Stephen Totilo has been on the job as editor-in-chief of Kotaku, Gawker Media’s video-game blog, for only one month, and he’s already taken one big risk. Yesterday, Totilo rolled over and left his belly open to the biggest pack of anti-Gawker hounds online: redditors.
In the end, he came out mostly fine.
What did it take to launch the latest Gawker-inspired controversy on the social news site? A 30-word blog post about a beard.
Penny Arcade Report recently posted the transcript of an interview with Gabe Newell, the cofounder of gaming company Valve. Newell, apparently, has begun growing a beard, a source of great delight to Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett, who filed a 30-word ode to the wispy white thing before going to bed Sunday night.
Redditors were incensed, and so was Penny Arcade Report’s editor, Ben Kuchera, who publicly criticized Plunkett on Twitter.
Not only had Plunkett taken a marathon, serious interview and reduced it to a follicular throwaway post, he’d also taken Penny Arcade’s photograph and, allegedly, removed the watermark. Redditors claimed Plunkett had essentially stolen the photograph.
In a thread that went straight to the top of Reddit’s 65,000 strong r/games section, redditor loinbread wrote: “Behaviour such as Plunkett's [Penny Arcade] Report butchery and [Brian] Ashcraft's abhorrent, titillating reporting on stories of sensationalist interest only tenuously related to video gaming wholly embody what is wrong with video game 'journalism' today.”
It’s not the first time that Kotaku has raised Reddit’s ire. Redditors have frequently accused the gaming blog of “stealing” content from Reddit, though at least one of those accusations was easily proven false.
It also doesn’t help that Adrian Chen, who’s basically Gawker.com’s Internet culture beat reporter, seems to take pleasure in antagonizing redditors.
That’s all created a virulent strain of anti-Gawker sentiment on Reddit, best encapsulated by this recent comment on the site: “Gawker sites tend to post polarizing, controversial, almost trolling articles in order to get pageviews.”
Redditors, in fact, will copy entire stories from Gawker sites, to avoid sending the network any pageviews. (It’s interesting that redditors hardly seemed concerned about “stealing” in these instances).
Totilo, Kotaku’s editor-in-chief (pictured above), is apparently quite tired of all the Kotaku hate, which he clearly believes is based largely on misunderstanding.
Totilo jumped straight into the middle of the thread in r/games and laid out his case:
“I understand that much of Reddit loathes us.
"We do strive to give credit where it is due, and when mistakes are made--or even when there is appearance of malfeasance where none was intended, as is the case with the image credit on the Gabe Newell pic—we correct things. If we ever fail to do so, I want to know about it
"I believe Reddit users have felt that we've failed to give credit for things found on Reddit. I am unaware of that ever having been done intentionally, and I also know that in some cases we have found things independently that Reddit also finds—and yet we have been accused of pilfering them from Reddit.
"It's easy to take a single article here or there and hold it up as a sign of all that is wrong with game journalism. It apparently is much harder to notice or remember the many pieces of quality games journalism that appear on Kotaku. If some of that is due to our notorious layout, that's on us. If some of that is due to occasionally off-target stories that we could have done better, that too is on us.”
Redditors followed up with tough questions, and to his credit Totilo took them on honestly.
Plunkett, too, has publicly responded to the outrage. He said the photo was cropped automatically by the site’s content management system. (That’s a common problem: the Daily Dot’s CMS might have similarly cropped the photo.) Plunkett said he went to sleep right after filing the story, and woke up to the controversy already in full swing. He fixed the photo as soon as he learned there was a problem.
In a comment to his original story, Plunkett wrote:
As absurd as it feels to type this, to anyone personally upset by my oversight, I am sorry. It was never my intent to steal content, nor to obscure the source of the image. There is, after all, a giant link to [Penny Arcade’s] piece in that post, which even when the image was incorrectly cropped was still prominent. I still should have caught the crop screw-up, though, so for that, again, sorry!
Will Plunkett’s and Totilo’s apologies help end this pointless Internet war between Reddit and Gawker?
At the very least it may have inspired a ceasefire.
As redditor locopyro13 wrote: “I wish you guys the best, and hopefully you can turn your site around. I for one won't be going back until I hear others who do venture there come back with good words, and posts like this just reaffirm my opinion of the site.”
Disclosure: Daily Dot executive editor Owen Thomas previously worked at Gawker Media, and reporter Lauren Rae Orsini interned at Kotaku.
Image via Kotaku