Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Media Mire

VFTD has been here and done this before. Even so, it remains a worthwhile subject. But first, the disclaimers. It is not my intention to tar any particular brand, company, media outlet or website. Most everyone involved in the enterprise of paintball is working the highwire without a safety net these days and it's not my intent to make things more difficult. That said, I'm inclined to think that some of those involved aren't doing themselves any favors nor are they doing the players a service.

What would you think if you discovered a magazine that only published photos that represented their advertisers without advertising the fact? Or an informational website that ran news items and industry press releases the same way, often without making any distinctions between the two? Or a site that purported to be general interest for the average paintballer but actually focused on the interests and businesses of partners or advertisers?

I'm not talking morality or ethics here either so remove those concepts from your consideration. I am talking integrity (a wee bit anyway) because the issue is trust. And for those of you who aren't sure why it matters let me explain. In hypothetical #1 a magazine presents itself as a resource of unbiased information about a variety of things paintball, from tournaments & scenarios to the latest new products available. Nobody has a problem with advertising or advertisements but what if all the event photos only feature advertisers guns, gear & sponsored teams? Or if all the product reviews are tied to advertisers? Is that a problem? After all, there's no magazine if there are no advertisers and as a niche market paintball doesn't get a lot of outside advertising. I'm saying it's a problem because it compromises the core of what a magazine is supposed to be, independent. If it isn't independent before long it's just a lot of advertisements stuck together pretending to be what it's not. In the second hypothetical mixing news items with press releases without distinguishing from the two allows the press release to trade on the public perception of the source--but not for long. Ideally, a news item is a set of facts presented in such a way they serve to inform the readers about an event, etc. and accepted on the assumption the facts offered represent the truth. For our gullible friends--that is not what a press release is. A press release is a public notification produced by an interested party. Gunmaker Joe has just finished his latest magic gat and wants everybody to know how awesome it is so they will want to buy one immediately, if not sooner. A press release is Gunmaker Joe extolling the virtues of his new gun in a manner similar to a legit news item. The problem is that at first the potential confusion favors the press release but eventually peeps start to notice and begin to regard the source site as unreliable or intentionally compromised. In the third hypothetical you have something a little different, misrepresentation. Ever run across on online store that draws you in with some enormous tag cloud or claims to be a general interest paintball site when in fact it's just a store? There's lots of misdirection variants but they all trade on confusing you about their purpose and intentions.

These issues and others have always been a part of the paintball media equation. It's not new. What is new is the diversity of media in play these days and the fact that much of it is in amateur hands. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it's a terrific example of how the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I bring stuff like this up now and again because I share a tiny corner of current paintball media and because I'm convinced that a positive and vibrant paintball media is a necessary ingredient to a better paintball future.

Here's a timely example. The Dail-E download hosted by Matty Marshall and brought to you by E(Eclipse)TV. Available for download from any of the family of Eclipse network sites. It will include daily giveaways and they describe it as a kind of re-cap of the day's action and results though at around 3 minutes it can't cover everything. The real question is; will it really cover anything? Don't get me wrong. I like the idea. PE in general has been at the forefront of using new media and the daily download could fill a legit void for a lot of interested ballers around the world. But at the same time don't you have to assume their primary motivation for any of these sorts of projects is to promote their brand and their products? And do you see how projects presented this way overlap with the role of independent media only adding to the general confusion? It's probably smart business. It's just unfortunate there's nobody, including the PSP, doing anything similar.


houdini PaintballNews.Asia said...

I don't mind branded online video segments because just like infomercials, you know that somewhere in there is a message to buy the brand's products or become a brand junky. In most cases what they produce can be considered interesting "entertainment". A lot of paintball online ezines/print media on the other hand are blatantly bending over backwards for the advertising dollar. I can only hope that the average 'joe paintballer' is smart enough to realize that'cut and paste' journalism and advertising driven reviews should be treated as advertising hype more than fact. I think it's time for paintball magazine ad staff to look outside of the paintball to sell ad space so that they don't have to rely solely on paintball advertisers who blackmail them into submission.

Missy Q said...

Q. Do you want to advertise with us?
A. No thankyou.
Q. If I reveiw your guns, and say how great they are, and give you 2 pages of editorial, and next months cover, will you place an ad?
A. OK.

I don't necessarily blame anyone, it's business after all, and until there is media that does not rely on the industry dollar it's unlikely to change. I've even had gun reveiws sent to me for pre-approval, and once was actually asked to write my own, so they could print it.

Baca Loco said...

Nor is paintball unique. More than anything I suppose I wanted to point out it's an evolving issue because content is now largely new media but old concerns remain relevant.

Normally I might agree with you about the videos--certainly the part where I usually enjoy watching them--but take the PE 'Artifact' series for example. Yep, I'm picking on PE again but in some respects they are at the forefront of this. They call 'Artifact' a documentary series. It is a conscious effort to blur the lines between commercial enterprise and art & information. It may be good video. It may be good marketing but it's also a concern when looking at the broader issue of paintball media.

Reiner Schafer said...

I remember reading a 4 page review on the Brass Eagle Blade that almost had me throwing all my other markers in the trash and rushing out to buy a Blade to dominate the playing fields with.

I stopped buying magazines after that.

houdini said...

Missy Q - my pet hate - lazy reviewers and journalists but totally agree it's completely normal for ad space to be sold for contra editorial/cover space but when an entire magazine only contains editorial on their advertisers products that gets a bit much...

Baca - I think the PE documentary is great marketing - they haven't hidden the fact that they produce it and even tag the piece with their own eTV logo... but blame the ad agencies for blurring the lines between art and commercial advertising... it all started with them a long time ago and on a much larger scale.