Worst story of 2016

So bad it’s goo.


Our judges struggled to select the absolute worst gaming story of 2016 – because all 42 entries were horrific in their own way. But one was amusing and meta…

An anonymous somebody submitted the Kunkel post that announced the Worst Story of Year category. Now that’s good comedy.

Sadly, it was the first and last laugh.

Our three judges settled on three terrible stories that each committed a cardinal sin of journalism. First, there’s Rock Band 4 is doing a lot of the fun things you want it to do from Polygon – a large media outlet that won second place last year for Excellence in News Reporting.

Alas, this was excellent only at self-indulgence. Here’s the opening paragraph…

A few of my more effervescent, more gregarious, more alive colleagues in game journalism are on stage “rocking out” to The Killers. We are on the rooftop of a pricey hotel in Santa Monica, at a press event organized by Rock Band 4’s developer and publisher Harmonix.

Guess what? No one cares about you. To be more specific, no one wants to read about how much fun you’re having “on the rooftop of a pricey hotel.” If you fell off that roof, no one would mourn you.

Journalists are simply data-delivery androids. That’s their only value to society. Spat one judge…

This reads like a fucking diary entry. “I’m having an OK time,” the writer says, like that’s at all relevant to a Rock Band 4 review. “I don’t care about music. I dislike crowds and I dislike loud noises.” BUT THIS IS A LOUD MUSIC GAME! Why are you telling me about your preferences? Are you rehearsing for your Tinder profile? It takes the writer 11 paragraphs to get to the game’s features – after sifting through a very odd tangent about his grandmother.

Concluded another judge:”Journalism isn’t about you, the writer. It’s about your audience, the readers. Go fuck yourself.”

As you might’ve noticed, this newest Kunkel category elicited the most “fucks” from our judges. They’re actually compassionate people, but they believe journalism’s porcelain-like reputation will crack beyond all repair if idiots keep fumbling with its basic rules.

That’s why they also despised Why Isn’t it Called No Woman’s Sky? from Jezebel. This story – if you can call a total of 91 words a “story” – explains why  the feminist website won’t write a story about a video game called No Man’s Sky…

We find the name of this “first person space travel” game to be distasteful, offensive, and shamelessly anti-feminist.

Ranted one judge…

Essentially, “We don’t like the name of this game, so we’re not gonna review it.” OK, then don’t fucking post about it. Especially if you’re not going to even fucking ask the developer the question in your headline and get some kind of comment. I’m not sure WTF this is, but it’s not good or funny or useful or journalism.

The issue here isn’t feminism, it’s journalism. If you’re going to slag on someone, at least try talking with them.

Another judge thought this could’ve been a superb story – if Jezebel had done more…

The headline should have been “Why Jezebel Won’t Cover This Game.” It’s BECAUSE the title is offensive that an offended feminist site should COVER it. That’s, like, journalism 101. Missed opportunity, for sure.

In other words, instead of simply declaring you’re offended, interview the people who offended you and get their side. Ask other feminists (and anti-feminists) about the blatant or subtle impact of a game’s name.

Two more cringe-worthy points…

1. What about the content of the game? Heaven forbid the game itself is actually feminist – but because you refused to even play it, you don’t know. Journalism means follow-through.

2. Jezebel’s principled stand ends with, “For an in-depth review, please visit our sister site.” Huh?

Finally, there’s My GamerGate silence helped elect Trump (and other truths). The fetid issue here has nothing to do with GamerGate. It has to do with journalists embracing clickbait headlines that over-sell the actual story, and then pimping their other stories way too hard.

Explains one judge…

I knew the writer would make a large-scale controversy all about her just from reading the headline. But I was nevertheless appalled to see she promoted her previous stories in the FIRST PARAGRAPH – you know, the paragraph meant to grab a reader’s attention. The shameless self-plug alone ranks this one poorly in my book.

So that’s every pair of shoes in the place. The second annual Kunkel Awards are over. How’d we do this year? Tell us how much we suck in the comments below. Next week, we announce a big change to next year’s Kunkel Awards.


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  • Hedger

    We dont agree on whats good. But its nice to see that we all know whats bad…

    • Michael Koretzky

      Common ground at last.

  • Onetimepadder

    You, before “… all of the entries from last years by last year’s big winner were disqualified… published in 2015.” (I nominated the 2016 crunch article, so this demonstrates your nominating software is broken)

    You, now – awarded a 2015 story a 2016 award.

    • Michael Koretzky

      Well, there’s a good reason for that: We screwed up. I guess I could make the excuse that we were blinded by all the awfulness, but it’d be just that: an excuse.

      At least no one in this category wants to win, so it’s not like I have to correct any certificates or summon La La Land off the stage.

      Sad thing is, that 2015 post is so bad it’s educational. So at least our mistake is still enlightening.

      • Twotimepadder

        Are the comments where you publish corrections?

        • Michael Koretzky

          Sure, why not?

      • Twotimepadder

        And nothing about your nominating software not accepting my nomination for the kotaku crunch time article?

        • Michael Koretzky

          This has nothing to do with Kunkel software. It’s all about my jellyware.

          I try to delete all entries that aren’t eligible. I caught the Crunch story. The one above slipped through, and the judges didn’t notice, either – probably because it was the last category, and they were eager for this to end.

      • Owen Good

        Michael, as a colleague of the writer on the Rock Band post — which was relentlessly pilloried in its time already — and more importantly, as someone who helped advise you on the creation of the awards two years ago, I gotta say, this is still an excuse (two actually) for a fuck up on your part, and cheap ones at that.

        • Michael Koretzky

          It’s not an excuse, it’s what happened. I value your opinion. How do we make it right?

          Actually, the winner of this category gets a free one-year membership to SPJ, so I’m going to extend that offer to all three articles the judges cited. So at least the writer benefits from our mistake.

          • Owen Good

            Probably a better approach would be to highlight examples from current entries — because many writers nominated themselves, and sent in unworthy or uninteresting samples — rather than put this award up to an open nomination which will undoubtedly be motivated by readers who despise certain publications or writers for reasons unrelated to journalistic competence.

            There still is a lesson to be taught here, and the judge’s contempt for writers who use stories as personal vehicles rings true. But that’s undone when it’s handled in a slipshod way, on agenda-driven nominations from people who really don’t know anything about journalism or its responsibilities and best practices in the first place.

          • Michael Koretzky

            You’re correct, we certainly got our share of “agenda-driven nominations.” We expected that, which is why the Kunkels are people’s choice for nominating, but professional journalists do the judging.

            So the judges chose the worst from among the nominations, and they didn’t disappoint. Each one they cited suffers from a time-honored and objective journalistic flaw, regardless of its agenda.

            Since the Kunkel Awards are only two years old, that’s not enough time for me or the judges to get defensive about it. So maybe we can consult you on how to be better next year.

            I won’t be the Kunkel director next year, but my philosophy has always been: I’d rather make a mistake of commission than omission. My successor might think differently.

          • Owen Good

            Maybe I can polish it this way. As I viewed them, the Kunkel Awards were meant to identify, praise and encourage good journalism in a rather immature sector of it. Eg. This story, which conforms to journalistic norms, is a better story than this one, which is full of purple, self-indulgent prose, even if it’s about a topic of greater societal interest or importance. To me, that would be a greater corrective effect. Your judges have had zero problem calling out the deficiencies _of those they honor_. Brad Glasgow was beaten up in his citation for burying the lede and burdening the story with a recap. Kotaku was called out for making submissions outside of the awards period.

            So, how about the judges turn that judgment on those who submitted work _for praise_ and tell them why _it is worthy of none, actually._ I believe that would have more of a corrective effect.

            And while I don’t doubt the judges’ professionalism or rectitude, I also don’t expect them to be following the ongoing belligerence between the liberal mainstream games media and their antagonists in GamerGate. That might inform why a 91-word post from Jezebel, which isn’t even a games publication but for sure is part of the media group GamerGate despises most, was submitted. One would figure its brevity might trip a flag that this isn’t a serious candidate for anything, even disparagement.

            We can have an honest argument about whether or not Jezebel, whose proclivity to manufacture outrage and whose tendentious sociopolitical observations are very well known, deserves to have “It Should Be No Woman’s Sky” treated as a serious argument in order to deny them an “it’s just satire” defense in wasting their readership’s time and attention. But that’s not the kind of argument or judgment I expect out of a series of awards meant to inspire and encourage better journalism.

          • Michael Koretzky

            The judges praised where they could, but when faced with flawed finalists, they were honest. However, I’m the one who decided to write the blog posts about those that didn’t win, then link to those that did. My successor may not agree. She can do it differently.

            Once again, I’ll say that the judges have done an excellent job avoiding the hyper-partisanship in the gaming scene. They can only judge what’s submitted, so if you think that’s a big problem, the solution is easy: Submit some good stuff next year, your own or someone else’s.

          • Andrew Whatever

            EXACTLY. That Jezebel thing wouldn’t even be seriously considered if it wasn’t part of this ongoing Gamergate nonsense. These awards will never be taken seriously if they can’t extract themselves from Gamergate nonsense. I don’t even know how that would be possible without completely revamping both the nomination and judging processes, instead of blindly defending the status quo aka awards that rose in the midst of Gamergate nonsense that are heavily influenced by Gamergaters.

          • Andrew Whatever

            Can you point me to the list of professional journalists doing the judging? Agenda seems pretty clear here, curious about the diversity of judges.

          • Michael Koretzky

            We revealed one judge here…

            http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/kunkel/2016/12/27/outing-a-judge/

            …and one is the new director of these awards…

            http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/kunkel/2017/04/09/ferrendi/

            …while the third is a business editor and avid gamer who met his wife in a Zelda forum.

          • Andrew Whatever

            “He sourced it with mods from a pro-GamerGate subreddit, although to be clear, he didn’t take sides in the GamerGate controversy.” AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Ok I get it now. And the third judge is some mystery judge I guess, not difficult to guess why. Do you guys have any plans to really legitimize this thing beyond Gamergate nonsense? Is that even possible at this point?

          • Michael Koretzky

            I have no more details to offer. So if you’ve read about our process and our updates and still feel we’re not legitimate, I suppose the Kunkels aren’t for you.

  • ArDoR

    I disagree a lot with the winners of the other categories.

    I cannot help but agree with those though.

    Oh well.

    Seems like reaching a consensus on ”What’s good” is WAY harder to do than reaching one on ”What’s so bad it deserves to be mocked.”

    • Michael Koretzky

      It’s easier to hate than to love?

  • Anongamescolumnist

    Every time I want to give the Kunkel awards a half-decent shot, despite its origins that include mudslingling at fellow game writers, an award like this comes along and makes me ask why on earth the Society of Professional Journalists is giving this any space.

    Firstly, how on earth does a professional award recognition run by a trade group for Journalists get any chance to give a “worst writing” award for the field? No other trade group I’ve spent time with has done this out of anything other than jest, and here the ostensibly “professional” game writing awards are out here ragging on people’s work while elevating others.’ That’s not professional, that’s mean-spirited playground nonsense.

    Second, what kind of judging panel looks at the submitted Jezebel article as anything other than sarcasm? Jezebel never reviewed No Man’s Sky because Jezebel is not a games outlet, plain and simple. It was a goof on the game’s name from a website known for goofy articles. The level of thick-headedness needed to assume this was a sincere rant against a game about chilling out in space is incomprehensible.

    This is the pits of unprofessionalism. How in good conscience can you run this kind of award, then ask people to give to the SPJ and defend the first amendment in the same breath?

    • JoeSislack

      “Second, what kind of judging panel looks at the submitted Jezebel article as anything other than sarcasm?”

      I didn’t know jezebel was a comedy site. I can see why people would be confused, as most tend to view it as a toxic crater full of snarky mutants with passable english.

    • Michael Koretzky

      You’re not wrong. I couldn’t find another “professional award recognition run by a trade group” that recognizes the worst of its industry.

      But I discussed it with the judges, and we all decided to try it. Then we’d see how everyone felt. I’ll include your comments in the “terrible idea” column.

      As for Jezebel, the judges took the post seriously and not as comedy – because it wasn’t labeled as comedy nor did it come across that way. If was indeed played for laughs, then it failed so miserably, it probably still deserves the award it received.

      • CallousSophisticate

        On Jezebel: This is a terrible post-hoc justification of an embarrassing screw-up. First, a number of people have pointed out to you that the article was satire, so it’s not as if it’s impossible to tell. Second, satire doesn’t have to be glaringly obvious to work. When Swift wrote ‘A Modest Proposal’, a lot of people took him seriously. That doesn’t mean he failed at satire. Jezebel’s whole point with that article (and similar articles they have posted in the past) is that many people operate with an insane caricature of feminism. The fact that a number of people took the article at face value kind of proves their point. And come on, are you really telling me that the article deserves the award because you can’t tell it was a joke? Maybe you should replace your justification in the blog post with “The judges decided this is one of the worst articles of the year because they didn’t get the joke.”

        • Michael Koretzky

          You’re comparing 91 words in Jezebel about a video game to “A Modest Proposal”?

          Look, I’m not trying to change your mind, only explain what was in the minds of others. You can accept that – and still hate it – or you can insist it’s a “terrible post-hoc justification.”

          But I wonder how you and “a number of people” KNOW what was in the mind of the Jezebel writer. Because a number of other people sure don’t. I’m one of them.

          • CallousSophisticate

            I’m not comparing the quality of the post with “A Modest Proposal”. I brought up “A Modest Proposal” as an illustration of the fact that a satire can’t be judged a failure simply because some people don’t get it. This was in response to the last sentence of your comment, where you said the post failed miserably because the judges didn’t get that it was a joke. I was pointing out that this is an insufficient criterion for judging whether a satire has failed miserably.

            Your blog post tells me what was in the mind of the judges. They (and you) took the post seriously and judged it to be one of the worst stories on that basis. The “terrible post-hoc justification” is saying “Well, even if it was a joke, it’s still one of the worst posts because it didn’t make us laugh”. Somehow I feel that if the judges had realized beforehand that it was meant as a joke they would not have selected it as one of the worst stories merely because they didn’t find it funny.

            I know what was in the mind of the Jezebel writer because I follow Jezebel intermittently, and I’m familiar with Bobby Finger’s writing. Virtually every one of his posts is at least partially tongue-in-cheek. And, as I mentioned in another comment, he has done this “stereotypical feminist getting outraged over something innocuous” gag a number of times. For instance, he has a post where he complains about the Man Booker Prize not being called the Woman Booker Prize. And that post is helpfully tagged “This is a joke, BTW”, presumably because so many people didn’t get that the “No Man’s Sky” article was a joke.

            Now, I would like to think that I would have realized this article was satire even if I wasn’t familiar with Finger’s work. The fact that it’s written in this stereotypical “preachy feminist” tone, the fact that it ends up inexplicably linking to Kotaku’s review of the game anyway, the fact that Jezebel doesn’t do game reviews anyway, so what’s the point of the post if it’s serious… I think all of this would have tipped me off. But that’s a counterfactual scenario and maybe I’m wrong. Either way, once I did realize it was a joke, I’m pretty sure I would admit I made a mistake, rather than doubling down and saying it deserves the award anyway for a completely different reason.

          • Michael Koretzky

            Read further down these comments and you’ll see I quite easily “admit I made a mistake.” But there’s nothing to “double down” on here.

            Jezebel didn’t label these 91 words as satire, and if it’s not obvious to the average reader (which you admit you’re not), then it’s poorly done.

            Finally (I hope)…

            Citing that this same writer added “This is a joke BTW” to another post but not this one doesn’t make your argument. It kinda makes mine.

          • Andrew Whatever

            Because it’s not too difficult to figure out, especially as someone who actually reads their real articles sometimes. But if you’re just a mad anti-feminist Gamergate type sure, it’s tough to figure out. Or maybe still obvious but some willful ignorance helps push the agenda.

          • Michael Koretzky

            If you google me and decide I’m a “mad anti-feminist Gamergate type,” I guess I can’t argue with you. But if you haven’t, I won’t argue with you.

          • Andrew Whatever

            I’m referring to the people who submit these kind of articles to a video game journalism award. You spent a lot of time talking to Gamergaters, surely you picked up some idea of how they operate by this point. Tip: You’re going to have a lot of trouble getting anyone to take these awards seriously if you can’t extract yourself from their nonsense, and giving them a platform to continue to trash feminists they perceive are ruining gaming isn’t going to help. Constructive criticism: Jezebel isn’t really related to game journalism anyway, the fact that they’re here at all shows a huge lacking in how you are running this. Perhaps it will change for the better with the new management though.

      • amyshulk

        I always did learn the most from others’ mistakes

    • Andrew Whatever

      I think you know the answer here. “Awards” that arose as part of Gamergate nonsense trash a bunch of articles they perceive as the worst of feminism. Shocking. The sad part is that the SPJ is going along with this nonsense. One dude anyway.

  • CallousSophisticate

    The Jezebel article is satire. Bobby Finger, the author, has written a number of posts where he takes on the persona of a stereotypically outraged feminist complaining about something trivial or innocuous. For instance, here is a post where he complains about the Man Booker Prize not being called the Woman Booker Prize — http://jezebel.com/why-isnt-it-called-the-woman-booker-prize-1788207464. In that case, he helpfully added “This Is a Joke, BTW” to the tags, presumably because so many people didn’t get that his previous article in the genre (The “No Man’s Sky” article) was a joke. If you look through Bobby Finger’s posts on Jezebel, you will notice that most of them are not serious or only semi-serious.

  • SonofaGlitch

    I’d agree to the SPJ’s message one hell of a lot more if there wasn’t an explicit guideline denoting that when covering middle eastern terrorism, the supposed “mass danger” represented by “white terrorism” had to ham-handedly inserted to maintain a forced narrative based on what-aboutery.

    Until that absolute travesty of narrative molding is removed, the SPJ is and shall remain, a partisan joke.

    • Michael Koretzky

      Those “Guidelines for Countering Racial, Ethnic and Religious Profiling” are here: http://www.spj.org/divguidelines.asp

      In two years, I have yet to see them apply to the judging of video game journalism. Not trying to change your opinion, just asking that you rate the Kunkels as its own thing, since that’s what it is.

      If you still think we suck, well, I can at least respect that.

    • Andrew Whatever

      Oddly enough the partisan vision you want is so predictable I can even guess which side you’re on!

  • TtTreatise

    Whether or not those articles are good, your reviewers seem kind of lost.

    The Polgon selection wasn’t a review, as one reviewer was quoted. It was clearly a first person recounting of a press event. It was also from 2015.

    The Jezebel post was clearly sarcasm, being that it linked to its Kotaku brand, which is where they review games.

    The judges seem bad at their jobs.

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