We’ve Been Asked Anything.

Kunkel judge and director answered your burning questions.

On Monday, Kunkel judge Gideon Grudo and I appeared on Reddit’s /r/KotakuInAction to talk about the Kunkel Awards and video games journalism. A few of the members have been inviting us over the last few months, so we figured “Why not?”

For those unaware, KiA calls itself a “platform for open discussion of the issues where gaming, nerd culture, the Internet, and media collide.” Though they have a stance in the GamerGate movement, we didn’t give a shit about that. We care about journalism.

Here are the takeaways:


Why remove the “worst story” category?

Redditors asked Grudo and me three separate questions about why we killed the equally loved and hated “worst story of the year” category. After all, shouldn’t shoddy journalism be called out for what it is?

Well, it should. But I’m not convinced the Kunkels is the appropriate platform to do that right now.

So then, who does punish unethical journalism? In the words of Grudo:

“You don’t really want to have that type of construct. The more structured ethical rules are, the more you risk stifling speech. Consider a federal agency, for example, whose task it is to determine what’s ethically sound and what isn’t. Maybe they’ll provide badges to those journalists they deem ethical. Maybe they’ll forbid access to those they don’t. Consider industry attempting the same thing. Shivers. Defining ethics isn’t easy.”

A concern that popped up was that the Kunkel director and its judges were trying not to hurt journalists’ feelings. Short answer: We don’t give a shit about hurting people’s feelings. We give a shit about quality, ethical journalism, and could care less about who wrote it or how they feel.

New director, new approach. Former Kunkel Awards Director Michael Koretzky’s instincts were to publicly, harshly call out the shoddy journalism and give it a joke award. I agree with calling out unethical journalism, but not like this.

Of course, this could certainly change down the line as the Kunkels grow up.


What do we think of writers who don’t abide by a code of ethics?

“No one has to abide by a code of ethics,” wrote Gideon. “Everyone should abide by a code of ethics. Nationally distributed papers. Underground papers. Big papers. Small. Skinny. Fat. Ugly. Pretty. Don’t matter. Journalists have an obligation to be journalistic. While that ain’t easy to define, ethics codes do a good job attempting it, and at least provide some solid agreements between reporter and reader, like ’this is what this person said’ or ‘I fact checked this claim and reported the results.’”


Do we have to award shit journalism if there’s nothing better?

One Redditor asked if we feel a pressure to award unethical, low-quality work if better, more ethical articles are nowhere to be found.

“The answer is no,” I replied. “If the judges feel none of the entries are worth an award, nobody gets it.”

Gideon added, “If everything is garbage, no one wins. Except our measly blog. We may write it up to explain our dismay…We’re not angry, we’re…disappointed.”

This isn’t a new thing for us. Last year, Excellence in News Reporting had no third place winner. Excellence in College Journalism and Excellence in News Video/Streaming both lacked second and third places. In the first year, Excellence in Photography/Illustration/Infographic (a category we no longer have) only had a first place winner.

We haven’t ditched a first place winner yet, but none of the judges are pressured to pick the best of the worst if they feel none are deserving.


What do we think of the current state of journalism?

That’s way too vague a question to give a valid response without data and analysis. But we could offer anecdotal insight.

“Especially in the last few years, it seems gaming journalism has gained a bad rep — for valid reasons,” I wrote. “Faulty and sometimes nonexistent ethical codes are largely responsible.”

Up-and-coming gaming journalists that publish unethical content largely seem to lack journalism backgrounds. I claimed they are more often gamers first, journalists second, and thus never went to journalism school and learned ethical practices.

A user corrected me — rightfully so. I liked what they wrote, so I’ll quote /u/ITSigno here:

“I think it’s probably better to say there are:

  1. Games journalists who are journalists ‘slumming it’ in games because they didn’t get the WaPo job they really wanted.
  2. Games Journalists who are gamers that have a blog and would like to grow their business/brand around that.
  3. Games Journalists who are actually gamers and journalists.”

Meanwhile, Grudo thinks the state of games journalism is: “There ain’t enough of it, the journos producing it don’t get paid enough for the work they do (for the most part), the journos producing it likely don’t have enough paid hours to go as in-depth as the piece deserves, etc., ad nauseam.”

But that’s not unique to gaming journalism. Grudo expressed that’s true for all journalism, “and likely true of many other producers of things, content and/or otherwise.”


Everything else

Not all of the questions were hard-hitting. Someone asked us about our current and favorite video games.

I’m in the middle of Killing Floor 2, Metro 2033, and Pokemon Ultra Sun. My favorite game is definitely the Witcher III — a game that I finally convinced Grudo to play. Meanwhile, his favorite game is Horizon: Zero Dawn, a game that I personally can’t wait to get my hands on. Maybe we should just make a trade.

More questions poured in as we were wrapping up, and we plan to get back to them during the week. Since we volunteer, we have to put our big-boy jobs first and pay the bills.

That being said, it’s never too late to ask us questions. You’re always free to message us through the Kunkel’s Contact Us page, or hit us up on Twitter. Reach me at @bferrendi and Grudo at @ggrudo.

The Kunkel nominations would normally end this Friday, Jan. 26 — but I’m extending the deadline by a week. You now have until Friday, Feb. 2. Don’t miss out, or else your favorites in gaming journalism could be overlooked.

Nominate your favorite gaming stories and videos of 2017

New category steps up to the plate

The sports jargon may be a hint.

In the future, I want the Kunkels to be at E3. If that’s going to happen, we’ll need to acknowledge an ever-rising corner of video game journalism.

After the death of the Worst Story of the Year category, I’m replacing it with a new one: Excellence in eSports Writing:

One written story, either news or feature. eSports are a growing phenomena making its way up to top channels like ESPN — it’s time to take competitive gaming stories as seriously as NFL coverage. Submissions can be tournament- or community-based.

The rest of the media world covers sports, so why shouldn’t we? MOBA games like Dota 2 and League of Legends have tournaments with teams from around the world and million dollar prize pools. ESPN covers both these games as well as team-based shooters Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

This is territory the Kunkels haven’t touched before. What are we waiting for?

The category was pitched to me by one of our judges — specifically my replacement. (I was a Kunkel judge before taking over as Kunkel director.) Here’s what they had to say about the change:

I think it’s good to shift this into a more positive light rather than one that is associated with really harsh criticisms. I took note of some of the comments that were being made about the Kunkels last year in the circles in run in in gaming and many were offput by the sharp commentary of Koretzky. It’s good to keep the wit, but changing the tone is important too. I think you’re well on your way to doing that, Brittany.

Another judge was indifferent to the new category:

I don’t have strong feelings about sports or eSports, personally, but I see nothing wrong with it as a category.

The third judge simply said, “Cool,” but pointed out “Capital-letter-contrasted proper names for things always feels very 1993 to me.” To each their own.

Here’s a comment from my predecessor Michael Koretzky:

If ESPN is covering eSports, the Kunkels should cover the eSports media. It’s only a matter of time before eSports players are suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, ridiculed for taking a knee at the national anthem, and fired for punching women in elevators. The resulting journalism will need to be accurate and incisive. Someday, when my “off-putting sharp commentary” is nothing but a faded fecal stain upon the Kunkels, these awards will become truly eImportant.

Well, there you have it.

Now, we open up nominations for the third year in a row.

Nominate your favorite gaming stories and videos of 2017

Killing a category

Time to say goodbye.

When I first became Kunkel director, my predecessor Michael Koretzky introduced me to noteworthy people in the video game media industry. Some were gaming journalists, some nationally known public figures, and one was even a candidate for Congress.

All had one thing in common: a connection to the Kunkels.

So I called them and picked their brains on the last two Kunkel Awards and where they see it going in the next two years. One category in particular came up again and again: Worst Story of the Year. It was particularly disliked, and I agreed. So I’m taking Koretzky’s beloved category and sending it to the grave.

Here’s why. Take a look at how the Kunkel site describes the Worst Story category:

Learning by avoiding. Sometimes, the best way to teach the right thing is by studying the wrong thing. We’re looking for news or feature stories that didn’t just violate SPJ’s Code of Ethics, they laughed while doing it. The bigger the stories and the bigger the ethical lapses, the more likely one of them will “win.”

I’ve said it before, but my focus as the new Kunkel director is to educate video game journos on best practices and the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. While it’s true journos can learn from looking at examples of bad journalism, I don’t need to potentially embarrass an author to do it.

If a piece is so terribly unethical by SPJ code’s standards, then it’s not worth referring to as “journalism,” much less deserving a joke award associated with five other categories meant to be taken seriously.

A better way to learn the trade is to discern where good journalism makes bad mistakes. And that’s what we already do with all of our other categories — show off what the judges consider the best of the best video game journalism while also pointing out its shortcomings.

Just because I’ve taken the power away from Koretzky doesn’t mean he can’t throw in his opinion. So I asked him what he thought about the death of his controversial category, and he had this to say:

We both seek to improve video game journalism. You choose to do it maturely and constructively. I suppose that’s one approach. It’s probably better, but it’s definitely not as much fun.

So I’m killing the Worst Story of the Year category. Up next, we’ll meet it’s replacement and open up nominations. Stay tuned.

Younger smarter better

New director, new direction.

Meet Brittany Ferrendi. She’s the new director of the Kunkel Awards.

After two years, I’m turning over the Kunkels to someone half my age, with twice my energy and a billion more hours actually spent playing video games.

(I off-handedly asked her what game she’s playing right now, and I got this long-ass answer…

I’ve been hooked on Mass Effect: Andromeda ever since it came out last month. The series has been a long-time favorite of mine, but when they announced a fourth addition, I was skeptical after seeing a handful of busywork quests in Dragon Age: Inquisition — another game created by the same developers and publishers. I wound up picking ME:A at launch anyway, and I don’t regret a thing. I’m also playing Killing Floor 2 — the game itself is engaging, but it’s the people you play with that truly makes it worthwhile.

…which is a keen reminder why I never engage in small talk.)

When she’s not playing games and actually working for a living, Ferrendi is digital content editor at South Florida Gay News, the largest LGBT publication in the southeast United States. Yet she’s not gay. For this youngest generation of journalists, that shit doesn’t matter – if it’s a cool job, who cares? A big improvement over my generation.

Ferrendi graduated from college only last year, but she was a capable Kunkel judge this year. Some of the most amusing and educational comments were hers. For an awards program that’s only grudgingly gaining acceptance, she gushes, “I was definitely impressed by the response we received to the awards and to the judges’ comments. Our readers are passionate, whether or not they agreed.”

But as contest coordinator, Ferrendi will no longer judge. So what will she do?

  • Consult gaming journalists, readers, and developers to determine how many (and what kind of) categories the Kunkels will offer.
  • Recruit judges and sets deadlines for their wise decisions and nasty comments.
  • Writes up those comments in blog posts and winner remarks that are intended to both teach and encourage quality journalism.
  • Act as spokesperson to anyone who wants to talk or complain about the Kunkels.

Alas, the position is neither paid nor respected. It comes without perks such as free travel, cash bribes, or horny groupies. But Ferrendi still wants the gig, because in 10 years, she envisions this…

I’d love to see the Kunkels advance to its own spot at E3. We’d have more resources available to aspiring video game journalists and be an essential part of the Society of Professional Journalists. Video games are being taken more seriously in mainstream media, with their own timeslots on ESPN — I envision gaming journalism will be just as important in the coming years as sports journalism is today.

I’d love to see that myself, so I’m sticking around to help – by working for Ferrendi. If you want to share your own vision for the Kunkels with her, she’s at KunkelAwards@gmail.com.

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.

Best news reporting 2016

Hating the love-hate.

In the category of Excellence in News Reporting, our three judges hated so many stories precisely because they wanted to love them so much.

Journalists are complicated like that.

First off, all the entries from last year’s big winner were disqualified. For the inaugural Kunkels, the venerable website Kotaku took first, second, and tied for third place for news posts published in 2015. But for 2016, readers submitted a half-dozen Kotaku entries that were also published in 2015.

For example, The Real Stories Behind E3’s Glossy Game Demos contains this line after the first paragraph: This story originally appeared June 9, 2015.

The judges agreed that’s lame. So onward and downward.

Of the 90-plus remaining entries, most failed to follow basic principles. Journalism is already a scorned profession, so it’s more crucial than ever that every claim be backed up by reliable sources.  Yet the judges couldn’t find a third-place winner.

“Everything else was either single-sourced, a feature story, a blog or any combination of the three,” one judge lamented.

That judge was looking at this Breitbart story for third place: Censorship makes the biggest release for ‘Fire Emblem’ also its worst. Journalists are sympathetic when other people get censored, but the story didn’t back up the provocative headline. As another judge ranted…

He writes, “Memes have replaced meaningful dialogue…” That’s opinion, bro. More importantly, the main claim isn’t supported at all. If the localization team ruined the game by changing shit, tell me why changing that shit ruined the game. Change in its own right isn’t always bad. Claim. Support claim. Claim. Support claim. This isn’t too complicated.

This year, it was.

Best feature writing 2016

“Self-serving” vs. “story-serving.”

In the category of Excellence in Feature Writing, our three judges spent most of their time debating a story that didn’t win.

Last February, TechRaptor ran this headline: How Much Would a Round of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Actually Cost? It’s the kind of story that journalism judges obsess over– because if it was just a little bit better, it would be mind-blowing.

First off, everyone (readers and journalists) hate when a headline asks a question the story doesn’t answer. In this case, one judge raged against one particular sentence in the story, which undercuts the headline’s bold claim…

“The price was tough to find/average, but based on some research, the closest I could find was roughly $640.” You should’ve shot this story in the head the moment it didn’t work out for you. 

Another judge was kinder but still disappointed…

It was a cool idea, but when it didn’t pan out, it should’ve just been salvaged into a tighter infographic. It’s still pretty interesting, even if the data isn’t precise. But I wouldn’t put it anywhere near the top of the winners in the form it came out.

Feature writing is a category that’s prone to sloppy writing and self-indulgence. Which is why one judge called it a struggle between “self-serving” and “story-serving.” Four of the 106 entries pulled off the latter. Two of them did it so well, the judges couldn’t decide which was better – so they stopped trying.

College gaming journalism 2016

Harvard is stupid.

Two of the 21 entries for Excellence in College Gaming Journalism came from The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper at the richest school in the nation. Harvard has a $33 billion endowment – more than the GDP of Albania. But when it comes to reporting on video games, it’s bankrupt.

One pompous entry began like this…

What do Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, and a cultural artifact from the late 2000s have in common? An invocation of the unconditional duty to love? A paradoxical relationship to rationality? A nuanced position on present day hostility to the reincarnation of Christ? An understanding of the unique location of the demonic within the human psyche – a defiance of freedom to avoid integrated selfhood? The answer, of course, is all of the above.

…which is really about an Xbox game called Nazi Zombies.

The second entry? It’s a news story about Harvard students getting kicked out of a tournament for cheating. Sounds awesome and embarrassing. But as one judge noted, “It doesn’t give me any dates on when the cheating, the disqualification, or the announcement thereof occurred, which is super weird.”

Did it happen the day before? Or a month earlier? How can an entire newspaper staff at such a prestigious institution forget the when in who, what, where, when, why, and how?

Remarked another judge: “Well, whoever wins gets to say they beat out Harvard by a country mile.”

What this really proves is that good gaming journalism is grueling – no matter what your IQ and privilege. That probably explains why the winner in this first-ever Kunkel category works both for her student and local newspaper, covering games and tech for both. Because practice might not make perfect, but it does mean beating the crap out of Harvard showoffs and slackers.

Best news video 2016

“Ugh, this category is a mess.”

So sayeth one of our three judges about Excellence in News Video/Streaming.

Another judge – we try to keep them anonymous, but his initials are Gideon Grudo – profanely suggested…

Maybe we should put “Read this before nominating” on the site, where we say shit like, “Reviews ain’t news, motherfuckers. You find something while playing, THAT is news…motherfuckers.”

All three judges were annoyed at the lack of “sourcing” – basically, quoting other people to back up a claim. The worst journalists opine without proof, which is what pisses off most of America about our craft.

Too many entries committed this fatal flaw and knee-capped their otherwise noble efforts. For instance, Deception, Lies, and CSGO irked one judge because he wanted to like it…

After a confusing and long intro aiming for humor, the narrator says, “It seems like these gambling sites are popping up all over the place, and there’s some controversy stewing around it.” Well, how many sites? At least try to quantify it by saying something like, “I don’t know all the sites, but I visited a few like this one and this one…”

Further, fuck you for saying, “There’s some controversy stewing over it” without even one measly direct quote from an actual source saying something about the controversy. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all in this guy’s head, and I have no evidence saying otherwise.

Of course, just because something isn’t news doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Some entries were clearly opinion, even though some folks submitted them as news. (Anyone can submit anything for the Kunkels.) For instance: Bethesda Is Wrong About Reviews: The Two Player Podcast.

This podcast features Erik Kain and Paul Tassi from Forbes, a respected news outlet that also hires columnists. In other words, Forbes knows the difference between news and opinion and (usually) labels each clearly for readers and viewers.

How can you tell this is opinion? As one judge explains…

Both personalities are opining about a company’s announcement without concrete analysis. They even say things like, ‘That’s how I take it.'”

One judge refused to comment on this podcast. The SPJ Code of Ethics says, “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” Says this judge…

Erik Kain is a friend of a friend, although I’ve never really talked to him myself and don’t really have an opinion about him.

Thankfully, no judge knew the winner. In fact, only one of the 15 entries dazzled our judges. So they’ve decided to name only a first-place winner with no second or third. See which one it is – and why…

Best feature video 2016

Winners and a loser.

There was one clear winner in the category of Excellence in Feature Video/Streaming. And one clear loser.

Since the purpose of the Kunkel Awards is not only to recognize splendid journalism but also to teach it, sometimes it’s instructional to study what sucks. And among the 19 submissions in this category, nothing was more disappointing than Strategic Butt Coverings – Tropes vs Men in Video Games by Crafty Ape from the United Kingdom.

This entry pissed off the judges precisely because they wanted to embrace it. Grumbled one of our three judges…

I liked the idea of Strategic Butt Coverings, but it’s not clear from the beginning that it’s a counterpoint to Anita Sarkeesian’s video – nor that it’s using her audio with contrasting video. That kind of bothers me, so I tossed it.

Ranted another…

Honestly, it would have made my top three – if they made it clear from the beginning that it was a counter-argument to Anita Sarkeesian’s video. It needed a ‘lead and nut’ instead of just assuming the viewer already knew about the contrasting video/audio. I shouldn’t have to get halfway through a video before that’s made apparent. Even some of the video comments noted the confusion. Clarity is important.

“Lead and nut” is the journalistic term for an opening that lures you in, followed by a transition that sets up the rest of the story. “Strategic Butt Coverings” lacked that, as did many entries across all categories.

Trying to fill in a story’s background while also propelling it forward is one of writing’s hardest tasks. The most obvious example of this kind of failure: Superhero movies where the action suddenly stops so the bad guy can describe the genesis of his evil plans.

Fortunately, some folks have figured out how to finesse this. The winner elicited a rare compliment from our most skeptical judge…

Interviews with developers interspersed with gameplay B-roll is going to top a disembodied player’s rant pretty much every time, so that alone sets this one apart. It also has a clearly defined angle that everything consistently backs up. While a couple other entries did, it came down to this one having more style and verve.

So whose style and verve took first place? Check out the unanimous winner – and the split-vote runners-up…

Both barrels

Our shotgun approach.

The second time around is usually a yawn compared to the first.

Who walked on the moon after Neil Armstrong? Who was the second black Major League ballplayer after Jackie Robinson? Hell, who was president after George Washington?

So as quietly controversial as the inaugural Kunkel Awards were, we expected half of the 291 entries from our first year.

But with three days to go in our second effort, we’ve collected 221. Best of all, we’ve noticed entries coming directly from writers and editors at publications ranging from national (Vice) to niche (Polygon) to local (Naples Herald). Last year, nearly all the entries came from readers.

So maybe we’re doing something right. Slowly, but right.

Nominate your favorite gaming stories and videos of 2016


Outing a judge

Meet Gideon Grudo.

Actually, before I do that, let me explain…

Judges for journalism contests are almost always anonymous. I’ve judged high school, college, and professional contests and never told anyone but my wife (who didn’t give a crap as long as it didn’t cut into our wine drinking).

That wasn’t because I feared criticism — any journalist who can’t handle that should become a yoga instructor — but because I worried about bribery. Journalists are paid so little, it wouldn’t take much to tempt us.

So the three Kunkel judges are toiling in obscurity. But today we reveal one of them. Why? Because some gamers and gaming journalists have mused aloud that the Kunkel Awards are judged by ideologues.

Of course, they mean ideologues who don’t believe in their ideology. Apparently, people who think exactly like you can’t be biased.

Our three judges are all editors, which means their day jobs involve reading lots of other people’s stuff. One of them is Gideon Grudo, digital platforms editor at the Air Force Magazine in Washington, DC.

Before that, Grudo was editor of SFGN, the largest gay newspaper in the southeast United States, even though he’s not gay.

So he’s had what we in this business call a “non-traditional career.” He didn’t start at a local newspaper and work his way up to a national newspaper (although he did intern at a Top 25 newspaper and hated it).

That’s influenced his opinion of gaming journalism…

Gaming journalism doesn’t get the attention it deserves from the high-brow, black-ink journalists who generally determine which awards hiring editors care about, so we don’t have those prestigious awards programs for this journalism.

Grudo’s fellow judges have also pursued non-traditional careers, which he actually considers a qualification for Kunkel judging…

It’s a good thing my friends and I aren’t prestigious — we’re the perfect fit to push gaming journalism into the venerated halls of famous awards, where smarter people than us can roll their eyes and take over.

At the same time, Grudo undersells himself. First, he holds a prestigious gig within SPJ. He’s the chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee, the self-described “watchdog of press freedoms across the nation.” After the Ethics Committee, it’s probably SPJ’s most important mission.

Second, Grudo wrote a story – on his own time – that I consider one of the best ever about Reddit. He sourced it with mods from a pro-GamerGate subreddit, although to be clear, he didn’t take sides in the GamerGate controversy. He simply interviewed the mods because they were the only ones willing to go on the record and not be anonymous sources (which is a plague upon journalism).

Because Grudo believes mainstream media should cover Reddit, he’ll answer questions – about journalism in general and the Kunkels in particular – on whatever subreddits will have him.

He concludes…

If you’re not Kunkeling, I hope you’re not decrying the state of gaming journalism. Let’s hoist up the best and shove down the rest, amirite?

If you want to reach Grudo directly, hit him up here.

Nominate your favorite gaming stories and videos of 2016


Class act

Kunkels go to college.

College journalism contests are notoriously (and thankfully) cheap as hell – from $5 for a CMA Pinnacle Award to $9 for an SPJ Mark of Excellence Award. But none of them recognize great gaming coverage, and none are totally free.

So the Kunkel Awards are adding a new category: Excellence in College Gaming Journalism.

Just like the other Kunkels, entering is easy. You nominate yourself or someone else simply by filling out this form. Then three professional journalists – all editors – read the entries, argue amongst themselves, and pick a winner.

The only rule: You must’ve been a college student when the story or video was posted in 2016. And yeah, if you’re a finalist, we’ll check.

Why add another category to a still-new contest? Because journalism and drug-dealing operate on the same principle: Hook ’em when they’re young, and you have a devoted customer for life.

So if we want to improve gaming journalism, it’s probably easier to train the next generation than re-train the current generation.

Questions? Hit us up.

Next week: Who’s really judging this thing?

Nominate your favorite gaming stories and videos of 2016


So bad they win

Who’s the first worst?

Here’s the sad, hidden truth about journalism: All too often, terrible stories are written by talented reporters.

Did these reporters interview only one source? Was that source wrong on the facts? Did they forget to check those facts? Did they violate damn near every entry in the SPJ Code of Ethics?

Those reporters might be evil. Or they might be tired.

Last year, I met a journalist at a major gaming news outlet. He hated half of everything he wrote – because he was under pressure from his bosses to churn out 5-10 posts a day.

So there’s a fair chance the winner of the first-ever Kunkel Award for Worst Story of the Year won’t dispute receiving this dubious honor.

Of course, it’s just as likely it goes to someone who doesn’t give a shit about being ethical.

Either way, I’ve been asked why the Kunkels are offering such an inflammatory award. It’s not like most gaming journalists respect us in the first place. Won’t this just make it worse?

Maybe. But the Kunkel Awards seek to improve gaming journalism by teaching both readers and reporters what’s excellent. That’s why we insist on blunt judges’ comments.

Sometimes, though, you learn best by knowing what not to do.

The goal here isn’t humiliation. It’s education. So this is the only Kunkel Award that comes with a prize: A free year of SPJ membership.

Let the jokes about that begin.

Tomorrow: The Kunkels go to college.

Nominate your favorite gaming stories and videos of 2016


Can’t take a hint

Not going away.

Last year’s inaugural Kunkel Awards didn’t exactly grab the gaming world by the throat.

Many gaming journalists purposefully ignored the Kunkels. They were suspicious of SPJ AirPlay, the 2015 live-streamed debate about the ethics of the gaming press. Onstage were several GamerGate proponents. (GamerGate opponents refused to attend.)

Explains James Fudge, the managing editor of Unwinnable, former ME of the defunct Games Politics, and one of the creators of the Kunkel Awards…

“Last year, a number of colleagues privately expressed discomfort at publicly supporting the first annual Kunkel awards, mostly due to a lack of trust or confidence in SPJ. That distrust – while understandable in the caustic online atmosphere of 2016 – was unfounded and misguided. The Kunkel Awards accomplished what they were designed to do: highlight excellent games journalism.”

Of course, many GamerGate supporters hated the Kunkel Awards, too. That’s because some winners were media outlets they can’t stand – with the dreaded Kotaku dominating the news category.

As one Kunkel commenter angrily typed last year, honoring Kotaku “is like giving John Wayne Gacey a man of the year award for not stabbing someone he passed in the grocery store.” Don’t quite grasp the analogy, but it sounds bad.

Then there were the gamers who called the Kunkel Awards a hot mess and complete shit.

Still, we’re encouraged…

  • Distrust and loathing are far better than apathy and ignorance.
  • For all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, we still got nearly 300 entries last year.
  • The original reason for the Kunkel Awards hasn’t changed.

So today, we open nominations for the second time. Tomorrow, we’ll start explaining our two new categories. One of them is sure to be really hated.

Nominate your favorite gaming stories and videos of 2016


Tip of the hat


See you later?

The inaugural Kunkel Awards are over.

Like all good journalists, our three judges were vaguely dissatisfied with the whole thing. “Lots of room for improvement,” one of them told me during an hourlong Google Hangout last weekend.

Both consumers and producers of video game journalism seem to agree with our judges – perhaps the only time all three groups have been in accord. Here are the three major Kunkel criticisms I’ve heard, summarized from emails, tweets, and image boards…

  1. There weren’t enough categories. Could be. We purposefully started small so we wouldn’t screw up big.
  2. There weren’t enough criteria for those categories. Could be. We wanted our judges to have the utmost freedom to pick the first-ever winners. (Interestingly, even our judges complained about this. Sometimes too much freedom is as stressful as too little.)
  3. There wasn’t enough publicity. Could be. Our goal was modest this first year: No melodrama. Of course, the flip side is not enough drama.

So what happens now? We’re looking for a total of 20 gamers and gaming journalists who want to make the Kunkel Awards better for next year – and maybe improve gaming journalism all year long.

If you’re interested in learning more, contact us. Don’t worry, no heavy lifting required – we’ll handle all the boring logistics. We simply need thoughtful opinions and advice.

Thanks to everyone who nominated an entry, commented on the finalists, supported the Kunkel Awards, and criticized the Kunkel Awards. 



A toast to good writing.

It wasn’t easy choosing the last winners for the first-ever Kunkel Awards. Our judges agonized over the writing categories, especially Excellence in News Reporting. As one judge so eloquently emailed the other two…

This sucks. I really like four of them. Fuck.

See the winners here.

The Excellence in Feature Writing category was a little easier, reveals another judge. Here’s how he describes Monday night’s Google Hangout with his two peers…

We spent 80 minutes debating these two categories. We spent maybe 20 minutes on features and 60 minutes on news – and at least half of news, probably more, was agonizing over third place. Our struggle reiterates the need to refine the criteria and categories for next time.

And there will be a next time. The inaugural Kunkel Awards defied all the gloomy predictions. It didn’t spawn hacking, doxing, or harassment. Few teeth were gnashed and even fewer garments were rended.

Of course, there are many ways to improve the Kunkels, and we’re discussing those with the judges now. Next week, we’ll seek your opinions.

Moving pictures


Meet the video winners.

Last Saturday at 10 in the morning, the three Kunkel judges met online for nearly an hour to argue who should take first place in the categories of News Video/Streaming and Feature Video/Streaming.

See the winners here.

Why the weekend debate? As one judge put it, the problem was this: “Pieces that commit problematic instances of journalism inside of what is otherwise really good material.”

In other words, several finalists had as many highlights as lowlights. But the best ones were damn good.

So what separated first place from third? Here’s an example.

The third-place features winner was DA- Psychofrauds: A DoubleFine Mess #FigOff. What kept it from the top spot, according to one judge…

JOBS Act, SEC filings, flow charts, and video games. Didn’t see that coming. This is better-sourced, better-argued, and better-visualized than a lot of business stories I’ve seen. What’s missing is the context that DoubleFine is far from unique in operating like this. That doesn’t de-legitimize the story at all, but it is important to note. Also not impressed with “Ponzi scheme???” and “frauds” – I’m not cool with insinuating things there isn’t clear evidence for. I want to laud the intense effort, but this is why journalists interview experts.

So what do the winners get? An old-fashioned paper certificate they can hang on their wall, a Kunkel Award badge they can place on their website, and the satisfaction of a job well done. Maybe someday, if the Kunkels survive, also cash.

Next week: The writing winners.

Final finalists


The worst for last?

No journalism is easy, but news writing might be the hardest. Even an hour-long video has only a fraction of the words and sources in a solid news story.

So for Kunkel Award’s fifth and final category, our three judges harshly assessed even the best of the 116 entries.

No one was spared – from Breitbart’s Exposed: The Secret Mailing List of the Gaming Journalism Elite (“I have no idea what got exposed or why it matters, because no one’s telling me how or why”) to Kotaku’s How Binding of Isaac Fans Ended Up Digging Holes in Santa Ana, California (“A fun blow-by-blow of a sort of digital scavenger hunt, but Christ, I hate the top of almost every one of these Kotaku stories. Get. To. The. Point.”)

Below are the eight finalists for Excellence in News Reporting, in no particular order and with comments from two judges per finalist. All three judges will review any comments below, elsewhere online, and submitted here. Then it’s time to pick the winners and see what happens.

(By the way, “lede” is journo-jargon for the first sentence or two of a story, and “graf” is short for paragraph. Don’t even get me started on the double entendre of other terminology.)

Women and Video Games
  • “Heavy on sourcing, which is good, but light on bringing it together and telling me why all this matters. Specifically, the tweet in the lede isn’t explained for graf after graf. Tell me why I should care or I won’t.”
  • “Interesting analysis. I love the sourcing. The headline is terribly broad, though, and it sometimes veers into editorializing. I’m not sure this category was the best fit.”

The promise — and massive challenge — of making games for the Apple Watch
  • “Clear. Timely. Well-sourced. Kinda boring beginning and a very dry thesis, but it’s an important story. That said, it’s a product announcement. Award worthy?”
  • “The premise of this article, ‘microgames,’ is probably the stupidest thing I’ve read in this category. But the writing itself is solid, the quotes are mostly helpful and relevant, and the sourcing is good.”

Testing the Steam Refund system
  • “Finally! News happens, reporter jumps into the mud and reports how deep it is. Detail, pizzazz, interest, and of course journalism.”
  • “A bit squishy, but news you can use with a step-by-step. I like that.”

The Horrible World Of Video Game Crunch
  • “This isn’t news. It’s a feature. And it’s got all kinds of stuff that make me want to read it: original sourcing, interesting and untapped info, a good lede.”
  • “I really love this story, the details and interviews are amazing, and this is so much more important (and carries so much more human interest) than the slew of GamerGate submissions. I think it would have done far better in the feature category, or an explanatory category if we had one. But I’m willing to consider it as ‘in-depth news’ because it’s definitely not opinion and the reporting is there.”

The Messy, True Story Behind The Making Of Destiny
  • “I’m pretty sure this is an important story, but why did the writer take so long to tell me so? Such a long-winded intro about nothing that matters as much as what comes at its end. Pair with all anonymous sources and I’m disappointed by the time I’m supposed to be engaged. Still, I guess a 13-month investigation is worth something.”
  • “Badly needs better editing. This should’ve been so much cooler than it turned out – and it’s kind of a theme with Kotaku submissions. Instead of balancing the juicy stuff with the backstory, we have to wade through all the backstory before getting to all the hard investigative work. Frustrating.”

The People Who Make Brutal Video Game Porn
  • “Interesting. Good lede, good background. But where’s a human source? Something other than information. I mean, we’re talking about porn. Porn’s about people, but this story apparently isn’t. Still interesting, though.”
  • “Interested, but can’t find the news and don’t understand why the people teased in the headline aren’t interviewed. First quote is hundreds of words – and six videos/pictures – deep. So it reads more like, ‘Hey guys, check out this kinky shit’ until pretty far into the story. Great for horny teenagers, not great for anyone looking for some kind of psychology or big picture.”

Star Citizen Employees Speak Out on Project Woes
  • “Whoa. Heavy stuff. I’d be into this kind of journalism on the regular.”
  • “My biggest issue is how dense this is. I want more section breaks and maybe some internal summary. The ones it has now do that, fortunately – but it’s still a slog.”

Anatomy of a hoax
  • “Powerful stuff, but man, does it take its time getting to the point. Sourcing the news channel so heavily is a sure way to bore me. I don’t want to read through all that. Just tell me what happened and link me to it so I can read deeper if I want to.”
  • “Good reporting. Love the outreach to the station, the anonymous source, and the attempt to thoroughly document how the original story unfolded. It does get bogged down, a little repetitive, and focuses on some irrelevant details, but all that’s forgivable for the shoe leather here.”

Coming soon: The winners of the 2015 Kunkel Awards.

Lucky 7


Judges roll the dice.

The Excellence in Feature Writing category had 117 entries, edging Excellence in News Reporting by a single entry. Our three judges chopped those down to seven finalists. If you agree or disagree with their choices, comment publicly below or privately here.

As one judge says about these finalists, “What I didn’t do is hold grammar against anyone, perhaps a mistake…”

Gaming Your Brain — “Excellent opening. It builds to the point slowly but with so much detail and color that I’m glad to go along for the ride. Data against personal details is so fucking sexy sometimes, and the first three grafs of this story are an excellent example of this.”

How an early ’90s Windows gaming classic was unearthed after years in limbo Sourced well. Took a minute to get to the point. Never really told me why I should care. 25 years on the shelf is a long time but why does that matter to me?”

The Story Behind Fortress/Narrative and Gameplay Revealed/Storyboard Gallery Good topic for fans of the game, but where’s the relevance to gamers at large? Looks like the interviews were got, the numbers crunched, but the intro to the three parts doesn’t do much to tickle my pickle.”

Video games and empathy: Should artists be psychologists when it comes to levelling playing fields? — “Great! Presents the topic off the cusp (even if by cliche) and then builds me slowly into the larger scope by providing specific points backed by specific examples and specific sources.”

The Secret Developers of the Video Game Industry — “Intro clearly lays out road ahead. Solid sourcing. Small picture is quickly related to big picture.”

Eve Online: how a virtual world went to the edge of apocalypse and back Great opening, even if it really went off subject to eventually bring us back. Very colorful with detail and good detail at that.”

Cover Story: NES Creator Masayuki Uemura on the Birth of Nintendo’s First Console — “Recurring issue: Lots of telling with little showing. Give me flavor early to keep me into the story. STOP BURYING THE GOOD STUFF.”

Next week: Finalists for Excellence in News Reporting.

Gimme 5!


Meet five more finalists.

In the Excellence in Feature Video/Streaming category, our three judges slashed 32 entries to the five below. They include comments from one of those judges.

To influence all the judges before they pick a first place – and a second and third if they want – you can post comments below, lobby us discreetly, or point us to any online discussion that build up or tears down specific entries.

Here they are…

Blood Is Compulsory: How We Talk About Advanced Warfare — “Self-involved lede, but it hooked me. Visuals constantly show what narrator tells. Claims are substantiated. There are graphs.”

DA- Psychofrauds: A DoubleFine Mess #FigOff — “This is a repeat from the news category. Better as a feature with time to spruce out the lede. History right up front is boring, though the visuals save it here.”

Editing Versus Censorship (The Jimquisition) — “Quick to the point, quick to back up claims. Visuals constantly show what narrator tells. Most importantly, the piece got me to care about something I knew nothing about.”

F.E.A.R.: Itself! (A Franchise Retrospective) — “Never played the game. But the piece quickly summarized it well. Argument is clear.”

Games for Learning Summit 2015 — “Damn, am I actually watching journalism? Yeah, it’s a feature but that don’t change shit. Blows everything else I’ve seen out of the water easily in actually journalizing.”

Next week: Finalists for Excellence in Feature Writing.

Let the debate begin


So much for promises.

In this inaugural year for the Kunkel Awards, we wanted to list the Top 10 in each category and let the gaming community influence our judges.

Alas, we’re now into our second category, and we don’t yet have 10 finalists.

For Excellence in News Video/Streaming, our judges really liked six entries – half got nods from all three judges, the other half from two judges.

So below are those entries, along with comments from one of our judges. I didn’t think to ask for those comments, but now that we got them, I like them. So I’ll guilt the judges into this extra responsibility for the remaining three categories.

To influence those judges, you can post comments below, lobby us discreetly, or point us to an online discussion that pimps certain entries, rips others, or insults us for doing a crappy job with the Kunkel Awards.


Kojima vs. Konami: An Investigation – “Journalism, journalism, journalism. Clear visuals that back up the narrative. The piece claims due diligence and cites sources that didn’t comment. Mmmm.”

Making sense of Shenmue 3 – “Good lede. Grabbed me. Also, clear visuals that back up the narrative.”

Oh Boy, Boyer! – Indie-Fensible (#GamerGate) – “A little smug in its journalism, but interesting nonetheless.”


Devs Speak Out on Steam Refunds – “Not very sexy, visual lameness, but strong content, good breakdown of info, process breakdown.”

#GamerGate at SPJ Airplay – “Clear summary and angle up front. Editing cuts are pretty legit to a layman like me. Also, journalism.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, Videogames and You! – “A lot of econ podcasts ran similar pieces about the TPP. This is important and well done. Maybe boring to some, but useful to the interested audience. JOURNALISM.”

Next week: Finalists for Excellence in Feature Video/Streaming.


Photo finish


We lied.

Last month, we said the Kunkel Awards would release Top 10 lists of finalists in each category, and the gaming community would have a week to influence the judges with their comments.

But the Excellence in Photography/Illustration/Infographic category only had nine entries total. And most didn’t tingle our judges’ toes. They looked like this…


…which isn’t a terrible way to communicate information to readers. But it isn’t award-winning, either.

So our judges quickly culled those nine entries to two. Then they debated so much, we declared a tie between two Ars Technica photo galleries.


While this category had fewer entries than any other — our three judges are slogging through 116 in Excellence in Feature Writing, for example — we hope it sticks around and grows. Why? Because visuals are just as important in video-game journalism as they are in video games themselves.

The best images accomplish two things at once: They look good and they say something. Detailed infographics aren’t enough. Pretty pictures aren’t enough. Award-winning visual journalism drops you in the middle of the action and yells in your ear — much like the best video games do.

Next week: Finalists for Excellence in News Video/Streaming.

That’s a wrap


Now comes the hard part.

Nominations for the Kunkel Awards closed Friday at midnight. Thank God. We received a whopping 291 entries that cover all five categories.

Starting today, three SPJ judges start reading, watching, and rating them all. We expect that to take 4-6 weeks of their spare time.

About halfway through that arduous process, we’ll release the judges’ Top 10 in each category. Before they choose three finalists, those judges will review public comments, looking for factual errors they may have missed in their own research. (Yup, we’re crowdsourcing our fact-checking.)

Just so you know how judging usually works for any contest…

It’s real easy to cut down to the Top 10, because so many entries simply don’t measure up. But it takes twice as long to cut from 10 to three, and twice as long as that to settle on the winner. Why? Because the differences between stellar entries get smaller and smaller.

So the hard part is also the fun part.

5 serious doubts


Can I convince the critics?

Some gamers believe the Kunkel Awards are doomed, either for philosophical or personal reasons.

Here are the most common themes from Reddit and 8chan, followed by my gentle attempts at persuasion…

How is this a good thing? Most of the gaming media is complete shit, and this just gives those fuckers an opportunity to circle jerk and make themselves look good.

Last things first…

  • The author of this comment obviously has more experience than I do, but a circle jerk requires everyone to be intimately involved. The Kunkel Awards are judged by professional journalists who aren’t gaming journalists, thus neither group knows or meets the other.
  • Greed is good. If you reward excellent gaming journalism, you encourage more of it. Even reporters who are “complete shit” strive for upward mobility, and their resumes will benefit from winning awards bestowed by journalists who don’t know them.

I never supported this idea. SPJ should not be in the business of giving out awards, and instead act like a health inspector, but for journalistic ethics. Awarding individual pieces like this is like awarding a good dish at a restaurant that’s simultaneously infested with roaches and rats and breaking ever OSHA code in the book.

SPJ can’t shut down a media outlet like the health department can shut down a restaurant – nor do we want that power.

Instead, SPJ criticizes those who blatantly violate its Code of Ethics, from Rolling Stone’s “numerous failings” to Gawker’s “poor taste” to Brian Williams’ “tall tale.”

That might not sound like much, but journalists know they aren’t exactly respected by the public. The last thing they need is getting hassled by their own kind. So except for a few unethical assholes, the system mostly works.

We hope installing that system in the gaming press works, too.

SPJ offers awards because you need both carrots and sticks in this world. Complaining about bad journalism doesn’t show you how to do good journalism. So SPJ holds up shining examples of excellence and encourages everyone to emulate them.

The awards will be co-oped and used to by the hipsters to thumb their noses at gamers. Just like all other awards.

For decades, SPJ has offered awards for pro and college journalists. I’ve been a judge, off and on, for both since 2008. Maybe the Kunkels will be different, but so far, I’ve yet to be “co-oped” by a hipster.

This seems to be another hot mess of an idea from Koretzky.

Koretzky seems determined to try and some how make a name for himself via GamerGate, no matter how odd the suggestions are. The whole Airplay thing ended up being a joke more than anything (which even Koretzky seems to have recognised), so he is now trying out this.

In order…

  • While I’d love to take credit for the entire “hot mess,” I must confess I had talented help. See the bottom of my last post for details.
  • My ambitions don’t include becoming Master Chief of GamerGate. To achieve that, I’d probably have to play video games more recent than Age of Empires III. Which I don’t.
  • With three months of hindsight, I’ve concluded SPJ AirPlay was a riddle, not a joke.

I somehow foresee GG bitching around when “the wrong people” will win this award.

I somehow foresee all sides bitching.

The gaming community’s emotions have become so weaponized, the Kunkel Awards will be both adored and abhorred. It just depends on which winners confirm the world view of each faction.

But that’s precisely why the Kunkel Awards are so needed. They won’t solve the gaming world’s problems, because journalism never does. But they’re a solid first step, which journalism often is.


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