Archive for March, 2017


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…

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