“Libération Loves Microsoft”: A Reply to the “Pedant in Chief”

Big freaking aliens invade the land where the naked ladies dance!

Piqué aux jeux: Une leçon de journalisme: Erwan Cario of Libération (Paris) responds to criticism by Gilles Klein of Le Monde that Libeŕation appears to have rented out a two-page spread in the front of the book for Microsoft marketing dressed up as legitimate editorial — or advertorial:

An advertisement that resembles a newspaper editorial or a television program but promotes a single advertiser’s product, service, or point of view.


The post is titled “A lesson in journalism.”

“Libération aime Microsoft : une double page promo sur Halo 3”. Gilles Klein, journaliste et blogueur (Pointblog, Le phare, Agoravox, MSN et sans doute d’autres), illumine ma matinée. J’apprends donc que Libé est devenu “porte-flingue” de Microsoft, voire son “bras armé marketing” (subtil retournement d’un des titres). Suit un long texte ou l’auteur, scandalisé, démonte la double page.

Gilles Klein, a journalist and blogger (on Pointblog, Le Phare, Agoravox, MSN and other places, no doubt) has brightened my day. I learn from him that Libération has become a “spokes-gunslinger” for Microsoft, an “armed wing of the Microsoft marketing department” (a subtle play on one of the headlines). A long article follows in which the scandalized author demolished the two-page spread.

En lisant attentivement, je n’ai pas très bien compris (mais ça doit venir de moi). Il me reproche alternativement d’en faire la pub (avec l’illustration et des données selon lui glanée dans la com’ de Microsoft) et d’en dire du mal (du coup, il ne fallait pas faire de double). Mais bon, le texte est suffisamment ponctué de points d’interrogation outrés (mais pourquoi n’ont-ils pas fait ci ou ça?) pour qu’on comprenne bien que, quand même, je suis un peu un vendu malgré moi. Ou un mauvais journaliste. Ou les deux. Et, parce que Gilles Klein est vraiment très fort, il explique ce qui aurait été un vrai traitement de vrai journaliste selon lui : “décrypter le jeu avec un sociologue, donner une carte blanche à une Ariane Mouchkine super énervée, ou à un gamer implacable, ou encore tester le jeu avec des jeunes de Clichy sous Bois ou du Neuf Trois”, le tout illustré par “un dessin de Wilhem”.

I read it attentively, and do not understand it all that well (but that may just be me). He reproaches me, on the one hand, for publishing the thing (with illustrations and data supposedly glean from Microsoft promotional material) and on the other, of speaking ill of the game …. But okay, the text is sufficiently punctuated with question marks (but why did they not to do this or that?) for one to understand that I am something of a fellow who sold out despite himself. Or a bad journalist. Or both. And, since Gilles Klein is really quite the authority on the subject, he explains what a real journalist would have done, in his view: “decoded the game with a sociologist, given free rein to some super-angry poet, or a tireless gamer, or maybe tested the game with kids from Clichy sous Bois or the 93rd,” all to be illustrated by “a cartoon by Wilhem.”

According to Klein, the substance of the review was “it has not an iota of originality, but then again, it has no flaws, either.”

D’abord, c’est Willem. Ensuite, c’est cool, je suis fan de son travail. Vraiment. Et puis, c’est vrai, ça, un sociologue (c’est bien, un sociologue, ça rend tout de suite un article plus pertinent) aurait permis aux lecteurs de comprendre l’importance stratégique de cette sortie. Comment ai-je donc pu oublier le sociologue ? J’aurais aussi pu demander à son pote, “l’expert”…

By the way, it’s “Willem,” not “Wilhem.” He’s cool, I’m a fan of his work. Really. And yes, it’s true, a sociologist (a sociologist is all you need to make an article more relevant) might have helped the reader better understand the strategic importance of this launch. How could I have forgotten to dig up a sociologist for the article? I could also have called in his buddy, the “expert” …

Parfois, il faut tourner son blog sept fois dans son navigateur avant de partir en croisade au moindre prétexte foireux. Cette double page, contrairement à ce qu’à l’air de penser Klein, répondait à une actualité qu’il était intéressant de décrypter. A quoi ressemble l’univers de Halo ? A quoi ressemble le jeu ? Est-il si “révolutionnaire” ? Quels sont les enjeux (économiques et stratégiques) pour Microsoft ? Comment la firme a-t-elle préparé le raz-de-marée annoncé ? On peut ne pas trouver ces questions intéressantes. On peut penser qu’un jeu vidéo ne mérite pas un tel traitement. Sur ces points , j’assume mon choix.

Perhaps he ought to read his own blog seven times over before launching a crusade on such a flimsy pretext. That double-page spread, contrary to what Klein seems to think, responds to a current event that was interesting to decode. What is the Halo universe like? What is the game like? It is really so “revolutionary”? What is at stake (economically and strategically) for Microsoft? How did the company go about preparing the planned tidal wave of publicity? These interesting questions are missingf from the review, it is said. It is thought that a video game does not deserve this kind of treatment. On these points, I stand by my choices.

Stand by them why?

J’accepte évidemment le fait qu’on s’interroge sur le fait qu’une telle double page illustrée puisse servir les intérêts de Microsoft. C’est un sujet de questionnement permanent quand on traite d’une industrie comme celle des jeux vidéo. Et je n’ai pas de réponse toute faite. Oui, mettre Master Chief (je traduis, pour Gilles Klein, c’est “l’alien” de droite) en grand format peut “servir” la cause de Microsoft. En même temps, quand on parle d’un film, on passe une bande-annonce (ou on imprime des images du films), ça ne choque pas grand monde. Et, quand, à la radio, on parle du nouvel album d’un groupe, on ne va pas chercher une reprise chantée au karaoké du coin. J’ai préféré proposer une construction graphique susceptible d’intéresser des lecteurs étrangers à cette culture et, surtout, montrer le sujet dont il est question. un choix sans doute contestable, mais réduire les questions de traitement des oeuvres culturelles à un putassier “Libération aime Microsoft” me semble hors de propos.

Obviously, I accept the fact of being questioned whether this illustrated two-page spread might serve the interests of Microsoft. It’s a permanent issue when it comes to coverage of an industry like video games. And I do not have a ready response. Yes, printing the Master Chief (I translate, for Klein, the name of the “alien” on the right) in a large format might “serve” Microsoft’s ends. At the same time, when one speaks of a film, you run a trailer (or print production stills), this does not shock too many people. And when you talk about a new pop album on the radio, you do not go looking for a selection of the song at a karaoke parlor on the corner. I decided to propose a graphic treatment likely to interest readers unfamiliar with the gaming culture, and, above all, to show the game under discussion. It is a debatable point, sure, but to reduce questions of how to treat cultural works to a leering “Libération Loves Microsoft” seems excessive to me.

Deux jours plus tard, Gilles Klein récidive en s’appuyant sur le compte-rendu du tchat hebdomadaire que je fait sur Liberation.fr (tous les mercredi, à 17h). “Pourquoi décréter que c’est le “blockbuster de l’année” le lendemain de sa mise en vente?” se demande-t-il. Mais parce que c’est le cas, cher monsieur. Ah, dans les commentaires, on apprend qu’il a confondu “blockbuster” et “best-seller”. Sûr que le débat ne part pas sur des bases saines, dans ces conditions…

Two days later, Gilles Klein strikes again, based on the transcript of a Libération weekly online chat (every Wednesday at 5 pm). “Why call it ‘the blockbuster of the year’ on the day it came out in the shops?” he demands. But because that is the case, my dear sir. Ah, in the comments, one sees that he has confused “blockbuster” with “best-seller.” You cannot have a reasonable debate, under these conditions …

Blockbuster, as applied to film or theater, denotes a very popular and/or successful production. The term was originally derived from theater slang referring to a particularly successful play but is now used primarily by the film industry. …

… an unusually successful hit with widespread popularity and huge sales (especially a movie or play or recording or novel)

Commercial success (and popularity) is generally measured by sales — although I suppose you could measure popularity by black-market piracy as well, as in the case of Tropa de Elite here in Brazil.

Much as political success is measured by votes. He who dies with the most toys, wins.

So the man’s touché seems rather Humpty Dumptyist to me. The two different terms overlap significantly in meaning. They are near-synonyms. There is not a difference in meaning between them that makes much of a difference.

But then again, who knows what the French think they mean when they use English terms like this? (The same, of course, goes for us when we throw in a resentissement or a je ne sai quoi into the conversation to make ourselves sound all ooh la la.)

PS : C’est un détail, mais je veux quand même préciser au donneur de leçon en chef que je ne cite dans mes papiers que des personnes avec qui j’ai parlé. dans le cas contraire, je le précise.

PS: This is just a detail, but I would like to make it clear to the pedant in chief there that I do not quote people in my articles unless I have talked to them personally. If I have not, I paraphrase.

This seems to be a case of filibustering while changing the subject.

Did the newspaper simply run Microsoft-produced marketing graphics? Crib extensively verbatim from Microsoft marketing materials without checking them or adding any value?

As to the charge that

The article simply reprises the themes of the official marketing campaign for the launch of the game …

I guess you would have to read the article in question, with the French-language press kit in hand, and see how much Libération actually cribbed from MSFT talking points and marketing slogans.

The thing is that the Libération guy does not seem to be denying that point. But that seems like the most serious criticism to me — bordering as it does on plagiarism, if true.

What really tends to bug me, if you are doing such a story from a business angle — and this article ran in the general news hole, not the business section, mind you — is reporting on a product launch without describing the competitive environment it is being launched into.

“How a product is marketed, and why it is marketed that way” is always a legitimate business story. But the why generally includes an answer to how consumers are to be persuaded to buy ACME-brand rocket-powered rollerskates rather than competing products from other firms. (Those ACME products have a terrible, terrible safety record, on hears.)

A product-comparison matrix never does any harm. The W$J infographics factory cranks those out in industrial quantities, for example.

Klein’s principal objection was that the article lacked any criticial discussion based on detailed information about the game itself, or the player experience.

But was it a legitimate marketing story? It sounds like that’s what he is alluding to. But Cario stands by his choice without explaining what that choice entailed, in journalistic terms.

To me, one the very best journalists I know of in this vein is Roger Ebert, the film critic. Roger will take you through what he experienced during the film in question, tell you what he liked and didn’t. Standard review stuff.

But there is always also a paragraph or two acknowledging that Roger is not you. He is an aging failed screenwriter (“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”) and utterly hopeless film nerd. You probably aren’t. And he admits that.

“Fans of the Alien series might find some of the same thrills here.” “Fans of Uma Thurman will no doubt go away satisfied, despite the incoherent plot and trite genre gimmicks.” Stuff like that.

This is why reading Roger is actually useful. Because while I know that I have ended up liking some movies Roger panned in the past, I still read his reviews, because I know he is going to give me a good general picture of what to expect.

He has his bias — who doesn’t? — but he gives you enough information about that bias that you can correct for it. You can’t ask for much more — or less.

Guess I better actually read the Libération story. Anyone have a copy of the Microsoft press package for the launch? In the language of Molière?

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