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Interview with TechRaptor founder, Rutledge Daugette

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  • Interview with TechRaptor founder, Rutledge Daugette

    Here is the full text transcript of my interview with Rutledge Daugette, the founder of Tech Raptor. In it we discussed the recent controversy surrounding TechRaptor.

    Question 1: What prompted you to begin deleting and putting a disclaimer on dozens of articles in the first place?
    It’s something that we’ve been discussing for a few months now - going back through our older content that was poor in quality, and that we didn’t put enough of an editorial policy behind, which was completely on the managerial staff at the time. We had a much more lax policy on writing back then, and our editors (myself included in that) allowed things through that shouldn’t have been, and in many cases some things weren’t even edited - just published without much review.

    That’s changed completely. We have a team of editors dedicated to each part of the site, so everything goes through a review process. News, Reviews, everything. Do things still get missed? Absolutely, and we’d LOVE to be able to pay for copy editors as well - but we just don’t have the budget. We make an effort to pay our staff at the highest level we can, and since TechRaptor's initial creation we've always aimed to pay writers as much as we can afford. This has resulted in multiple restructures of our payment structure to ensure it pays both the best and fairest amount we can within our limitations.

    Question 2: Was the decision to begin deleting articles and placing a boilerplate disclaimer on others, in any way related to or influenced by the recent controversy where some game journalists and feminist activists, such as Nathan Grayson and Zoe Quinn, criticized TechRaptor after being displayed on Steam?
    Let me be clear - we didn’t do this because of Zoe Quinn, Nathan Grayson, or as I’m seeing on our feeds, “SJWs.” This is a decision that we’ve been mulling over for a while, and that we had started discussing months ago, with our policy on politically-charged content being implemented well over a year ago internally.

    At the time, the plan had stalled a bit because of the plans we’re working on with Membership, Forums, the Arcade, Single Sign On, and more - but the Steam debacle kind of reminded us “Oh shit, we still have content on the site that doesn’t really reflect our standards for writing today. We should get on that.”

    We did not make this decision because of pressure, nor did we make it because anyone asked us to. This was something that we arrived at after many hours of discussion. The recent happenings with the Steam Curator brought the discussion up again, and we continued until a decision was made. Nobody forced us, we’re not “bending the knee,” and we’re not turning our backs on ethics.

    This decision also has nothing to do with us “turning our backs on GamerGate”, but everything to do with turning our backs on editorial decisions we made in the past. In addition - a significant amount of GamerGate content is still listed on the site, untouched.

    Question 3: If the articles that have a disclaimer on them that contain misinformation, as has been the contention, then shouldn't you explain what is wrong about each article containing such a disclaimer, rather than leaving it for the reader to guess?
    We're not going to go back and change the words on an individual writer's opinion, that just feels wrong and not genuine. And to go back, explain the problem of each article, and set the record straight would take an inordinate amount of time. We would rather put that time toward moving forward with our editorial vision today than try to work through three year old articles.

    I’d also like to take chance to say that Andrew and I are working on a better Editor’s note than the one we put together originally. We realize we could have worded that significantly better.

    Question 4: What is the criteria for articles receiving the disclaimer? It clearly isn't based purely on time-frame, as nearly all of the articles by authors like Micah Curtis have such a disclaimer, whereas most articles by others during the same time period like Andrew Otton do not?
    There were a couple of main criteria that we were looking at while going back through these articles. Some of these included poor writing, implications/accusations not backed up with fact, and when we felt there was too much investment in the politics. It wasn't purely based on time-frame but we were definitely looking at articles that were published during the times of our lax editorial process.

    In regards to author-specific claims, it's understandable looking from the outside seeing that the majority of the 22 articles Micah wrote while he was with TechRaptor now have disclaimers. This is something that can, and has been, misconstrued as a targeted decision on our part which just isn't true. Looking at the content of his writing those pieces that now have the disclaimer are opinion/feature-based pieces that stray into politics or even call out others in a non-constructive way. Comparing that to Andrew's writing there are pieces of his that do now have the disclaimer, but he also wrote other news and opinion pieces that didn't have anything to do with politics.

    I’d like to address something Micah said in his video about us as well, in which he alluded that people at TechRaptor have always, and I’m paraphrasing a bit here; “had an issue with his political stance, and voiced concern about it.” His interactions between other staff is between him and that staff member, we don't regulate what they talk about or voicing their opinions with one another, nor would we want to. Heck, many of our writers aren’t even American - so we have a pretty vast range of opinions in our chat! To be clear, as well - I’ve always encouraged my writers to get gigs elsewhere because I want them to succeed, and my editors feel the same way, so Micah being published on right-wing websites wasn’t an issue.

    Question 5: Is it or has it ever been the intention of yourself or any senior TechRaptor staff to remove, hide or otherwise shy away from TechRaptor's GamerGate coverage in the past?
    No. We’ve always made an effort to ensure TechRaptor itself, publicly and from a site stance, remained neutral in the debate. Staff members, of course, are allowed to share their opinions either way and participate to an extent that remains ethical from a journalistic standpoint (i.e. no mailing campaigns, as that’s unethical for competitors to do.)

    People have said "TechRaptor wants to be IGN" and they're not completely incorrect. We want to grow in views and numbers just as anyone wants their passion projects to grow. Just because we want to get to that point where TechRaptor is a full-time job for us doesn't mean we're going to behave in the same manner as some of these larger sites.TechRaptor is not IGN, Kotaku, or Polygon, and we never will be. We will, however, continue to work to grow to their size.

    We make all of these changes with our future in mind—a future that we hope to be full of a bustling and open community of gamers that can come to our site to talk about their favorite games. We want to grow TechRaptor to become a bigger and better place to come for quality content, which is why we seek to move away from political content.

    I will say this - there were times that we got too overzealous in our coverage of GamerGate, and because of that it’s pretty dang easy to get the impression that we’ve kissed up to the movement as “a way to grow.” This was never our intention, we merely allowed ourselves to get too wrapped up in talking about issues that were incredibly important to many of our staff.

    We’ve never hidden from what we’ve done, merely apologized for any mistakes, or ethical missteps we’ve taken. We’ve always been nothing but transparent, and once again - a significant amount of GamerGate content was left untouched.

    There have been times that we've screwed up in the past, but we're only human after all, and it's good to have constructive criticism come our way. We'll never be the ones to run away from a mistake, we will accept it, apologize, and work to resolve any issue going forward. This is what we've done in the past in and it's what we'll continue to do.

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    Question 6: If there is news regarding GamerGate in the future, will you cover it and what will your standards for covering the article be?
    That depends. As we’ve stated - in early/mid 2015, we refocused the site to be Games (and tech, back then) first. What that means for us, was that if something was going to be written about, the focus had to be on games.

    For a staff person to cover something, the focus of the article needs to be on games or how the subject matter affects games or gamers. Loot Boxes? 100% a topic we want to cover, as it’s incredibly important to the consumer. Studies about games and gamers? Absolutely. What someone at another site did that was shitty? We’re going to step away from that.

    We’ve covered things that were relevant and important to gaming and the gaming industry like SPJ Airplay, the Washington GamerGate meetup bomb threats, and more. Commentary on the gaming industry won’t be going away from us, because that’s a subject near and dear to our hearts - but it will follow our standards that we’ve put in place.

    In regards to our standards, and how they’ve been in place for a while - here’s a screenshot of a pretty old e-mail we sent a staffer in regards to a piece and how we wanted to back off political pieces:

    Essentially, we want people to know that when they come to TechRaptor - they get extra value in the content they’re reading, and don’t have to worry about personal politics being injected.. Readers get what they came for - information about the games they’re interested in. We won’t interject our personal politics, we won’t mix our opinion with our reporting, but we’ll always add value to the content and you can guarantee we won’t copy/paste press releases to get things out faster.

    Question 7: After receiving some criticism from your readers regarding your recent decisions, someone used the TechRaptor Twitter account to tweet "TechRaptor doesn't have to be your publisher anymore. TechRaptor is over." Some believe the tweet may have been inflamed the situation further and could possibly be indicative that the TechRaptor editorial team does not take their concerns seriously. How would you respond to this?
    Yeah...that was me. After a few hours of taking a beating, I saw what I thought was “low hanging fruit” for a joke, and took it, and it was in bad taste. I was hoping to bring some levity to a situation that had devolved so far.

    I do apologize for that, it was not the right time.

    Question 8: Why are articles that have had the boilerplate attached to them no longer searchable on the site? How would you respond to the critique that this is little different from deleting said articles, as they are no longer accessible through your site (except via direct link)?
    That was a mistake by me. When I created the category, there’s some special settings (our wordpress has been super customized) that allow us to hide categories in certain areas. I meant to only hide it from Feeds (RSS), but I accidentally turned off Archive Pages, Front Page, and Search too, effectively hiding them completely. I thought I’d fixed search when I fixed Archive Pages, but later on realized I hadn’t.

    That’s been fixed, and you can search now.

    Question 9: Answering personally, do you believe that TechRaptor's coverage of GamerGate has been an embarrassment or a hindrance to the site?
    Personally, GamerGate gave us a lot of opportunities to move forward as a site since 2014. At the same time, our connection to GamerGate has also ran us into roadblocks with developers and potential partners over time.

    That blog post and decision is something we can point to, saying “hey, we’re not interested in politically-focused topics anymore—our focus is on games first.” Some developers don’t want to get embroiled in political nonsense either, and we don’t want them to feel the have to say no to us because of a potential for controversy on their part.

    We don’t want to be in some “clique” or get some sort of thumbs up from a group of people we don’t care about. We want to be able to succeed by continuing what we’ve been doing all along - writing about games. These days, it seems that it’s really easy to get views, grow, and be “accepted” by a new group of people by being political or sensational. So, we’ve got a hard road ahead of us because we’re not going to appease one group or another by letting ourselves or others treat TechRaptor as a platform for their political viewpoints.

    We’re not naive to think that this decision and our actions taken here won’t stop that from happening, but we do think it is important for people looking to read, write for, and work with TechRaptor to know. We want to be a gaming site, not a gaming politics site. We want new readers, companies, developers, etc to see us that way. And that is what they will see if they browse the site.

    We're not embarrassed for what we've stood for (ethics and quality), but we are embarrassed by the quality of content and the editorial standards we sometimes had then. We could have done better.

    Question 10: Do you believe that the communication by your team and your readership could have been handled better and if so how?
    Absolutely. We completely botched communication. There’s so much misinformation out there now, and no way for us to address it. If you don’t mind, I want to touch on a few things?

    * Articles Archived: 131
    * Articles Deleted: 3
    * Total Articles Published as of today: 12,350

    * We aren’t anti-gamer or anti-consumer. The only official stances that TechRaptor as a company has taken is against G2A and the idea that violence in video games causes violent people, and we make an effort to report on anything anti-consumer, and always will.
    In no way, shape, or form is this decision an attack on consumers or our readers.
    The majority of GamerGate articles have not been archived, so there are a still a wide number that haven’t been archived and that we stand behind.

    * Since early 2015 the top editorial team has remained the same, so this is not something from some sort of new “regime.” Throughout this time, we’ve be changing how we do things as we learn on the job.
    We aren’t “purging” right-leaning articles to make room for new left-leaning ones (which don’t and won’t exist because we are not interested in politics).

    * No particular set of beliefs, politics, or writers were “targeted” in the archiving. Some past writers wrote almost exclusively politically charged and sometimes sensational articles, which were caught in the archiving.

    * Quick Note: Our membership program isn’t remotely new (been in place since September 2016), and the new pricing that people are talking about on Twitter has been talked about publicly and with our Patrons and Backers since before the “Steam Debacle.” So, we’re not “scraping for money” - we’re promoting something we’ve put a lot of work into.

    * Finally, I feel I have to reiterate that we aren’t trying to appease a certain person or persons.

    Question 11: And finally, is there anything you wish to say to those who may believe that recent events indicate that TechRaptor may be compromising in regards to fairness, honesty and integrity?
    I mean, the biggest thing is that in regards to “compromising in regards to fairness, honesty and integrity” - none of that is happening. The biggest frustration in all of this is the assumption that TechRaptor is suddenly abandoning our ethics and integrity, something that’s been core to our founding since we started in 2013, just because we’ve made a change that’s been a part of TechRaptor for about a year and a half, if not longer. Our core values remain 100% unchanged.

    A few people made note that we’ve stopped using the term “Ethical” in taglines on websites and there’s a reason for that. It’s not that we’re “abandoning” ethics, but that our focus is (and has been) on “quality content,” which can be created if proper ethical standards are employed. Someone who hasn't been involved in the debate about journalistic ethics probably won't understand what “ethical” content is, but they’re absolutely going to understand “quality” content.

    In addition, this change isn’t a sign that we’re anti-gamer, and the fact that we’re pro-gamer and pro-consumer, as well as pro-developer, will never change. It’s such an important part of who we are as an outlet, I’d sooner shutter the site than abandon that mentality.


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