Hello folks. I decided to do something a little different today and wanted to introduce you to one of the two most influential men not only in my life, but also my career as a writer.
This man right here, Timm Pilcher, is responsible for my ethics as a game journalist. If you’ll jump into the Wayback Machine with me, I’ll take you back about 15 years ago to when I was a wee little nerdy pup in high school. Oh wait, I’m still a nerd. I just got cooler.
Way back in the days of yore, I took journalism in high school. It was definitely a class unlike any other. First and foremost, we were in the basement of the building. When I say basement of the building, I mean we were WAAAAAAAAAAY down in the basement. I remember descending the stairs all the way down to the bottom of the Roundhouse (fancy word for a gymnasium) to get to his class.
Mr. Pilcher was a bit of a renegade when it came to his education methods. Specifically, he didn’t care if we ate food or drank in his class. To him, it wasn’t important because us being comfortable in his classroom made it easier for him to teach, and it really did show. People paid attention. Mr. Pilcher would use light swearing around us as well (as long as it was CONTEXTUALLY APPROPRIATE to the subject matter) as part of his teaching methods, if he was telling an anecdotal story.
There has been one particular lesson that have stood out for me over the years in regards to journalistic integrity: Dealing with censorship, and the truth.
I can’t remember all the details fully, but the lesson was discussing how much trouble a particular journalist got into way back when the press more or less began. During this lesson, Mr. Pilcher was explaining to us the importance of the First Amendment, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. He explained to us that the journalist in question had written a piece about a particular individual who had a bad reputation for being a jerk in the community. Even now, I can remember what Mr. Pilcher said in the classroom:
“Essentially, he wrote that the guy was an asshole.”
We all got a kick out of that. After we settled down, he continued. He spoke about how this journalist was sued by the angry gentleman for libel. But the real kicker was the result of the case.
“So what ended up happening is that although this guy’s feelings were hurt, the journalist in question was found not liable for damages because of one key thing; the journalist wasn’t writing his opinion of how HE felt about the guy. He was writing about what other people had reported to him, and how the overall community had felt about him and was able to cite as such. The judge ended up siding in favor of the journalist because of one simple thing: The guy was, in fact, considered to be an asshole by the general public.”
This lesson has stuck with me for 15 years now. Mr. Pilcher was teaching us the importance about dealing with facts. When you’re reporting, it’s about more than just telling a story. You’re not allowed to embellish the truth or make changes to things to suit your feelings or push an agenda. That’s not what journalism is. Journalism is collecting all those facts together, putting them in a tangible spot, and letting the READERS form conclusions based on those facts.
Even then, when you’re putting together a column of news, you’re primarily there to deal with the facts. Who, what, when, where, and why. An editorial though, is different. You’re allowed to interject your own thoughts and opinions about the facts presented, without compromising the INTEGRITY of those facts. Even in an editorial, your opinion shouldn’t overshadow the facts being presented.
As a game journalist, I always held this close to my chest as I sat down to cover a story or to write a review on a game. The interesting thing about game reviews is that they are, essentially, small essays about a particular title. During my time as a game journalist, I have always made it a point to make sure that the facts of the matter always came first, and then how I felt about those facts came second.
The beautiful thing is that I didn’t just take those lessons into journalism with me, I took them into my regular daily life as well. The truth can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be very ugly. But nevertheless, no matter how we FEEL about facts, the truth must come out first. Because with the truth in front of us, we can move forward.
So, thank you Mr. Pilcher. I’m now all grown, and the lessons you taught me in high school not only made me a better writer, I also think they made me a better human being. Why do I still call him Mr. Pilcher, even though I’m grown now and he’s considered a part of my peer group?
Because at the end of the day, I knew him as Mr. Pilcher, a person who I was supposed to respect because he was an authority. But now, I call him Mr. Pilcher because I respect him as a great man and great influence over my life, and he has earned it.
So no matter what, just in case you always wondered or wasn’t quite sure if the things you said were sticking… They did. Thank you for being a great influencer, educator, and incredibly sage figure in my life. I was paying attention.