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Sony bullies Kotaku, then apologizes

Filed under: PS3 | Sony
Posted by Allison on March 2, 2007 11:15 AM
Comments (0) |

If your sensors were on yesterday you should have noticed a massive disruption in the forcefield that protects the video game blogosphere, as Kotaku, one of our favorite sources of video game news, found itself blackballed by Sony. Ah, but the story does have a happy ending, where the blogosphere fought back and Sony apologized, but the fact that any of it happened at all is both bizarre and telling.

First, a little history. Earlier this week the executive director of the Game Developers Conference, Jamil Moledina, made the announcement that PS3 owners will be "very happy" next week when Sony's Phil Harrison gives his keynote address at the GDC. Despite the fact that many of us think the most exciting announcement anyone at Sony could make at this time would be one of resignation, it obviously implied Harrison's intention to unveil something new and great for the PS3.

Since Kotaku's editor and main contributor, Brian Crecente, is an actual journalist, he opted to do some journalistic research and found some fairly solid evidence that Sony is about to launch something called "Playstation Home", a social networking and achievement application. Crecente wrote up the article, titled it Rumor: Sony To Unveil PlayStation Home, and made clear in his writing that this was a rumor, although a well founded rumor.

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A short time later, Kotaku was updated with a new story, Sony Blackballs Kotaku. In this story, Crecente revealed that he opted to publish the piece despite warnings from Sony that, if he did publish the rumor, Kotaku would be blackballed.

Specifically, they said we would be asked to return our debug PS3, uninvited from all meetings scheduled with Sony at GDC, including one on blogger relations and a one-on-one with Phil Harrison, and that they would no longer deal with us.

Once the story was actually published, Sony followed through on its promise, and Dave Karraker, the senior director of corporate communications at SCEA, sent Crecente a letter which included the following:

I am very disappointed that after trying to work with you as closely as possible and provide you and your team with access and information, you chose to report on this rumor.... I can't defend outlets that can't work cooperatively with us.

So, it is for this reason, that we will be canceling all further interviews for Kotaku staff at GDC and will be dis-inviting you to our media event next Tuesday. Until we can find a way to work better together, information provided to your site will only be that found in the public forum.

Crecente responded with a very professional e-mail:

Dave, Obviously I disagree with your decision, but it sounds like your mind is made up. I think this only highlights the differences that PR people and journalists have. My interest is not in making sure that Sony has positive news or that the timing of their news is correct, my job only is to inform the readers of news as quickly and accurately as I can. Hopefully, one day this dispute will settle down and you will reopen communication with us. Know this, while I disagree with this decision and think it is a monumental mistake, it will not effect our continuing coverage of Sony and the gaming software and hardware your company makes and supports.
Take care, Brian

And, with that, the blogosphere was on fire.

Who does Sony think it is, punishing journalists for actually doing their jobs? The mainstream media reports on rumors all of the time. Whether they are political (The U.S. has already begun Iran invasion), personal (Barak Obama's ancestors may have owned slaves), Britney-based (Britney steps out with ring on wedding finger, or technological (NVIDIA to Launch GeForce 8600 Series on April 17th), rumor-based reporting is a valid, and an arguably necessecary, form of reporting. The key, of course, is to make sure the rumors on which you report are actually valid, or else your readers will lose faith in your reporting, and will stop reading.

As mentioned before, this story does have a happy ending. The news sped across the internet within minutes, bloggers blogged, online magazines and newpapers reported, and Dave Karraker realized the error of his ways and called Kotaku. Since Brian Crecente is an actual journalist, a professional, and and all around good guy, he thanked Karraker for calling him, said they agreed to disagree but realized gamers are best served by a happy relationship between Sony and Kotaku, and he was ultimately re-invited to Sony's press evenets.

With all of this being said, I am left quite annoyed with Sony. Crecente did his job, and, for that, he was blackballed. Why? Does Sony not like the idea of a video game press? Would they prefer a controllable outlet to feed press releases and feel good news? Of course, with the beating they've received over the past couple of months over the disappointing PS3 launch, the animosity is understandable, yet clearly misdirected. Everything that has failed regarding the PS3 is Sony's fault. And, it's now my suspicion that Crecente's reporting of the "Playstation Home" was too flattering. Perhaps Sony won't be able to live up to the product Crecente described, and the knee jerk response came from fear of, yet another, failure.

No matter what the reason, Sony has come out the loser in this battle. And, if the company doesn't get its act together, it's going to come out the loser in the larger battle of the console wars.

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