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Episode 27: Hashinshin Unedited Edition ft. Steven Asarch and John Danek

Imad Khan July 27, 2020 38


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It’s been a rough few days for esports website InvenGlobal. Last week, Inven published an interview with Robert “Hashinshin” Brotz. The interview was unedited. The massive story was a large rant by Hashinshin to clear his name of wrongdoing following allegations — with some serious evidence — of him grooming minors. To get the interview up, InvenGlobal made an agreement with Hashinshin to run it unedited. This, of course, has some ethical qualms as the interviewee was dictating editorial processes.

Reporter Steven Asarch has covered the streamer and influencer space extensively when he was at Newsweek. He’s interviewed those that have had serious allegations made, and through thorough interviewing, was able to put together fair stories that depicted the events in a clean and professional manner. Asarch was speaking to editors at InvenGlobal after the fallout from this piece, and brought his insights to this episode.

John Danek of The Hard Drive Magazine too came on the show to talk about satirical journalism. Exactly how do those funny headlines at The Hard Drive come together and why comedy is an important part of the conversation.

Transcript:

SPEAKERS: Imad Khan, John Danek, Steven Asarch

Imad Khan  00:05

What’s up everybody, this is FTW with Imad Khan. I’m your host Imad Khan. And joining me today is reporter Steven Asarch. And later on we’ll have john dannic of The Hard Drive Magazine to talk satirical journalism. Esports publication InvenGlobal published an interview with Robert “Hashinshin” Brotz last week, as Hashinshin was banned from Twitch last month after accusations came forward of him grooming minors. The interview was largely unedited and sprinkled with editor notes help give context. It was panned by other journalists and there were demands for the interview to go down which it subsequently was. So Steven, why did invent publish the story the way it did?

Steven Asarch  00:40

So invent published the story in an interesting way. So they published I think, two different stories. They did their first story, which was just the accusations and then updates, which was fine. But then from what I’ve been able to discern from the copy and from the writers tweets, Hashinshin wanted the story on edited and posted the way he said it online. And instead of using your editorial leverage and realizing that is a bad idea, they just ran with it and posted this massive 10,000 word Q&A that bounces all over the place and includes every single line of dialogue has lols has editor notes and personal voice which just means that the writer was doing the editor notes, so wasn’t the editor. And they just published it. There was just this mess that like allowed someone who’s been accused of child grooming with fairly concrete evidence, all things considered to just be able to share his side of the story. And that’s not how you cover this stuff properly. If you’re gonna cover sexual assault cases online, you need to use the victims first, and then use the ones who have been accused quotes to back up what they’re saying or allow them to defend themselves. Hashinshin should not have been the main for pocus of this story and shouldn’t have just been allowed to say whatever he wants. there needed to be more editorial oversight, which is why I’m happy the story got taken down and will hopefully be reworked.

Imad Khan  02:28

You know, just to kind of play devil’s advocate. If CBS publishes an interview with President Trump, unedited, you know, they don’t get penned all across the press. So why is this situation different?

Steven Asarch  02:40

Well, there’s multiple different ways. First of all, an unedited interview is still probably edited for brevity and still cut down to you know, get rid of the lols and the umms and all of that other stuff. They’ll probably when it comes to Trump, they would keep it pretty secure, but it just that’s not how you do it. Also, Trump’s not being accused in those interviews of being a sexual groomer and if he is then yes post the, the interviews every way. But I think it’s it’s way different way, way, way, way, way, way, way different. Hashinshin is a guy online who’s popular in a very niche community that also happens to be toxic known as the League of Legends community. Hashinshin has built his career on being toxic, working alongside Tyler one and the rest of the bros squad to grow their brands and Hashinshin used that brand to try and groom underage women, allegedly to you know, send him nude pictures, which he asked for every day it seems. A political figure having all of their words quoted in a story is very different than having a League of Legends Twitch streamer, quoted verbatim on a Korean Reddit’s American esports website.

Imad Khan  04:01

So I mean, what does this say about invest global as an organization if they were able to let this publish?

Steven Asarch  04:05

look, event global is they have their hearts in the right place. I’ve talked with Nick the editor many, many times I talked to him about this story. We’ve we’ve known each other for years, I truly believe that they have their hearts in the right place. But because esports journalism in general, is a very hobbyist industry. And by that I mean, people who write about esports are usually hobbyists or gamers turned into writers rather than journalists trying to cover the esports space. And that’s a lot of the people who are at Inven, like Nydra, the writer of the story has been working on smaller esports websites for decades. I don’t want to say decades but probably years, I believe, probably a decade. He was a Gosu Gamers he was the first editor I ever had for a story and it’s a ragtag group of people who are just trying to do good esports coverage, and Nick really wants to do these larger expose stories about esports scandals, but without the proper training, and without the proper knowledge needed to, you know, figure out how to approach this stuff, you’re not going to do it right. And I think that is what caused them to fuck this up so royally.

Imad Khan  05:21

I mean, yeah, then the only thing that comes to mind is, you know, why hasn’t invent gone after hiring, you know, editors and writers with proper journalistic experience and education.

Steven Asarch  05:31

I mean, they’ve tried, it’s just, you know, a writer with a certain criteria and a certain level of respect in the field is going to want a certain amount of money. And, you know, this is still a fairly small esports website that may not be able to afford a writer who wants to be paid enough money to, you know, thrive in the industry.

Imad Khan  05:52

The last time I had somebody from invent global on this show, it was Nick D’Orazio. And you know that that interview is probably different or more different. than any other interview I’ve had during this podcast, it was very contentious. If CBS came forward, like, let’s use Trump as an example and said, Oh, I love Trump. And I think the media has been unfair to them. So let me defend him. You know, I think the general outcry I’d be like, What do you mean, you love Trump? You shouldn’t really love any politician, you should just be reporting on them.

Steven Asarch  06:21

Well, I think you have a fairly traditional view of what journalism is supposed to be. Not personality driven, not opinion driven. And Nick is an editor and Nick has also been writing for a really long time since the Starcraft days. He’s been in the esports space for a really long time and has earned his stars and you know, he he might be more personality driven, and he might share his opinion, and that’s totally fine. I don’t think that really came into factor in this sort of thing. I really just believed that it was a lot of people who weren’t properly trained on this sort of coverage, trying to do something and make a name for themselves without understanding the full scope and complicated nature of this coverage. Like for my Onision stories, I interviewed Onision, I still have an hour and a half interview with Onision that nobody’s ever heard where all he does his backpedal and try to blame himself. I mean, tried to blame others instead of himself. And what I went and I listened to this thing, I could have just published it, it would have gotten mad clicks, but it didn’t feel right. It didn’t seem right. It didn’t tell the whole story. So then I reached out to all of the victims and realized interviewing them and telling their stories with anecdotes from Onision gets a better perspective of what’s happening and helps empower the victims, rather than just bring them down. I think as I keep saying their hearts were in the right place, but they just didn’t have the proper training and the right implementation to create a narrative that properly showed the light on Hashinshin.

Imad Khan  08:03

Well, not the story has been taken down. I mean, what were some other glaring issues beyond just the lols and the unedited nature of the of the interview?

Steven Asarch  08:13

Well, allowing Hashinshin and also Nydra like put like that he put his like questions in the story. Like, that seems weird or like, you know, he was like, what about this like, like, it felt like I really gotcha sort of thing. And that really felt grimy to me. Like, your goal isn’t to get I gotcha, you fucked up. Ahahaha! The goal is to tell a story properly, using the quotes and timeline to create a narrative. Not look how smart I am, you know, I can’t be wrong on this. It really it really felt odd. And, you know, as I said, the editor’s notes that covered personal voice. Like that’s just a simple thing. These are these are things that you you figure out, you know, over time. This is felt like you know, Nydra’s ego kind of getting in the way of telling an actual story. And you know from his responses on Twitter, it shows that he’s like yeah, I think I might have screwed up but at the same time my intentions with the story were really good.

Imad Khan  09:18

Then where does Inven go from here? Can they can they fix us?

Steven Asarch  09:22

I mean, it’s at this wasn’t a massive massive scandal outside of us and the small esports journo space it really didn’t like permeate. This was more like an ethical issue rather than like a massive massive fuckup this is you know, the Hashinshin drama is is you know, relegated to livestream fails and they they’re not gonna read a 10,000 word Q&A. Well, they’re not gonna read a 2000 word interview. I think invent is fine. I think they really need to learn from this. And never post in accusers Q&A story without proper context or editing. You can’t just put quotes from the victim. In that’s not it’s not good enough. You really have to write a story. You can’t just share someone if you wanted to do that they should do a podcast and then you could like implement you know the the stories of the victims in there if you want to do it but even then I would disagree with the logic. It’s you have to learn to put your ego aside when covering this stuff. You are not in the story.

Imad Khan  10:25

Yeah. And you shouldn’t let the interviewer dictate your editorial processes.

Steven Asarch  10:30

I mean, that was just that was so ridiculous. When the response to why we had this well, who shouldn’t shouldn’t ask for it. Cool. Has shichon can ask for a gold plated toilet. You tell him no. It’s your job to be able to properly you know, tell these guys off. That’s that’s not happening bud. My job isn’t to be your PR. My job is to tell the story to people that want to know this story.

Imad Khan  10:54

Exactly. Right. Yeah. I mean, you’re you’re, you’re servicing the reader and if the reader cannot, you know, go Completely discern a few things, one that the interviewer is dictating the editing processes. And then the reader cannot discern the copy itself because it’s so bloated and messy, like you’re failing at your job as a journalist of just making things clear and concise for people who need to know the information they need to know.

Steven Asarch  11:16

Yeah, the story absolutely failed. When it came to what they were trying to do. There’s no doubt in my mind, like I told this to Nick. The editors really needed to step in and be able to see the forest for the trees, like be able to take a step back and realize, hey, this story isn’t exactly how we wanted it. It’s bloated, it’s messy. No one’s gonna read the 10,000 words, it felt so click driven. And from my conversations with Nick and those people, it’s the website really isn’t click driven. So it doesn’t really make sense why they went this approach. That’s, that’s, that’s my official professional response.

Imad Khan  11:53

Well, we’ll see where it goes from here and what they do to republish the story. Thank you so much for jumping on Steven.

Imad Khan  12:03

And now we’re joined by John Danek of the hard drive magazine. When you think of websites at parody news outlets the onion might come to mind or maybe the Borowitz report by Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker. Well, video games never really had that satirical outlet until The Hard Drive Magazine. A spin off of The Hard Times, The Hard Drive has given us hilarious headlines like racist JRPG fan casts heal on entire party whenever black character injured whore, Doxxed Naughty Dog employee thankful to never be home. What makes these headlines so clever and biting as a way in which in just a few words, it’s able to encapsulate multiple issues. Like how angry fanboys doxx video game developers or how devs are often overworked so they’re never home to begin with. headlines like these are layered, which makes the sting all the more satisfying. So John, as writer for The Hard Drive, what is the process of putting together one of these stories?

John Danek  12:50

So The Hard Drive, the crux of any article is the headline. The headline is the thing that anybody sees before they click. It’s the idea that encapsulate It’s the humor of an article. So at Hard Drive, we pitch based on the headline alone. And if you’ve read multiple Hard Drive articles, you’ll see that they’re kind of like a few popular formats. There’s an there’s the opinion piece, there’s the standard new style kind of parody. So then the idea the joke behind the headline that could see gets flushed out over a few paragraphs after that.

Imad Khan  13:27

And then what is kind of like the back end editorial process like in that so for example, it was announced today that G4TV is coming back and you know, maybe a joke could be, you know, G4TV returns with 40 hour blocks of cops reruns or something right. So is it like very collaborative? Do you guys like work together on trying to like hone that joke or is it like the individual just kind of like goes for it.

John Danek  13:48

It is very collaborative. Usually, whenever there’s a bigger news event, like this G4 announcement or say like the PS5 announcement, there’ll be a concerted effort to get something published as soon as possible. So then whatever team members are available at the time, will kind of concentrate on that topic and just pitch dozens of ideas and see what sticks.

Imad Khan  14:11

I also noticed is that, you know, for example, a lot of, let’s say video game websites, they might just focus on video games, or esports websites might focus on esports, and like influencers and YouTubers and whatnot, but the hard drive kind of goes after both, whereas IGN might just cover the video game industry alone. So at the team, like are you guys noticing that esports stories involving let’s say, ZeRo or Ninja, these top players do just as well as stories that are taking jabs at Sony and Microsoft?

John Danek  14:35

That’s a good question. I as a as a contributor don’t have direct access to the numbers of the individual articles, but you can kind of track these things by seeing how well they do on social media. Those kind of give you a better indicator, and sometimes it’s it’s almost random, maybe a certain topic hits on a certain day when something is happening in that world. And it seems to blow up more than you would expect or we’ll have an article that we think is just going to crush and that it kind of comes out to more tepid response. So I don’t know that we’ve seen much in terms of esports versus insider industry versus retro gaming. But I do think over the least in the long term in the past three years esports has risen in its popularity and become more of a mainstream factor. And I think the numbers on the average overall reflect that.

Imad Khan  15:26

And you know, when it comes to the headlines that you write, you know, do you ever get attacked for some of these headlines that might be critical of people who generally dislike the video gaming industry ever made me dislike kind of the politics within the video game industry? You know, people who think it’s like too liberal. And, you know, I feel that The Hard Drive to in itself, it’s like taking a jab at these kind of hardcore gamers that maybe take things a little too seriously.

15:48

You definitely have haters with anything that you do in front of a large audience. But I think in general, we’re kind of helped by by two factors regarding that. One, is the fact that we are admittedly like a source of comedy. So I think just that kind of deflates a lot of people’s anger towards what the true message may be of an article or a headline, if it were just straight reporting and very earnest sincere opinion pieces that would probably have more of a negative backlash. But the second is the fact that we are unapologetically progressive with kind of our political stances. We’re inclusive of all gender identities, sexual orientations, races, and kind of fight for that, and hope to reflect that in our work. So I think it’s pretty clear to most people from the outset, so I don’t think anybody’s expecting us to have a kind of regressive or incredibly conservative or I don’t know, hateful, stereotypical, whatever kind of perspective in our articles. So I think the audience kind of kind of knows what they expect from Hard Drive.

Imad Khan  16:55

And you don’t like some of these headlines that you’ve written. This is not game related, but it’s it’s some So bitingly specific that I kind of wonder how you came up with it where it’s like we sit down with the composer, he only uses distorted bass notes to make soundtrack for YouTube conspiracy videos. Like, how does that come about?

John Danek  17:13

That came about because whenever quarantine started a friend from my hometown in Pennsylvania, posted a link to a conspiracy video. And I was like, how, how do people fall for this? How do people fall for just obviously user made videos that make statements with no verifiable sources or reliable sources? And then I started thinking about how they’re like, kind of these signature aspects to these videos that you can find, regardless of topic and one is like, the music is always this very serious, minor key kind of ambient, electronic with a lot of heavy bass, so I kind of harped on that aspect of it.

Imad Khan  17:52

Yeah. And then, you know, do you ever, I guess to what extent like, Is there like some kind of reporter within you that’s like, I got to find the actual composer and interview this guy.

John Danek  18:00

Kind of within hard drive in hard times, which is really the parent site and organization, we kind of avoid realism. So I don’t know that we would ever actually sit down and talk with somebody with one exception. And that’s we have a vertical called Hard Noise. And that’s for actual real music journalism. So that we’ll have interviews, but that doesn’t have the satirical comedy aspect to it.

Imad Khan  18:23

You know, why are places like The Onion or the Borowitz Report or The Hard Drive? Like, how is that stuff important to journalism and the way we interpret the world around us?

18:32

I think it’s important because in the modern era, comedy has become such a necessary part of communication. Whereas I think back to like, say the 1800s you see a picture from somebody from the 1800s never smiling. I don’t think people made that many jokes. If you if you look for like what was considered comedy back then like plays, they don’t. They don’t hold up today and the way comedy has become so widespread from mass media, and social networks and the internet at large. I feel like points can sometimes be made more effectively through comedy than just sincere, direct persuasion, or debate. There’s a little magic trick that comes with making a good joke where you hit the reader with a surprise instead of being upfront about it. And sometimes that can that can make the point you’re making more clear almost.

Imad Khan  19:25

No, I you know, I’ve seen the recent trend of you know, whether it be Last Week Tonight with John Oliver or Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. Or what’s the other one? The the one with Samantha Bee, the name completely…

John Danek  19:38

Full Frontal.

Imad Khan  19:39

Yeah, Full Frontal, right. It’s all really good stuff. But I’m just like there’s been an explosion of these like comedy news shows. And it’s all and you know, my the way I interpret it is because the news journalism has to be by its very nature, bland or drab, or then it’ll be accused of bias or malpractice. You know, the comedians they can they can ask Front say that you know, we are biased because we aren’t news. Therefore, we can kind of like be more real in our interpretation of the events where maybe most news outlets try to say that, oh, no, we’re just the purveyor of information, it’s for you to interpret.

John Danek  20:14

Yeah, I think you’re onto something there. And I think that viewers today appreciate that honesty in a way that maybe traditional news sources might claim to be fully objective, or balanced, which is impossible. Anytime a human is making decisions. It’s not objective. The comedic news programs are upfront about where they stand and what their perspective is. And I think people appreciate not kind of being lied to or talked down to

Imad Khan  20:43

Yeah, I definitely feel that American journalism. They’re still very wooed by the idea of objectivity and to show kind of like, No, there isn’t bias when you compare it to maybe British journalism. There is that like constant tinge of my opinion is backing all of this. And, you know, it’s, I’m still kind of mixed on it, I still think the American model is better, because I think it will ultimately last longer through like the course of history. But clearly, it’s like people aren’t trusting the news to begin with. Or there’s so many people that are very distrustful of the news. So

John Danek  21:16

I know what you mean. And what I am looking for information about a big news story, my go to source tends to be Reuters. Because I do think out of all the massive news organizations, they tend to skew closest towards objectivity, or as much as a large organization with financial interest can but it is a good question. So and I’m not too familiar with English journalism to compare to, but I believe you in the few instances I’ve seen, I think I understand what you’re talking about there.

Imad Khan  21:48

You know, there’s still so much to discuss on like how comedy and satire play a role in kind of the American experiment of press and journalism and how that all fits in. But you know, I’m really looking forward to like what The hard Drive does as, as it continues to more and more delve into the world of esports. You know, please continue writing those headlines.

John Danek  22:04

I’ll try. I’ll try to keep getting my mind through.

Imad Khan  22:08

And with that, thank you so much.

John Danek  22:10

Thank you for having me.

Imad Khan  22:13

And that was FTW with Imad Khan. If you like the show, please rate subscribe and share. To find a transcript of the show head on over to ftwimad.com. There you can also find links to our Patreon. If you’d like to follow John and the work he’s doing at The Hard Drive he can be found @JJDanek on Twitter. If you’d like to follow Steven, he’s @IAmAsarch on Twitter. If you’d like to follow my writing over at the New York Times, the Washington Post’s and elsewhere follow me on Twitter @imad. Annie Pei or producer questions about the show can be directed to her at Pei_Annie on Twitter. Joe, Domeq is our Outreach Manager and Ron Lyons is our researcher. With that, we’ll catch you guys next week.

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