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Apr 19, 2010

Journalistic integrity and family values...

More from guest poster Steve Davidson - Editor of 68Caliber

When I first came on board with 68Caliber there were two things that I wanted to do: first, I wanted to make the company profitable through its advertising program. This was accomplished inside of my first year; the site went from 0 advertising revenue to a pretty decent amount. That has varied over the years depending on the industry climate, but the company has remained profitable over the years.

The second thing I wanted to do was to introduce strict guidelines for the type(s) of materials that the website published.

I didn't mention it earlier, but I have a degree in English Literature and spent quite a good number of years working on newspapers in high school and in college. In later years, I worked as an editor for Paintball News; I'd also written a large number of reviews (product and events) for the various magazines (Paintball Sports, PaintCheck, Paintball News, APG, Paintball, PGI).

The problem I had personally was that I wanted to review things honestly and sometimes that wasn't possible. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with the publications I wrote for. Rather, it was the fact that those publications (with the exception of Paintball News of those mentioned) were not newspapers. They were and are promotional vehicles for the industry. Car & Driver instead of Consumer Reports. (It should be noted here that John Amodea, editor of PaintballX3, published Paintball Consumer Reports International/PCRI, for a number of years. PCRI was devoted to fair reviews of product using testing criteria like Consumer Reports does in a fair and balanced way. That publication was written all in-house, though I did write a series comparing two tournament teams for him for a brief while.)

Again, I want to stress that there is nothing wrong with what those publications did or are doing; they don't advertise themselves as newspapers, most, if not all of what they publish is good, solid info and they serve a good and valuable role for the industry.

But they aren't newspapers and that was what I wanted to be writing for. A review of a tournament (in a newspaper) should include both the good and the bad (rather than stressing the good and ignoring the bad). Present the facts and let the readers decide.

I ran head on into this difference of opinion waaaaay back in the day when I wrote a review of a first ever major national event. My coverage was generally positive (it was a very good event), but it also had a couple of problems: the paint was terrible (which everyone knew), pre-game chronographing wasn't handled all that efficiently (leading to delayed game starts) and some of the fields looked to have been set-up to deliberately stalemate games (not the case, but that was the result). I mentioned those three things as "minor quibbles" with the way the event was managed and -

- ended up hearing nothing but complaints about having written that kind of criticism of a major event for a major publication. The promoters were not happy.

I tried to explain that since I had been generally positive about the whole thing and that the inclusion of the couple of minor problems would make the article more believable and trustworthy (hundreds of people were there and saw what I saw; not seeing it mentioned in coverage of the event would tell those folks immediately that the article was PR gloss, and they'd be sure to tell all of their friends that the article didn't tell the whole story, etc., etc.)

Later, when some publications began refusing to accept "totally honest, journalistic style coverage of events", I had to resort to telling folks (players and teams with a problem) that if they didn't see an article by me, they could assume that there had been something wrong with the event. I got phone calls asking if I was going to cover something.

Once I had my own publication though, I was determined that it would become the kind of publication that I wanted to write for.

This meant establishing a couple of policies - and sticking to them.

Among those policies are:

68Caliber is a family-oriented publication. The subjects, writing, content, images & everything else have to be appropriate for whatever one defines as 'family appropriate' or 'appropriate for all ages'.

This goes a little deeper than just age though. One has to keep in mind that paintball participants come from a wide-variety of differently-minded communities, each of which has its own ideas about what is appropriate and what is not. A Church group audience might not be too thrilled with coverage of an event that billed itself as the Battle for Armageddon, for example.

Bottom line: if a parent is checking up on their kid's website visits and takes a look at 68Caliber, I want that parent to continue to give that kid permission to visit the site. I want the parent to visit the site, and I want players of all stripes to want to visit the site and find something of interest to them there.

That policy is in keeping with my general attitude about the game, the industry and where we all need to be going in order to re-stimulate paintball. Fields are the "grass roots" of the industry and I believe that we all should be doing what we need to do in order to help fields present an attractive face to the widest possible audience, and also be doing whatever we can to help transition first time players into regular players.

More tomorrow - "Paintball and X-Rated videos...???"


Reiner Schafer Apr 19, 2010, 8:43:00 AM  

Ultimately, the "good news" fluff is what turned many regular readers off paintball magazines. A more honest approachhighlighting the good but still mentioning the not so good, would have made for more interesting reading and ultimately, would more likely have sold more magazines (and maybe kept some of these magazines afloat). Would advertisers have complained? Probably. Would they have stopped advertising in the magazines? With more, rather than less readers, advertising revenue would probably have increased. Subscription and edvertising revenue both increasing would not have hurt.

Caleb Apr 19, 2010, 9:13:00 AM  

Steve, great post, I'm a big 68Caliber fan.

How about some advertising advice. I've all but stopped selling ad space on my site due to the freaks trying to beg me way down in price, trick me into promoting gambling sites, or taking three months to negotiate a deal.

Also, what's up with the long post? LOL, we are used to Mick's quick blasts/rants. It took me two reads and some ibuprofen to get through all of it ;-)

Looking forward to your next post...

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