You rarely hear the word ‘worthy’ any more? It’s stuffy. It smacks of snobbery. Today, it’s mostly used sarcastically, to describe someone who aspires to elitism. ‘Worthies’ are self-important people. Whatever good they do, they do mostly for their own good.
But in the news business, you hear it every day.
“Is this news-worthy?” It’s a question raised for two reasons.
Firstly it asks if the story ticks journalism’s usual boxes. Is it new, true, relevant and interesting? In this respect, it’s a synonym for “Is this news?” This part of the question is binary and sacrosanct. No story should ever break these rules.
Secondly, it asks if the story matches the publication’s criteria for what is appropriate. Is it scurrilous, vulgar, sensational or odorous? It becomes a synonym for “Is this worthy?” It asks if we, the publication’s gate-keepers, are not above this sort of thing. It’s a matter of opinion.
The definition of news is, of course, elusive. It depends on the audience. If you read People Magazine, Kate Middleton’s wardrobe is news. If you read The Wall Street Journal, the price of mangoes may be a matter of import.
All publications operate within fairly well-understood areas. National Geographic will not run many stories about souping up in-car stereos. ESPN tends to stay away from the mating habits of Ibises.
But it’s at the margins where disagreement occurs, where the limits of the publication’s domain is disputed, often passionately, by editors and readers.
Usually, these margins are defined by the issue of popularity. Are we sacrificing the brand’s seriousness in order to scrape up some extra readers? At the other extreme, are we spending too much time gazing up our own behinds, forgetting that the business of journalism is not words, but readers.
For me, news is whatever people are talking about, whatever they are sharing with one another. I’m always agitated when journalists look down on a story, even though it’s evidently a matter of fascination for lots of readers. If something is vulgar, or if the provenance of the story is disputed, these are merely part of the story, not reasons to ignore it.
I work for a videogame website, and there is a whole world of stories that are 100 percent going to get told. New trailers. Developers going bust. Console price-cuts. Squabbles between publishers. But there’s also a great world of stories that //might// be told. Rumors. Fan-art. Marginal games releases. Opinions.
Internally, these are debated every day. How some get through, while others are rejected, is where we stand apart from all the other publications, because they are also making the same decisions. This is where we war.
There are some outlets that specialize in fan-art, cosplay (people dressing up as games characters), rumors and outlandish opinions. Although these sites are often entertaining, despite their crassness., we as editors, must ensure that the IGN brand does not become dirtied by the hosepipe of shit they direct at the world.
Other outlets like to think of themselves as worldly and sophisticated and erudite. They make it their business to look down on the popular, the better to enhance their own hipster image. Sometimes they are interesting and the world would be a poorer place without them, but their appeal is limited.
IGN is, undoubtedly, a popular site. No other games site attracts anything like the same audience numbers. So we don’t want to miss out on the things are readers are sharing and reading - funny memes, fascinating rumors, strong opinions - even if they are faintly vulgar or scurrilous.
My instinct is to tell as many stories as possible, the more colorful, the better. I’m attracted to the outlandish, the thing that makes us say ‘gee, whiz’ (assuming they are true). If a story makes me feel something, I’m compelled to pass it on (as long as that emotion I’m feeling isn’t contempt.)
This is why I mistrust too much ‘worthiness’ in the news-gathering business, because it leads to turgid, leaden publications that lack soul or life. Those outlets commit the most grievous crime in journalism, they go unread.
I like fan-art and cosplay, within reason. I like them when they are so awesome you just want to share them. I like them when readers react positively, when they light up social media or the comments pages, or they compel readers to create something wonderful themselves
I also love rumors, as all journalists should. This is where great stories begin. Where has this come from? Why is it coming out now? Who has most to gain from this rumor? How can we get more information on this? How can we cover this, how can we offer this to the reader in a way that’s entertaining, timely and responsible?
Give me that sort of bone to chew on, over a press release, any day.
Obviously, there are limits. All treats should be consumed in moderation. We do not want IGN to become over-run with images of videogame-themed cakes, or splattered with every wild opinion that tickles the fancy of a fat-headed freelancer. But nor do we want it to regress into writerly self-indulgence and navel-gazing, an over-abundance of seriousness.
Journalism is about picking up awesome and creating awesome and passing it onto the reader. Our job is to spend time finding and telling the best stories and that often means bringing an open mind to what constitutes a great story.
Good journalists don’t waste time focusing on what is worthy but on what is fascinating.