Today via @jayrosen_nyu I came across a post by @brad_king arguing that journalism has a lot to learn from the history of online games when it comes to online community management.
He makes some great points about hands-off community modding, and I’m a particular fan of the idea that online news communities could benefit from something like Richard Bartle’s taxonomy of gamer types (which splits gamers into four rough categories and helps game designers cater for all types).*
But I do have to disagree with this paragraph:
MMORPGs don’t have much to offer in terms of developing the traditional journalism skills. These games can’t teach students how to vet sources, how to interview, how to copy edit, how to hit the streets and find stories.
Wait a minute. Why not?
These communities aren’t just there to be managed – they don’t just have histories that can be dissected as useful examples. They’re living and breathing today. They are audiences, readers, participants, and they could be a great training tool for new journalists.
They cover topics ranging from issues in the real world which affect the game – server outages, technology changes, ToS issues – to in-game gossip and affairs. This sort of information is valuable, and you can get it by employing all those traditional journalism skills that King mentions.
Sure, the rules of these communities are different. They present unique and diverse challenges to reporters trying to hit the street cold and generate stories. But they’re no more unfamiliar or hard to learn than Afghanistan is to a Geordie, or a Norfolk seaside town is to a young woman from inner-city Birmingham. And surely part of the point of j-school is to train us in how to learn the community rules and structures, how to work it out for ourselves, and how to engage.
So why not include a bit of MMO training for budding reporters? Lessons in:
- interview technique via in-game chat and email
- fact checking and how to spot a scam or a rumour online
- vetting sources for legitimacy
- editing copy – perhaps by crowdsourcing folks to tell them what they did wrong
- engaging with readers as equals
- learning a patch – getting to know the movers and shakers and the big issues, who to talk to, where to get quotes
All that and community management too. Bargain.
* Incidentally, I’m 67% Explorer, 67% Achiever, 40% Socialiser and 27% Killer.