Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Media v. Old Media on the Red Carpet

One of the most wince-inducing bits of web content you're likely to see this week is an interview conducted by Angry Joe Vargas of the Blistered Thumbs gaming website, affiliated with the shoestring web video production company Channel Awesome. I'm not a gamer myself and tend to stay out of their corner of the internet, but I am a fan of some of the other Channel Awesome folks, and I stumbled across Vargas' coverage of the recent 2010 Spike Video Game Awards (VGAs). Apparently Vargas had been railing against the past VGA shows on his site for being exercises in corporate shilling and doing his beloved video games an injustice. Somehow he scored a press pass to this year's VGAs and was promised an interview with one of the producers, an unfortunate man named Geoff Kneightly. Do you see where this is going?

Vargas winds up at the end of the VGA press line - no surprise considering his skimpy credentials - and Kneightly only shows up briefly to give him two minutes before the show. To say the interview does not go well is an understatement. Vargas makes the amateur mistake of questioning the reputation of the VGAs right off the bat, he's antagonistic, he hasn't done his research, and he ends up losing his temper at Kneightly right there on camera. As for Kneightly, he's clearly acting like a jerk and provoking Vargas' behavior, but considering the circumstances I can't really blame him. Vargas completely misunderstood the nature of the press junket, which exists primarily for journos to collect clips for entertainment fluff pieces. It was a completely inappropriate setting for Angry Joe to be demanding answers from anybody.

The really wince-worthy part of the whole thing is that Vargas never figured out what he was doing wrong. The interview that went up on the Blistered Thumbs site a few days ago is framed by Vargas's frustrated commentary about the whole experience, a litany of tone-deaf grievances that totally lack any self-awareness. This is clearly someone who was out of his depth in the middle of a mainstream media-geared event and had very unrealistic expectations for what was going to transpire. He really thought that he'd be able to be vocally critical of the VGAs at the event itself without repercussions. But as boneheaded as I think he acted, seeing Vargas's idealism crushed into itty bitty pieces was painful to see. The question that keeps going through my head is, how on earth did Angry Joe Vargas get invited to the VGAs in the first place? What idiot press wrangler OKd that decision?

And this is where I get to the point of this post, which is that new media, which is web-based and draws its audience from the young and the anarchic, has been gaining prominence lately, but its values and milieu are so different from the traditional mainstream media, that the meeting of the two frequently leads to these kinds of clashes. In every recent matchup so far, the new media guys have borne the brunt of it. Angry Joe's VGA experience reminds me an awful lot of what happened to Kory Coleman of at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. Coleman, who has been doing entertainment reporting longer and runs a site with a bigger audience, came out of the "TRON Legacy" press junket similarly demoralized after a more extreme denial of access, which he attributed to his status as a new media figure. He also aired his grievances about the experience on his website, in podcast form, but I'm more sympathetic to Coleman. He made it clear that he understood and was trying to play by the traditional media rules, but got screwed over anyway.

Clearly the studios and the game companies want to get to the young, web-savvy audiences that these guys attract, but the success of Spill and Channel Awesome came about in part because they're emphatically non-mainstream. The Spill guys revel in off-color jokes in their film reviews and Channel Awesome content often depends as much on enthusiasm as talent. There's a massive disconnect that happens when the people from these sites come to the press junkets and similar media events, and bump shoulders with the slick, image-obsessed entertainment presenters from E! and "Entertainment Tonight" and their ilk. The new media folks come across as amateurs - and like Vargas sometimes they are amateurs - and the old guard don't know what to do with them. Angry Joe ends his video vowing to do better next time, but I seriously doubt he's ever getting invited back to the VGAs because he doesn't understand the rules of this particular game. You play nice, or you don't play at all.

The internet may have leveled the playing field as to distribution of content, but that doesn't mean that the new generation of media press is going to get any breaks from the old one, no matter how many pagehits they get. And just because a guy has a technically polished opening sequence for his vlogs doesn't mean he's any kind of professional. It's going to take a long time and a lot more stable revenue coming out of web-based content before it really does become the age of new media and guys like Angry Joe have enough clout to run off at the mouth the way he did at the VGAs with impunity. Until then, a word of advice for Channel Awesome. If there is a next time, send Lisa Foiles.

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