Uber, BuzzFeed and #GamerGate

Actually, it’s about ethics in journalism.

That’s more or less the meme touted by those who mock the gamers in the #GamerGate issue. It’s cute, really, how quickly a meme can take off and, goddamn, some of it is really funny.  Actually, let me back up. It’s about ethics in video game journalism. But, hey, let’s throw the entire industry in there for some giggles.

Let’s take BuzzFeed, who has done a truly spectacular job of attacking Uber, especially with Ben Smith’s latest on the Uber guy who wants to investigate journalists that are critical of the company. That’s nuts, man. That’s Nixonian. That’s… based on an off-the-record conversation. Michael Wolff over at USA Today explains.

In an effort to argue its case with more care and professionalism, Uber has recently organized some background meetings with journalists and what are called in the PR trade, “influentials.” I was invited to one such dinner last week in a private room at the Waverly Inn in New York. In turn I asked Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor in chief, if he’d like to come as my guest.

I had understood that the Uber dinner, like other such media meet-and-greets — I’ve been to hundreds over the years — was off the record. I neglected, however, to specifically tell Smith this. And while I might have fairly assumed Smith knew the context, this was my oversight — though surely not Uber’s. I might have thought too that, as my date, he would have asked if there was an understanding — suffice to say, he didn’t ask, and likely, didn’t want to know.


At any rate, Smith apparently engaged Michael in a discussion of Uber’s frequent bad press and came away with a set of quotes, or, in fact, snippets of quotes, which had Michael saying that Uber, if it wanted to, could investigate journalists, including their personal lives. As Smith represented Michael’s conversation, much of his anger was directed at Sarah Lacy, the editor and founder of PandoDaily, a tech website.

The dinner was on Friday. On Monday, the Uber hosts called me to say they were getting questions from Smith, and hadn’t I told him this was off the record. I contacted Smith and told him it seemed unfair that Uber suffers for my lapse.

There is a lot more in this story and, suffice it to say, Ben Smith did a fantastic job of playing Gotcha! Journalism with Michael. That in and of itself isn’t entirely unethical, considering that Smith was not told ahead of time it was off-the-record. But, the nature of off-the-record conversation is such that this could very well hurt BuzzFeed in the long run. Off-the-record conversations allow a build-up of trust between source and writer and can result in solid leads later.

What is completely unethical, however, is a lack of disclosure by Smith or BuzzFeed in general that BuzzFeed’s executive chairman is a big investor in Sidecar, one of Uber’s competitors. A few BuzzFeed investors, in fact, are also investors in Lyft. Sean Davis over at The Federalist mentions this.

Ben Smith also failed to disclose his boss’s investment in Sidecar, one of Uber’s main competitors. Ken Lerer, the executive chairman of BuzzFeed, is also the managing director of Lerer Hippeau Ventures (previously known as Lerer Ventures), a New York City-based venture capital firm. Lerer, through Lerer Ventures, was an early investor in Sidecar, a ride-sharing competitor of Uber.


In his broadside against Uber’s dirt-digging executive, Ben Smith never disclosed that his boss, one of BuzzFeed’s top executives, had an ownership stake in one of Uber’s competitors. Nor is there any such conflict-of-interest disclosure in any of BuzzFeed’s numerous other hit pieces on Uber (including this one, which was posted mere hours ago).

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I applied for a job at BuzzFeed on a whim once and never heard back from them. But you can also see in my Twitter history that I’ve been (at best) skeptical of their writing/writers long before that application was submitted… Actually, now that I think about it, there may be a correlation there somewhere.]

[FULL DISCLOSURE: That is what a disclosure looks like, in case anyone from BuzzFeed reads this and wonders what it looks like. I try to be helpful. I am, after all, a teacher now.]

It’s all about ethics in journalism, and this could be something that hurts BuzzFeed. Ethics in journalism can also be hurtful when, among other things, you write a positive review of a video game developed by someone you have a romantic interest in, or whatever the stupid story is with GamerGate.

I don’t know if anyone really knows what sparked this anymore. Nor do I care at this point. What I do care about, what I’ve been made to care about, is just how awful literally everyone in this whole mess is, but let’s start with the obvious:

Yes, males who play video games are (very likely) a bit chauvinist in their views on women. And, yes, the games a lot of folks play have some questionable takes on women. Blood and boobs sell, though, folks.

It is at the very core of capitalist belief that if there is a demand, the market with try like hell to supply. This is where we get the essential things in life: market development. It is also where we get Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball. There was clearly a demand to take the bouncy boob mechanics of the Dead or Alive franchise, put them in bikinis, and call it a day. Twice. The stuff sells. So, yes, dudes who play video games can be sexist. Some of them are. Some of them (probably) bought Final Fantasy VII when it was released on Steam just for Tifa.

However awful video gamers are, though (and they are truly awful and I sometimes feel a great shame being among their number at times), that in no way excuses the behavior of the completely unethical and often totally bought out video game journalists. The core of what GamerGate should be (for those who haven’t gotten here yet) is the complete and utter reformation of the industry from the ground up. I had to swear off many of the websites where these “journalists” write long ago because 1) they are awful, 2) they are shills for gaming industry leaders, and 3) they are awful. Much like the “mainstream media,” as conservatives refer to them, are in the pocket of the Democratic Party, so too are gaming journalists. And, much like the mainstream media, they are arrogant and believe themselves to be truly better than their readers. They are, after all, the “experts.”

The “gamestream media,” as I will refer to them so my loves of politics and video games can truly be united in the most awful ways, suffers the same superiority complex the mainstream media does, and it has shown all throughout the GamerGate drama. Clearly, the ignorant, boorish neckbeards who play video games aren’t capable of understanding what it is they do.

Organizations like BuzzFeed and the video game journalism industry as a whole seem to have lost the concept of ethical reporting in favor of the Gotcha! Moments, the at-times-barely-qualifying-as-reporting stories, and snobbishness toward those that disagree with their methods. At its heart, journalism is supposed to be about telling the truth in an honest manner and maintaining your integrity as a recorder of whatever bit of history you’re covering at the moment. In sacrificing these things, they have produced fewer and fewer thoughtful pieces and more and more hits, attacks, and senseless pieces that are more masturbatory verbage than intelligent discussion.

However, I will also say this: Video Gamers and this Michael fellow at Uber really need to figure out better ways of saying words, too.


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