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Susan, Arrête! Joystiq to close, victim of its hapless, gaffe-prone editor

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So, Joystiq is probably closing. Like a controller flung against the wall in rage after a particularly bad round of Halo, the universally unloved Joystiq will finally end its service to gaming. AOL is apparently tired of propping up the losses of a site that failed to capture the affection of the gaming public. Without meaning to puncture the respectful atmosphere or dignified cloak of mourning that surrounds editor Susan Arendt… BOOM!

I know, I know, it isn’t dignified to dance on the grave of any publication–no one in the media business rejoices at seeing other journalists out of work–but you have to admit: Joystiq had it coming, as did its hapless editor. And the good people there will, I am sure, quickly find work elsewhere.

So let’s call a spade a spade: the site has been as relevant to gaming as parent company AOL was to the internet by 1999. It’s destined to join its parent company’s “get online” CDs in the dustbin of history.  Joystiq made a song and dance about reaching its tenth anniversary in June last year, but it doesn’t look like there will be an eleventh. Re/code and its formidable editor Kara Swisher are rarely wrong about tech news; they’ve almost certainly got this scoop right.

Which makes sense. Dismal comments and share metrics suggest that the site has been essentially moribund for months, at least in part thanks to questionable editorial decisions made by Susan “reverse Midas” Arendt, who has presided over a series of catastrophes throughout her editorial career. Joystiq‘s position on major ethical issues in recent years mean it will not be missed by many readers.

Arendt herself, of course, was a high-profile member of the notorious GameJournoPros mailing list, on which prominent games journalists and editors discussed which stories to cover and, in at least one case, pressured journalists from other organisations to censor user comments about controversial industry issues.

On the list, Arendt responded to Eron Gjoni, who wrote about his experiences being cheated on and lied to by Zoe Quinn, with the words: “fuck that guy.” She also called popular and influential YouTuber TotalBiscuit a “whiny git” and suggested he had “insanely thin skin.” Despite this, TotalBiscuit tweeted #SaveJoystiq when news broke that the site was due to be closed.

It’s tough to interpret Arendt’s consistent hostility toward TotalBiscuit as anything but jealousy. TotalBiscuit made a number of videos from the Penny Arcade Expo in 2013 which did not perform well. He asked readers why that might have been. The response from Arendt was mocking and derisory.

But, you see, TotalBiscuit, having solicited advice and feedback, changed his coverage style. It worked: later videos got much higher view counts. By listening to the consumer and finding out what was wanted, TotalBiscuit thrived; Arendt mocked her customers, and is now paying the price.

Outside the GameJournoPros list, Arendt has been relaxed about badmouthing former employers on Facebook, including her bosses at Defy Media, in a series of bitchy and unprofessional remarks. Prior to Joystiq she had been editor at The Escapist, a Defy Media property. ComScore data shows that she was a commercial disaster as editor at both publications.

In Facebook messages leaked to the internet, Arendt can be seen labelling a former boss, who commenters on the internet have speculated is Defy Media’s Alexander Macris, a “chickenshit” and encouraging Escapist staff member Jim Sterling to leave the company. (He did, shortly afterward.) It’s hard to imagine who would hire such a person now, knowing what they’re likely to be on the receiving end of when Arendt moves on to her next disaster.

As reported by journalist William Usher, Arendt has in the past complained that 47 per cent of visitors to her site used ad-blockers. Well! Can anyone possibly, perhaps, maybe, if they really think hard about it, come on you can do it guys, imagine why that might be?

Could it have anything, possibly, to do with the fact that readers toward the end of the site’s life came but grudgingly, bitterly hating the fact that they didn’t have other, better options, forced to patronise a site that obviously had nothing but contempt for them and never stopped forcing its dumb opinions down their throats and calling them misogynists and dorks?

Usher himself observes: “The reality is that traffic isn’t shrinking, it’s migrating. Anyone with their finger on the pulse of the market would be at the cusp of reader attention and gamer enthusiasm. Alternatively, anyone wanting to push for social agendas and spread misinformation would only see their audience dwindle, fade and… migrate.”

I’ve noticed kind remarks in the comments here, on reddit and on Twitter from readers who say they switched off their ad blocker to visit Breitbart because they appreciate being spoken to like adults and reading coverage that more closely resembles human dialogue instead of hectoring blather from terminally anxious feminist censors.

I’m not perfect, I’m pretty new to all this, and I’ve said my fair share of mean things about gamers in the past… but I try to throw myself into this new arena with gusto. Places like Joystiq seem to have given up trying years ago. I might be new-ish to video games, but I’ve been a journalist a while now and I know phoned-in copy and broken spirits when I see them. Contrast the proactive coverage from Forbes and even Destructoid to the ad-blocker problem with Arendt’s impotent mailing list whinging.

Tired, sloppy writing at places like Kotaku and Polygon is why readers have had to forage for new voices or just give up and go to YouTube. Which is ridiculous, because it’s not like there aren’t some good writers out there. I like Forbes‘s Erik Kain, for example–though he sometimes bangs on a bit–and Slate‘s David Auerbach is very good on games. But none of them are at Joystiq, and, looking over the content there, I simply can’t imagine why anyone would bother visiting the site.

Evidently, AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong and the wider gaming population, if reddit is anything to go by, agree. Arendt has spent the last six months rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, but the ship is still going down.

Perhaps it has something to do with how Arendt treats staff who work for her. Journalist Allistair Pinsof recalls: “I flew out [to the E3 conference] and got a hotel on my own – not uncommon for most people’s first E3 – and happily worked my ass off. Susan Arendt is an awesome editor in a technical sense but I found her a very toxic person to work under.

“Maybe something about me got on her bad side, but she’d always say stuff like, ‘You know no one here likes you?’ which was pretty hurtful. And she blew up on me when I said something jokingly in a preview about being reluctant to go to a game preview but actually enjoying it. I saw it as honesty, leveling with the reader, but she saw it more as an attack against the publisher and the editor who assigned me to the story.”

Games journalism doesn’t pay, squeals Arendt in other GameJournoPros emails. Well, maybe it doesn’t, since the current crop of editors have failed so spectacularly to respond to the rise of popular, profitable YouTube channels, and because they allowed their publications to fester in corruption, low standards and overly politicised coverage for more than a decade.

But you know one other thing that probably didn’t help, Susan? I’m looking at your Twitter feed, you see, and I think I might just have worked out one more thing that sealed your fate. Taking repeated, massive, steaming dumps all over your own readers. Susan Arendt declined to comment when asked if this arrogance may have contributed to her site’s death.

To this feverish Potemkin village of new-media gaming sites who insist on regularly declaring their own readers dead and refusing to perform the basic functions of news and reviews sites in favour of hand-wringing editorials: a word of warning. The audience for such content is small; the economics of online content are not on your side.

Continue this suicidal strategy, and you may find yourselves at the sharp end of your own Re/code exclusive in the not-too-distant future.


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