Journalism in, of and for Second Life

Can there be “news” worth printing from a virtual world?

(forgive all the quotation marks, but something has to demarcate virtual from real . . . or does it?)

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Two recent developments inside Second Life makes my head nearly explode. First, Reuters has assigned a reporter to the virtual world, a reporter whose avatar covers its beat for the rest of us here in the real world. That’s right, Adam Pasick’s beat doesn’t physically exist, yet it has 1.6 million “residents.” It is the first known instance of a real-world news organization assigning a full-time reporter to a virtual world or online game.


Adam Reuters

Reuters’s Adam Pasick, a.k.a. Adam Reuters He has chronicled how real people are making real money in and off SL. More recently, Pasick reported on the SL developers who collectivelyl are making more than $10 million a year in U.S. currency (not the Lindens that are the coin in SL).

In between reports, Adam is busy building a bureau for Reuters on one of SL’s islands, aiming for a look resembling the New York Times building in New York City.

Second, the publisher of Germany’s No. 1 Bild newspaper is getting ready to launch a weekly newspaper for Second Life’s virtual population. Called “SL News” and written in English, the “paper” will “publish” “news” from SL as if SL were a physical place. Bild will build an editorial office in SL, which will be used to solicit contributions from SL’s residents.

What do you call citizen journalism submitted by avatars on news from a virtual world?

I think I know what these moves say about SL. It’s big, and it is going to get a lot bigger. It combines social networking with game-quality graphics and the ability to interact with other people in new, exciting and even troubling ways. I’m not sure what it says about journalism, though of course if people are making news in SL, and they are, then journalists need to “be” “there”.

One important factor: Second Life is privately owned, by Linden Labs in San Francisco. It’s not Central Park or the public square. Norms and rules are only now being negotiated, so let’s watch how SL sorts itself out, but a real-world analogy would be DisneyWorld. No journalism in there, a locked down, commercial dictatorship. So how freely will Pasick and Bild be able to roam and report?

More to come. Much, much more.

7 Responses to Journalism in, of and for Second Life

  1. Mike White says:

    A very interesting article. I knew that MMORPGs like Second life were getting big, but I didn’t think an avatar would report on its happennings.

    Just a thought. If you were discussing this topic in a lecture, would you need to use airquotes, a la Dr. Evil?

  2. Yes, I would. I imitate Mike Myers imitating someone else as often as possible.

    But the quotes have much more to do with the blurring of real and virtual and nothing whatsoever to do with parody. Is an avatar covering a beat in SL a reporter doing journalism, sans quotes? I’m not comfortable with that.

    I, too, cringe a bit, a la Seinfeld, when I see terms in quotes, especially a lot of them. But when questioning the appropriateness of the terms as they are applied in new contexts, I’m not sure how else to indicate or express my skepticism about whether in fact the terms do apply, or that perhaps we need new terms altogether. Think I’ll put together a PowerPoint…

  3. andy says:

    Everytime I try to post something on the topic of anything SL my mind begins to shoot off in a million different directions. Maybe because that is what is happening with Linden’s monster, SL.
    I just wanted to add to the SL publications list, beyond the blog style of it.
    I don’t know how reliable this monthly magazine will be, but this one is labeled In the Grid
    Looking pretty big, SL News Network:
    Here is what’s wild. Does this sound familiar to RL news networks?
    “The news network fills a gap by serving people unbiased and objective information about relevant topics on a daily basis.”

    The biggest thing that astounds me is that cultures and subcultures are forming inside SL. I’m no sociologist, but I would assume cultures are evidence of a flourishing environment. Freaky. I still prefer the RL.

  4. andy says:

    I just wanted to add that I am amazed at the amount a developer for SL is churning in. Since I worked with a software developer this past summer I know about how much he turned in. Sounds like he needs to get into SL development. I’d love to see a link where that has been researched.

  5. Rob Powell says:

    This scares me. As the Second Life realm becomes more “real” people will be more likely to view it as a viable form of relational interaction. A journalist covering the Second Life “news” clearly gives some level of importance to the goings-on with the the Second Life world. Creepy!
    Things that don’t exist are not important. While they may be wildly entertaing, they are not important. They are not important because they are not really happening and, it is my hope, that the implications of actions within Second Life will have no serious or even notable implications int he real world. If this hope becomes reality, they there is no need to report on the activity within the game.
    It may be fun to report on fake things. However, I feel it is dangerous to give importance to this world. I hate the thought of validating people’s hobby. People get way to into things like this, we don’t need the news world encouraging it.

  6. Tricia says:

    I agree with Rob on the idea the Second Life is creepy. It is so realistic that you can spend your money (from your actual life) in second life. It seems like a video game, except where you spend your actual money. It has the same type of interactivity as higher end internet video games, but draws in just a little more realism. It gives people the opportunity to not have to live their own lives, almost as if they are living their lives through somebody else.

    On another note, I was unable to get Second Life to function properly on Berry’s network. Is it the network, or is it something to do with Second Life itself?

  7. AJ says:

    People have been making money off of online games for years. In high school I knew these guys who would play these giant role playing games and collect the best weapons and them sell them to people for real U.S. money over the internet.

    I wonder how that reporter pitched his beat to the cranky old editors: “Ummm … I want to play this game and report on what goes on inside it.” Haha.

    Tricia – no surprise that Berry’s network won’t do it. Good to se e some things never change.

    BC: You need an RSS feed for this thing. I’d subscribe any way.


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