Tensions High At IGN After Management Claims Palestine Post Takedown Was Not Corporate Interference

Tensions High At IGN After Management Claims Palestine Post Takedown Was Not Corporate Interference
Image: IGN

The weekend before last, IGN published and then pulled a post with links to charities in support of Palestinian victims who’d been devastated by Israeli violence. This spurred over 80 IGN staffers to sign and publish an open letter decrying corporate management’s subversion of their editorial autonomy and demanding accountability. At first it seemed like staffers would get their wish. Now, however, things have taken a turn.

Today, both Vice and Fanbyte reported on an internal memo sent to IGN staff in which chief content officer and site co-founder Peer Schneider — who’d previously implied that corporate was listening to editorial’s grievances over what seemed to be corporate interference — made an about face and placed the blame for the post’s removal on editorial.

“While our post impacts everyone at our company, this is a clear editorial process and department issue and to imply otherwise is incorrect and distracts from our goal,” said Schneider according to Vice’s report, which sources, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, have confirmed to Kotaku is accurate. “We own the power and ability to resolve this.”

This version of events conveniently removes IGN owner J2 Global and publisher Ziff Davis from what was beginning to look like a very complicated equation. In an all-hands meeting yesterday, Ziff Davis president Steve Horowitz echoed Schneider’s claims, saying that “nobody else at J2 or Ziff Davis ordered the post to go down,” nor did he. Instead, he pinned the blame on editorial as a whole, suggesting that some employees were upset by “the post and by the imagery” but that they “didn’t feel comfortable speaking up.”

The solution to all of this, according to Horowitz, will involve bringing in an ombudsman. According to Vice, a team made up of volunteers who both signed and did not sign the open letter decrying the Palestine post’s removal will be responsible for selecting an ombudsman who will, effectively, hold the publication accountable.

A source further told Kotaku that the selection team will not solely be comprised of editorial staffers — instead representing “the entire IGN staff as full staff was represented in the posts” — and that it will be split proportionally so as to represent the two-thirds of employees who didn’t sign the open letter and the one-third who did. According to Fanbyte, Horowitz also used that ratio as evidence that most people at the company didn’t support the Palestine post, neglecting to acknowledge that many staffers might not want to paint targets on their own backs by attaching their names to something so openly opposed to their own bosses.

Vice and Fanbyte’s reports characterise the current mood among IGN editorial employees as dejected and demoralised, perhaps more so than ever before. While multiple IGN editorial sources who spoke to Kotaku challenged that characterisation, it does not seem like many are satisfied with how all of this has played out.

“Ziff Davis and J2 leadership has tried to absolve themselves from having any part of it, despite stepping into the situation,” one source said to Kotaku. “We’re reiterating this is about our editorial independence, as it always has been, and the continued lack of transparency around what happened with a sensitive story. Worse, the story keeps changing, and I don’t know what to believe.”

Comments

  • As much as I am passionate about this humanitarian/sociopolitical issues, at some point we have to realise that companies like IGN, are not required to have a stance on all these issues. These are companies, their main objective should be service and profit.

    Sure employees can express their views in a private capacity and maybe IGN management may show their support of that, but there needs to be some separation between corporate goals and personal freedom of expression…

    AN example, I would not expect my organisation to express any official opinion on matters like Palestine or China beyond just showing awareness and allowing me to express my views freely (unless I impact my work obviously…)

    • Sure — but on the same token, creative organisations and their teams are also allowed to take a stance on issues if they want to. And given that management and editorial leadership has supported them doing so in the past, it’s totally reasonable to expect the staff to continue to that trend into the future.

      Saying IGN shouldn’t be in the business of such a thing — well, sure, but that’s not the choice the company made. The staff also support that view and they’ve done so repeatedly in the past, so there’s no value in exploring that now. The kicker is the inconsistency in how and where that line gets drawn with what’s supported (which is an inconsistency enforced out of nowhere by management, it seems), and that’s really the problem that’s cropped up.

      • I think it’s safer for people to not talk about it on the website unless they have some personal link or involvement to the events. Some of the commentary on the Middle East I’ve seen from people with no link to it is so condescending and offensive that they’d be better off saying nothing at all. It certainly isn’t scoring them any points with people like me who sit there with head in hands wondering where these same people were when Beirut got blown to kingdom come. But no, Beirut and Lebanon’s long standing corruption and the ongoing near collapse of the country isn’t a sexy enough topic for these people in my experience.

        At this rate, I just want people not involved to stop talking about the Middle East entirely. It’s draining to read.

      • “Sure — but on the same token, creative organisations and their teams are also allowed to take a stance on issues if they want to.”

        What “allows” them to use company assets as their personal platform though? IGN is an entertainment network – covering complex geo-political issues falls way outside their remit. If they are that passionate about the issue then they should do something about it in their free time. Bet they don’t though because they’ve already moved on.

        • If the business has previously encouraged their employees to explore and write about things that are not strictly related to the company’s core business, is it surprising that they would have used that freedom in this case?

          It’d also be fine for the company to step in and say they don’t want certain content on the site. However in this case, they seem to have done so but now claim that some anonymous editor removed the posts of their own volition.

          • Hmmm yeah, very fair points (and I know they were made in the article – I did read it).

      • Sure, if IGN editorial team were putting up a humanitarian post regarding a hurricane or a tsunami, then go for it. But this is a war/conflict between 2 sides, both sides with their own valid arguments. So they used the IGN vehicle to inject their own personal views into the politics/conflict by basically linking a left leaning article from VOX which put the main responsibility of the war on Israel. That is not okay. Yes they were trying to raise money, and that’s a great thing, but the money raising in my view was secondary to the political statement. And out of respect for their Israeli colleagues and the complexity of the conflict, they should not have engaged at all. I think IGN management were very wise in pulling the article, making a humanitarian donation and leaving an apolitical response.

    • The whole idea that corporations have only one obligation, to make a crapton of money for their owners completely free of any moral or ethical considerations, is nothing but a convenient fiction perpetuated by corporations, corporate owners and politicians keen to ignore inconvenient truths.

      It’s also a position that somehow conveniently no longer applies if we are talking about donating shittons cash to political parties, paying corporate lobbyists, “supporting our veterans/police”, “freedom of speech” or whatever other cause can be repurposed in service of not having to take a stand on slave labour, genocide, human rights and racial equality.

      • Corporation have many ethical obligations – quite a few, for instance the Modern Slavery Act 2018, various anti-discrimination acts and laws. Many organisations also voluntarily adopt other ethical policies and procedures. However, companies exist for a purpose and shareholders rightfully expect employees to act in the interest of that purpose. This is factual. It’s not right v left or any of the stuff you want to make it. Similarly, laws govern the giving of political donations. But facts are inconvenient to you because they prevent you from replying predictibly “on brand”.

        • You appear to be conflating what is legal with what is moral. These are not even a little bit the same thing. That’s the facts.

          • You appear to be conflating issues of morality/social justice and corporate governance. I’m not really sure why – you didn’t address any of what I said, you just attempted to undermine it without providing any substance. . Do you really think privately owned organisations have a moral obligation to be involved in every conflict, humanitarian disaster or significant event that takes place?
            Meanwhile what have you personally done to assist the people of Palestine? Please enlighten us. Oh nothing? How immoral of you.
            Assuming you’re going to tell us about all the money you didn’t actually donate to Palestinian relieve agencies, next tell us what you have done to assist the people of Israel who had rockets dropped on them? See the issue here? Morality and suffering isn’t as black and white as your simpleton stance on this issues would have us believe. If you inject yourself into these issues you have to be damn sure you understand them. I don’t think the staff at IGN did. They just hopped onto a popular bandwagon and that’s the problem – it doesn’t help at all, it just takes attention away from the actual issues.

        • Companies have to compete for employees as well. Also they have to get clients or engage other companies as a client. And they may have direct customers. There are multiple markets here.

          There are a lot more factors than your 1 dimensional analysis about pleasing shareholders. And some are not public companies anyway.

          And you seem to be pro-business but then you mock the idea of branding. It’s actually quite important and the money also thinks so.

        • Companies have to compete for employees as well. Also they have to get clients or engage other companies as a client. And they may have direct customers. There are multiple markets here.

          There are a lot more factors than your 1 dimensional analysis about pleasing shareholders. And some are not public companies anyway.

          And you seem to be pro-business but then you mock the idea of branding. It’s actually quite important and the money also thinks so.

  • I dunno, if it was all some big ‘whoopsie’ by an editor gone rogue, it seems like there’s a pretty clear-cut solution, to me: put the post back up and monitor it, to track who takes it down. (Frankly, it’s baffling that there isn’t already an audit trail for changes.)

    If it goes down, revoke that person’s access, put the post back up, and hold THAT person’s feet to the fire. It’s weird that this is apparently so complicated for them.

  • I dont understand why a Video Game publication would feel like they need to invest so heavily in topics outside the scope of its publication.
    I missed the article from IGN, was it talking about a games company over there or was it purely a humanitarian post?
    I have no opinion one way or the other in the issues facing Palastine and Israel, frankly I am not educated enough in it. I have a basic knowledge of why there is hate there but I dont know what spurred this latest conflict.
    I wouldnt come to Kotaku though to read about it, I come here to get some gaming news. I read BBC or ABC to get world news.

    I get that people want to help or appear to want to help and I also understand the need for people to be informed.
    I feel though that that would be more the purview of a news outlet than a gaming site wouldn’t it?

    • Being against ethnic cleansing is generally considered to be a reasonable humanitarian cause and IGN had encouraged its people to talk about non-gaming issues many times in the past. This isn’t really off brand.

      • Then why aren’t they also posting about the ethnic cleansing that is happening at a much much larger scale in another country?

        • Blizzard and fellow scumbags seem perfectly happy to ignore what’s happening over in China, as do various media outlets and entertainment companies like Disney who want Chinese money. These people and companies only care about “safe” options for looking like they care, not ethnic cleansing. There’s still plenty of war criminals in Serbia who were responsible for hundreds of murders and I don’t see anyone being outraged over their ongoing freedoms either.

          This topic is simply popular because the people involved don’t expect any deals to be cancelled by getting involved (whether it’s Disney, random people, etc.), not because there’s a genuine interest in resolving the situation (which extends far, far, far beyond resolving issues in Gaza alone).

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