IGN, one of the largest websites dedicated to covering video game news and reviews, underwent a very public scandal this month. The trouble began when the site’s parent company, J2 Global, seemingly removed an article on the site titled “How to Help Palestinian Civilians,” which acted as a call to readers for humanitarian aid, all without editorial input or authorization. Unfortunately, the situation only appears to be growing more complicated and intense.
The action was seen as a major step over the boundary between corporate ownership and editorial independence traditionally expected in free journalism — and indeed necessary for its continued credibility. Certainly several dozen IGN staffers thought so. Two days after the article was removed, 82 out of 238 IGN employees signed a public statement to express their disapproval and plead their case for common editorial independence. The whole thing is worth reading, but the centerpiece was that the parent company shouldn’t be able to unilaterally remove content created by and endorsed by the editorial wing.
Roughly a day after the reaction, things were looking up. Multiple sources within IGN (who wish to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal) tell Fanbyte that Chief Content Officer and site cofounder, Peer Schneider, assured staff that corporate was listening. The proper people had supposedly seen the complaints and were open to a discussion. The mood turned tenuous but optimistic given Schneider’s comments. The letter of disapproval originally set a date for May 21, 2021 to hold said discussion between all involved parties. Schneider told the editors they would at least be included in those conversations.
The reverse now appears true. During the week, Schneider backtracked his earlier statements internally, suddenly placing all the blame for the original article’s removal — and the ensuing fallout — on himself. If that were true, it would make the issue an entirely editorial matter, magically absolving J2 Global and Ziff Davis of the corporate interference of which they were accused. Our sources maintain this version of events was a very sudden change in narrative. One described it as Schneider falling on the sword. Up until that point, just a few days ago, the Chief Content Officer never named himself or any editor as the source of the original decision.
Now “morale is at an all-time low” following a further all-hands meeting attended by Ziff Davis president Steve Horowitz. The executive described the issue as a purely IGN editorial problem, which IGN editorial (and by extension not its parent company) would clean up itself.
Horowitz further attempted to pit employees against each other by asserting several people who signed the open letter were coerced or tricked into doing so. Though he did not provide any evidence of that claim. He did, however, point to the number of employees who did not sign the letter as proof that most of the company did not support it. Another possibility, of course, is that some avoided doing so out of further fear of retaliation.
All of this occurs just weeks before a somewhat uncertain E3 — the first since 2019 and the first ever to be an “all digital” affair. The video game trade show and its contemporaneous events make up one of IGN’s highest traffic periods of the year. Now many employees say they’re entering this highly stressful time without faith that their parent company supports them or a desire to craft and promote good journalism.