied to the logos of their sponsors, in what amounts to a cyclical ecosystem.
Alfred Harmsworth, a British press magnate in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, once said, "News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising."
When you watch the debate between Garfield and Breslau, you must keep in mind Garfield's bias. Of course the CEO of a team wants to keep as much information secret to maximize his profits -- that's his job! Garfield cannot expect Breslau to operate with the same motivations, however. A journalist should not, cannot, be subject to the whim's of a company's bottom line. As someone who actively labels himself a journalist, Breslau should have zero interest in the maximization of EG's page views, or advertising revenue. He should not care about hype or, to use their term, "anti-hype". He should not care about the progression or regression of e-sports, even.
As someone who has been participating in sports media for going on five years (not as a traditional journalist, mind you), it is funny to see this become an issue after having witnessed everything that passes as standard around the baseball industry. There is a website solely dedicated to posting rumors about teams and players (MLBTradeRumors.com), and it's very well-respected within the industry. The writers are given press access, players and members of team front offices visit the site daily, and there is no tension between the two sides. Aside from MLBTR, ESPN, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, and a host of other media outlets employ journalists to break news in exactly the way Breslau has done within e-sports.
Breslau leaking "Snute to Team Liquid" is no different than your typical baseball media report. Perhaps the best baseball example involves starting pitcher Cliff Lee. The Philadelphia Phillies acquired him via trade with the Cleveland Indians on July 29, 2009. On December 16, the Phillies traded him to the Seattle Mariners, and the Mariners then traded him to the Texas Rangers on July 9, 2010. Lee became a free agent after the season ended in October.
Because of Lee's stature as one of the elite starting pitchers, few teams were realistically expected to compete for his services as a free agent due to his ability to demand a high salary. Going into December 2010, the only two teams seriously linked to Lee were the Rangers, the team Lee helped lead into the World Series, and the rich New York Yankees. The Phillies were not in the equation at all.
However, in the days leading up to December 15, baseball journalist Jon Heyman reported that a "mystery team" was in on Lee -- a team other than the Rangers and Yankees. That mystery team turned out to be the Phillies, led by general manager Ruben Amaro. This article from Philadelphia Magazine details how stealthily the Phillies were working to get Lee:
Amaro had assembled the smallest possible circle of advisors for pursuing Lee. Gillick, Proefrock and Phillies president David Montgomery. That was it. No one else, not even manager Charlie Manuel, could know what was brewing.
And yet, when the Phillies finally signed Lee on the 15th, it wasn't the Phillies who broke the news; it was journalist Jon Heyman, then with Sports Illustrated. Heyman's reporting did nothing to reduce the hype around the signing; Amaro did not complain that the surprise would reduce eyeballs on the Phillies web site. In fact, it was never an issue.
In traditional sports, teams and journalists work together, dispassionately. Teams know it is in their best interest to allow them access, even if they may report things they would otherwise want kept secret. That's not to say there are no issues, but there's a reason why there is a strong correlation between a country's freedom of the press, and the overall health of that country (by many measures). It's the same within industries, even as small as e-sports. The more access the press has, the better the industry is overall.
Ultimately, EG's issue with Breslau's reporting is their fault. If they want information used the way they want it to be used, they need to withhold that information as they see fit, which is certainly their right. Breslau's effort to find that information and his ability to find and cultivate sources of that information is to be commended, not criticized and ridiculed.
About the author: Bill Baer is a sportswriter for ESPN ( link | link) and an author (link). You can follow him on Twitter, @CrashburnAlley.