Over, not out

It took 39 years for a sportswriter to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Those most prestigious journalism awards began in 1917. But it wasn’t till 1956 that a sports columnist won. I hope it doesn’t take four decades for a videogame journalist to win a Pulitzer.

It took only five years of Kunkel Awards for “traditional” journalists to recognize the importance of videogame journalism. You can see it reflected in our final class of winners. Last year, The Washington Post hired a pair of beat reporters to cover videogames, and they’ve cleaned up this year, taking five awards.

Other winners were The Atlantic and New York Times Magazine. Videogames has long been mainstream, but it’s good to see journalism finally catching up.

Starting next year, SPJ’s Mark of Excellence Awards will introduce a videogame category as an experiment. If that works, it’ll likely spread to other contests, because journalists are conservative and uncreative when it comes to their own craft.

It was a real struggle five years ago just to convince SPJ to let me run these awards without any help from them. Now they’re adding videogames to one of their major awards program. If that keeps happening, who needs the Kunkels?

So that’s it. I hope when a videogame journalist finally wins a Pulitzer, someone will ask the trivia question, “Who won the first-ever award for videogame journalism?” Maybe they’ll google it and end up here.

High five

Enter now, for the last time.

These are the final Kunkel Awards. After five years, our failure has succeeded.

Gaming journalists never embraced these awards. One three-time winner publicly insulted us, tweeting that we’re “a despicable joke.” We enjoyed that, since the Kunkels are the rare contest that asks judges to be brutally honest.

(Still, those judges killed my favorite category, Worst Story of the Year, because gaming journalists were outraged by their withering comments. My favorite: “I’m not sure WTF this is, but it’s not good or funny or useful or journalism.”)

Gaming readers and viewers were friendlier, but we never got more than 400 submissions, despite being free to enter. But at least we failed the right way.

We started the Kunkels because we couldn’t convince more prestigious (and normal) journalism awards to include categories for videogames – not even the Society of Professional Journalists, where I was a longtime member of the board of directors. But I whined enough that my peers grudgingly let us create the Kunkels in 2015. At the time, they wanted nothing to do with it. Now they do.

After watching the Kunkels survive despite of my leadership, and after seeing The Washington Post hire a pair of videogame reporters last year, SPJ has decided to introduce videogame categories next year. I’ve also approached college journalism contests about doing the same.

So like I said, a wonderful failure.

Four score

The fourth annual Kunkel Awards are over. Will they be the last?

Our three judges – two who have stuck with this thing all four years – argued with each other on Discord, an hour at a time over seven consecutive weekends. Then they chose these deserving winners.

As they profanely debated, several themes emerged…

1. Reporters aren’t recorders

Quality journalists squint at each fact, distinguishing between crucial and trivial. Sadly, many of this year’s entries were packed with waaay too many facts.

If that sounds absurd coming from a journalism contest, consider: Facts are like liquor. In both cases, you want the purest ingredients. You want to filter out impurities. And while a little is delicious, too much makes you nauseous.

As one exasperated judge said, after slogging through a particularly ponderous entry: “They’re vomiting everything they found. There’s a lot of good stuff in that vomit, but it’s hard to get through.”

2. Investigating isn’t always interesting

Many entries boasted they were “investigations.” Most weren’t. They were just long lists of mundane facts that didn’t propel a story and proved nothing. Imagine a Ferrari with a powerful V12 engine, but each piston firing randomly. The car will make a lot of noise and smoke, but it won’t go anywhere.

One judge imagined the internal dialogue of some of these journalists: “I conducted an investigation, therefore it’s news.”

3. News and feature don’t need opinion

Many otherwise excellent entries couldn’t refrain from opining. Weirdly, their reporting proved their point, and they didn’t need to add, “I think this shit sucks/rocks.”

It might not sound fair, but even a little lame-ass opinion was enough to irk our judges. To return to our alcohol analogy: The best scotch whiskey isn’t worth drinking if it’s blended with even 1 percent human urine.

Alas, opinion (like urine) seeped into everything this year. As one judge complained, “We’re judging how well a fish climbs a tree.”

Concluding the Kunkels?

Like life itself, the Kunkels must evolve or die. For our fifth anniversary, we’re making big changes.

We got some big ideas, and we’re talking to people who smarter and more important (but much less sexy) than we are. If we have anything to announce, it’ll be right here.

Extending an invitation

You have another week to enter.

Contests and concerts have something in common: They both embrace encores. Which is stupid. If there’s always an encore, and everyone knows it’s coming, why not stay onstage and just keep playing?

Journalism contests work the same way.

Damn near every one of them will extend their deadlines at least a week. It’s so common, the Kunkels don’t bother to fight the silly traditional.

Our original deadline was 11:59:59 pm tonight. Now you have seven more days to enter. And remember, it’s free, easy, and (if you want) anonymous.

Nominate your favorite gaming stories and videos of 2018

The awards you love to hate

The fourth annual Kunkel Awards have just begun, and you’re our only hope.

Unlike all other journalism contests, the Kunkels are free to enter – and you can enter as often as you want.

That’s because the Kunkels are a bastardized People’s Choice award. Anyone can nominate a story or video in any category. You don’t need to be the author, just an admirer. From there, three pro journalists will argue amongst themselves – and they do argue – before choosing the winners.

On this blog, we document the judges’ debates in excruciating detail. No other contest does that. Which is too bad, because I’d love to read about the Pulitzer committee lobbing a few “fuck you’s” at each other. Or maybe that only happens here.

Anyway, in the interest of continuity and harmony, we’re keeping all the same categories from last year, when I abdicated my role as Kunkel director and appointed Brittany Ferrendi, who wisely decided a second year at the helm was a lot like a crystal meth relapse – you don’t need to do it twice, because the rush is halved and the pain is doubled.

Like or hate ’em, the Kunkels are the only video game journalism awards in the entire galaxy. So join us, and complete your journalism training. Nominations close at 11:59:59 pm on February 4.

Nominate your favorite gaming stories and videos of 2018

Back with baggage

The Kunkel Awards are back.

And unfortunately, so am I.

My name is Michael Koretzky. I created the Kunkels in 2015, with the help of several skeptical gaming journalists. (James Fudge suggested the name, others the original categories.)

I made, uh, several mistakes. Thankfully, none were fatal. Last year, I bequeathed the title of contest director – which isn’t the same as being a judge – to a groovy woman named Brittany Ferrendi. She quickly killed my favorite category (worst story of the year) and added one I never thought of but should’ve (esports coverage).

Then she bailed.

Ferrendi used this mostly maligned gig to help herself land a job at Discord, the chat app popular among gamers. She moved from South Florida to San Francisco, and I was proud of her. She made lemonade out of a shit sandwich.

Let’s face it, being Kunkel director sucks. The hours are long, the appreciation is meager, the insults are legion, and the salary is nothing. So good for her.

Not sure it’s good for me or the Kunkels, though. Ferrendi told me in late August she wasn’t returning, which turned out not be enough time to coerce – er, recruit – a new contest director who could handle the job. Ferrendi was well-suited for the role, with her major qualification being: She’s not a 53-year-old white dude whose only video game experience is playing Age of Empires III against his ancient Mac Pro while liberally using cheat codes.

So while I search for another young video game-playing journalist to run the Kunkels next year, I’ll resume command this year. I expect this news to be met with a hearty yawn from the gaming press, which has mostly ignored the Kunkels because they think it’s associated with GamerGate. Meanwhile, the remnants of that online shitshow dismiss the Kunkels because its mortal enemy Kotaku has won multiple awards.

So why persevere? I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill once said: “Democ­ra­cy is the worst form of gov­ern­ment, except for all those oth­er forms.”

The Kunkels are the worst kind of video game journalism awards, except for all those others – because there aren’t any. Sadly, this is it. So onward and downward.

NEXT WEEK: How to enter the 2018 Kunkel Awards. For free, as always.

Special recognition 2017

There’s a first time for everything.

Michael Koretzky, creator and previous director of the Kunkel Awards, submitted his first-ever entry to the Excellence in Feature Writing category. It was on behalf of a journalist he felt went above and beyond. And Koretzky inadvertently disqualified himself.

The series — “Cuba: Where underground arcades, secret networks and piracy are a way of life” by Brian Crecente and Polygon — is a 12-parter covering various aspects of video gaming in Cuba.

“I’m glad I’m not the Kunkel director, so I can nominate [this series] – because it’s the most ambitious series I’ve read since being reluctantly sucked into the gaming journalism world,” he wrote in his submission. “I realize it’s controversial to award first place to a series of stories when the rules don’t say you can, but the Kunkels are nothing if not controversial.”

Unfortunately for him, he’s right; the rules say you can’t submit a series that long. Since our maximum entries per series is three (a rule he wrote himself), his entry was booted from winning the category.

Putting Koretzky’s foible aside, the judges just couldn’t overlook the series’ enterprise.

“How do we not recognize this? This entire series really is what more of the industry should be striving to do,” said one anonymous judge. “It’s exploratory, it’s well written, it’s detailed and genuine. It really hones in on that piece of gaming’s culture, and I’m so here for it. This one has the best discussion of that culture.”

So, they proposed we award the Cuba series separately from any category — but not without jabbing at Koretzky’s expense.

“Koretzky in his arrogance disqualified his own entry on a category he created,” out judge Gideon Grudo joked.

“I’d call it hubris,” another judge quipped.

Grudo seconded that motion: “I agree. My hope is we disqualify without hesitation, and we consider it for a series award. It’s an outstanding package.”

So here it is: The Kunkels are awarding “Cuba: Where underground arcades, secret networks and piracy are a way of life” the Special Recognition award for 2017. Congratulations to Brian Crecente and Polygon.

Will this award manifest itself as a recurring category? I can’t say for sure yet, but one thing is clear: The judges genuinely believe this series is more than deserving of an award.


And with that, the winners for this year’s Kunkel Awards have all been revealed. I wanted to give a warm thank you to everyone who stuck around til the end of my first year as director. Don’t forget to save your favorite video game journalism this year to submit to next year’s awards!

Best feature video 2017

Keep your journalism journalistic.

In the Excellence in Feature Video category, many entries struggled to be journalistic — but at least the first place winner hit the nail on the head.

The first glaring issues among entries was this: many entrants didn’t know the difference between news, feature and opinion videos.

Fortunately, the beauty of feature categories is they are more all-encompassing than news. So, if you didn’t know the difference between news and feature, you may have gotten lucky by submitting to the right place anyway. But for the entrants that submitted opinion videos, you’re out of luck. Stating an opinion as fact is bad journalism.

Since so many entries (in multiple categories) failed to understand the difference between news, feature, and opinion, I wrote up a blog post on how to determine each of these journalism facets — which should help when submitting for next year’s awards. Keep your eyes peeled for that after this award season is over.

On top of not submitting to the right category, what separated the winners from the losers was lack of clarity. Many of the entries buried the lede or failed to qualify it.

Take for example “Becoming the World’s Best DDR Player” by Polygon. Here’s one judge’s opinion on how the lack of journalism makes this piece lackluster:

“The potential is there with the access and the story but why did they languish on the journalism? Almost 90 seconds in and I have no idea why this story is important. The headline hasn’t been clarified, the thesis isn’t established. What’s the point here? Is this just an interview with the American DDR team at this tourney? Why should I care about this?”

Asking why we should care isn’t antagonistic (though I can’t speak for the judge); it’s important criticism for this journalist, and all journalists, to understand. When consulting the 5 W’s and the H (who, what, where, when, why, and how), the “why” is essential. Tell the audience why you’re talking about what you’re talking about. If you just dive into the details without setting up the “why” as the framework, you’ll potentially confuse your readers and lose their interest.

Another entry following a similar theme is “Female Esports Pros Hope To Close The Gender Gap” by Kotaku. That same judge had this critique:

“Good topic but the lede is buried to 02:10 when we see the non-hidden identity nonsense these women have to deal with. The piece itself misses that entirely and paints the story too broadly with LOOK AT THIS WOMEN TALK ABOUT BEING WOMEN and offering little context or journalism around that perspective.”


  • Context is important
  • Putting the lede/nut front-and-center is important
  • Submitting entries to the correct categories is important

So, a few entries hit the mark in terms of not only submitting to the right place, but entering stories worthy of the “excellence” title. Check them out.

Best eSports writing 2017

eSports intersect the Kunkels with the big leagues.

For the first time in Kunkel history, all three judges agreed on their top placements.

Excellence in eSports Writing is a brand new category with a lackluster opening night. There were only seven entrants, but despite that the judges found three they felt were more than deserving of a placement.

They all agreed the eSports category was broad — it allowed both feature and news stories. That broadness was a benefit.

“eSports definitely benefited from not having a feature and news divide,” said out judge Gideon Grudo. “Same content, very different. eSports seems to be one of the highest grossing things in the gaming world, so mainstream newspapers are putting more resources into it. We may see more mainstream publications entering into these categories.”

Those mainstream publications Grudo’s talking about include The Rolling Stone and ESPN.

The broadness also benefits people submitting entries — one thing we learned from the Excellence in News Reporting and Excellence in Feature Writing categories is that some entrants honestly don’t know the difference between the two. As one judge points out, “Seeing the diversity in entries in the category may encourage readers to understand why there is a news/feature divide in the first place.”

Overall, the judges were pleased with this new category.

“We got really cool stuff to dig into and I’m really glad we did it.”

Before we dig into the winners, I have to acknowledge a potentially-perceived conflict of interest. For the sake of transparency: One of our judges, who at this point remains anonymous, had a brief working relationship with the second place winner of this category in the past. More explanation on that transparency here.

Fortunately for our judge, there’s no monetary value in winning a Kunkel Award — meaning there’s no incentive for being biased. That is, unless you count the certificate we give to first place winners.

So without further ado, the winners for the Excellence in eSports Writing are…

Best college gaming journalism 2017

Which college journos made the honor roll?

One student publication submitted 50 entries to the Excellence in College Gaming Journalism category.

Don’t submit 50 entries.

If the judges feel that one article is wasting their time, then you sure don’t want to waste their time 50 times. Especially if the pieces lack sourcing, balance, clarity — basically anything journalistic. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy you submitted to the Kunkels. That being said, my advice is to be more selective.

What the judges did take away from going over the 50+ entries is the apparent lack of resources going to students seeking careers in gaming journalism.

Here’s an example: One student publication, Byte, submitted several single-source stories of three paragraphs. Here’s one lede:

Esports has had a hard time gaining traction on the sports scene, particularly here in the United States. ESPN’s showing of a DOTA 2 tournament was met with significant backlash back in 2015. This may be set to change however, as the Olympic Council of Asia has decided to introduce esports as a “demonstration sport” next year, and a medaled event in their 2022 Asian Games.

An advisor — or at least an editor — should have caught the bold claims not backed up with sourcing and data. Show us how eSports “has had a hard time gaining traction” and tell us more about this mysterious ESPN DotA 2 tournament.

The editor (or advisor) should have also set a standard of more than one single, lone, asocial source. This singular source was a press release — no human interaction required on the journalist’s part.

Since it’s so apparent that advisors and editors weren’t looking out for these basic journalism necessities, overall the judges felt college newsrooms were not holding gaming journalism to the same standards as they would for news, features and sports.

If the gaming stories aren’t being taken seriously by college journo editors and advisors, then the writers won’t improve in a meaningful way when they (hopefully) transition to a real-world newsroom.

“Games may be relegated to lower priority [in the college newsroom] and that may be fine for them, but it’s not fine for people looking to pursue careers in gaming journalism because they’re wasting their time and they can’t get jobs from this,” said Gideon Grudo, the one and only out judge of the Kunkels.

He continued: “I would hope student journos are getting experience from this and not taking it any less seriously than any other story. Serious reporting is needed and student newspapers should put resources into this just like anything else.”

Another judge agreed, but made it clear not all of the blame lies on the newsroom; writers need to go above and beyond to ensure they are learning the tools for success.

“You get out what you put in. If you’re not demanding assistance and guidance you need as a student pursuing these fields, you’re not going to get it.”

Without further ado, here are the winners for the Excellence in College Gaming Journalism category…

Best news video 2017

Cut to the chase.

The Excellence in News Video/Streaming category had a rough start. There were six entries — and according to the judges, too many struggled to get to the point.

“I would have liked to see an entry that telegraphed the essentials in the first 15 percent,” said one disappointed judge. “Maybe it’s a personal flaw, but I don’t like being strung along and forced to wait through an entire video to understand what the point is going to be.”

When writing news stories (including videos), a best practice is to start the piece by stating the purpose of the article in the very beginning. Some journos call this the nut — the most important bits of the story bundled up nicely in an introductory sentence or paragraph. It usually follows a lede, an opening sentence meant to draw the reader in.

“Call me old-fashioned, but especially when you’re tackling a lot of data or numbers I feel like the approach should be: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you just told them. (In detail, this time.),” that same judge explained.

“In other words, counterintuitively, you give the conclusion very early and then spend the rest of the time backing it up and reiterating it. If you just start slogging through a bunch of numbers without giving a reason to care, don’t expect me to follow very far.”

As a holistic critique of the entries, our non-anonymous judge Gideon Grudo had this to say:

“Presenting opinion as news is misleading and unethical. Generalizing the activities of journos is bad. Generalizing anything is bad. Stick to what you know, report it.”

In other words: Don’t state opinion as fact. Don’t make wide-sweeping claims which can’t be proven and present them as facts. If you have an opinion to share, clearly identify it as an opinion.

“Analysis, observation, and speculation are necessary and totally acceptable, as long as they’re introduced, described, and attributed as such. That’s a big part of the value any person can offer any other person, in any context by which one person has spent the time to look into a topic the other person hasn’t. Also, everything I just said is my flawed, biased, and personal opinion.”

Choosing a winner for this category was tough for the judges. Two of the judges put one piece in their top three — out judge Grudo picked no winners at all. Considering the disparate opinions, the judges agreed, no placements will be awarded. But there is one honorable mention…

Best feature writing 2017

Put your best foot forward.

The biggest takeaway from the Excellence in Feature Writing category was this: First impressions are everything.

“Some of these pieces bury fun quotes. They’re not selling it.”

When doing a feature story — or any story — it’s so important to give readers a reason to care. When you write your lede and nut (the introductory information in your article), you should write something compelling and accurate so readers are drawn in.

What you shouldn’t do is make sweeping generalizations while saving all the good bits for later.

One example is “Superman Returns: What went wrong” by Matt Paprocki of Polygon. The judges felt the journo buried amazing quotes behind a lede that made too many assumptions. Here’s the intro:

Three years after Grand Theft Auto 3 defined the modern open-world action game, EA Tiburon — better known as the team behind Madden NFL — set out to try its own take on the genre. The target: a free roaming superhero simulator based on Bryan Singer’s blockbuster movie, “Superman Returns.” Many had high hopes.

One judge cited a point in the article that would have been a more striking way to start the story.

“There’s a quote about Warner Bros. having problems with Superman’s groin size. That’s interesting. That should be up higher.”

Here’s the quote:

“We would send renderings of Superman, and we would get images back from Warner Bros. with his crotch area circled, ‘Make this part bigger; make this part smaller.’ This went on for months. Somebody trying to get the right balance of, ‘Well, I can see he’s got something but we don’t want to make it too big,'” says the team leader.

This was one of many entries with the same trend of foibles. Fortunately, there were three that made the cut.

Note that one of our judges stepped away from judging this category. They’re sitting out because they know one of the entrants beyond a work-related acquaintanceship. Read about why they’re recusing themselves here.

Best news reporting 2017

Winner takes all.

With a mere 10 entries, the Excellence in News Reporting category didn’t have a lot to choose from. Based on what the judges read, though, they were able to pick out three stories they loved — all from one writer.

The reason? Several stories were ruled out for being opinion and feature, and the remaining did not stand out to the judges as much as one writer’s three stories did.

“If we’re all choosing the same person, our critique isn’t going to be about the writing style — it’s about the story and the reporting,” one judge stated at the get-go. “We can focus on the journalism.”

And as they discussed the journalism, they noticed a curious coincidence. Each of the three pieces hit three different archetypes of news reporting.

“I feel like the journo and these three pieces hit these three really cool corners of journalism: The breaking news one, the super-in-depth-hardcore-tons-of-reporting-didn’t-sleep-a-lot reporting and the journalism about journalism.”

That being said, they wanted to clarify the pieces weren’t picked because they hit three archetypes; the decision was coincidental.

“While it’s important to make the point that news reporting has multiple paradigms, it’s also important to distinguish that we didn’t pick these winners to make that point. We just picked the ones that were best.”

The judges did just that — selecting the top stories they felt rocked.

“I love it. I love it. And I think it’s a really nice testament to how there are different ways to do news. There’s not just one archetype.”

The story that takes first place is investigative and battles misinformation. Those are traits that the judges commend, and want to see more of.

“We have to highlight any journalist that’s fighting that battle — the battle against misinformation. This is one of the most important battles today. It’s one of the most fundamental wars occurring right now. I’m so happy we have the opportunity to highlight that and be able to reward it.”

“It shows that as a journalist you have to be on your toes and be willing to adjust to any situation and write accordingly,” another judge agreed.

Pissed off that one journalist took all three placements? That’s okay. Here’s a solution: For next year’s Kunkels, remember to submit your favorite stories to their appropriate categories. That way, our judges have more than just ten stories to base their decisions on.

Time for transparency.

New judge, new complications.

My name is Brittany Ferrendi, and I am the director of the third annual Kunkel Awards for video game journalism. Before I was a director, I was a judge in the second year. Since getting my “promotion” (quoted because I’m an unpaid volunteer, so unfortunately there’s no raise or company car), we needed a replacement.

That replacement was appointed by Michael Koretzky, the founder of the awards and the director for the first two years. At the time, I was still learning the job — and the gaming journo community — so I didn’t mind that he found someone he felt fit the role and cleared it with the other judges. Hey, one less thing to worry about is nice.

That judge is a gaming journalist. In fact, they’re the first gaming journo we’ve ever had as a Kunkel judge (I wrote a few gaming pieces here and there, but I wasn’t in the industry). Previously, all our judges were professional journalists outside of the gaming press, all with a varying understanding of it.

Since the judge is a gaming journo, that means they know people in the industry — including some journalists nominated for the awards. If you’re in the gaming journo community, you’re bound to meet other people in the biz. You can’t help who you know, but you can control how you affect these connections.

Having someone in the industry may come off as a perceived conflict of interest. That’s why I will be transparent. When the judge knows a journalist who’s been nominated, I’ll clearly state it, especially if they are a finalist. I’ll also use my discretion to sit them out as a judge if they know an entrant beyond a work-related acquaintanceship.

Winning a Kunkel Award isn’t about who you are; it’s about what you write. It won’t matter that you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 if your articles lack any trace of journalism. The judges know that, and I trust them to keep personal feelings away from the judging process.

The judging for the Kunkel Awards is nearly over. Stay tuned to see our winners.

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



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