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Why Joystiq Was Wrong to Fire Robert Summa
posted by: Aaron Stanton
date posted: 04:43 PM Sun Sep 10th, 2006
last revision: 04:42 PM Sun Sep 10th, 2006

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Click to read.This article was originally called, \"Why Joystiq Can\'t Fire Robert Summa.\" It was a defense of what I assumed would be Joystiq\'s decision to protect one of its writers from public opinion and keep him on staff. Since then, Joystiq has let Summa go. So what started as an article on why Robert Summa shouldn\'t be terminated has turned into a retrospective editorial on whether or not Joystiq did as I would have here at GamesFirst Internet Magazine in a similar situation.

About a week ago, gaming blog and news source Joystiq.com posted a brief teaser that read, \"Major next-gen console news coming tonight.\" The \"Major next-gen\" news was actually the reporting of an embargoed IBM press release announcing that the first shipments of the Wii processor were on their way to Nintendo. The press release was, \"UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL 12:01 AM ET, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2006\" (quoted from the press release). In Joystiq\'s post, they promised that this major news was \"something worth waiting for.\"

Joystiq\'s readership took that comment seriously. Most people seemed to expect that the news would be on par with a Wii launch date. When the actual news broke at 12:01 on September 8th, people were extremely disappointed, to say the least. Accusations of headline hyping began to fly, and calls for the termination of Robert Summa, the poster of the original teaser, began appearing in the comments section of the story.

Lots and lots of calls for termination.

In response, Joystiq published a well-played public apology, and - somewhere along the line - quietly fired Summa. In his final comment on the story, Summa wrote what amounted to a public farewell F-You to Joystiq via Destructoid.com, where he clearly considers Joystiq\'s apology as a personal attack on his credibility.

So here\'s where I throw in my two-cents, and it all boils down to this: Joystiq shouldn\'t have fired Robert Summa, at least not on the grounds of this single incident. Not because Summa was in the right; he legitimately miscalculated in writing his original post, and Joystiq as a publication is going to pay the price in terms of their credibility.

However, I just don\'t believe it was a fire-able offense, not for a blog site. In fact, firing Summa degrades Joystiq\'s credibility in my eyes more than his original offense. Here\'s my reasoning: Joystiq and other similar blogging news sites have become popular because they find and report news that interests them. Without a substantial level of editorial oversight, blog writers have direct access to the readers. The individual personalities of the writers can come through, and it gives the writer power to say exactly what they want to say without pressure from outside sources. This style of independence is where blog sites like Joystiq derive their credibility, the idea that these are the people independent enough to tell you how it really is.

But mistakes happen this way.

Robert Summa posted a teaser about the Wii processor shipping from IBM to Nintendo because he truly thought it was a big deal. Nintendo has processors, he thought, so maybe the Wii is closer to shipping than we thought. The press release from IBM presented the news this same way, saying that, \"today marks the day that (gamers are) one step closer to getting their hands on a Nintendo Wii gaming system.\" That makes Summa guilty of buying a PR line, not being the mastermind of a major plot to trick readers and increase traffic. If Summa hadn\'t legitimately thought the contents of the IBM press release was significant, he wouldn\'t have presented it the way he did. This is my belief. His excitement was about something that most other people didn\'t find exciting, and his failure was in writing an over-enthusiastic headline that was too broad. I\'d guess he\'ll spend the next few years wondering why no one else seemed to see the same implications in the story that he did.

As soon as you begin putting editorial barriers between the blogger and the readers by telling writers that they\'re not allowed to express their enthusiasm - which is what happened when Joystiq failed to protect Summa from the reader backlash - then the blog loses a lot of its edge. That freedom to say exactly what they think, regardless of the opinions of an advertiser or publisher or outside influence, is exactly why sites like Joystiq have credibility at all, not why they lose it.

If this incident was the sole motivation for firing Robert Summa, Joystiq.com was wrong to do so.

Without knowing much of Joystiq\'s editorial hierarchy, it\'s difficult to judge where blame should be put. However, if there\'s an editor that exists above Summa, the blame lies on the entire chain of command for not recognizing and intercepting the situation before it went live. If the editorial hierarchy knew the headline before it went live and was unable to recognize the risk themselves, then Summa has a legitimate gripe over being treated as a scapegoat for the publication. If Summa had no editorial oversight - as is the case with most blogs - then my earlier argument holds true, that the direct writer-reader relationship is what makes blogs worth reading and that firing Summa limits that freedom by telling writers that they will be punished for being unpopular. In my opinion, that damages Joystiq\'s credibility as an independent news source as much as the misleading headline.

Joystiq\'s apology was a good move. Their readers felt betrayed, and acknowledging the mistake was an excellent way to deal with the hurt feelings. It worked for me, and I still hold Joystiq in great respect. The fact that Summa takes Joystiq\'s apology as a personal attack against his credibility in his Destructoid post indicates a biased view of the situation, but I still don\'t feel he deserved to lose his job over this position. I\'d be will to guess that there\'s also more to the story then we\'ve heard. Summa\'s letter indicates that there\'s been a continuous butting-of-heads between him and Joystiq for a while, and I\'d be willing to guess that this was the straw that broke the camel\'s back.

I\'ve always been a fan of Joystiq.com, and I continue to be. I simply hope that, whatever their reasoning, this latest incident wasn\'t their sole reason for bidding Robert Summa farewell.

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