Times are tough for the US news media. In addition to financial woes, newsrooms are struggling for public legitimacy amid a cacophony of voices fragmenting the audience online–digital startups, partisan rags, bloggers, spammers, and even Russian agents. Now, of course, newsrooms also have to push back against President Donald Trump, who frequently brands the press as “fake news” or worse yet as “the enemy of the people.” It’s no wonder that polls show worsening trust in the media.
But no matter how skeptical the public is of the news media—and in some quarters about 9 in 10 people report diminishing trust–there’s still a line that people apparently don’t want to cross when it comes to the press: murder. To clarify, virtual, video-game murder.
The maker of Sniper 3D Assassin, a first-person shooter game for smartphones and tablets, learned this lesson when criticism of a level in the game forced the company to stop offering one version of it. In a level called Breaking News, the assassin’s mission involved killing a reporter who bribed a cop for information. The outcry over the game started after New York Times journalist Jamal Jordan’s nephew asked him to give the game a try. Jordan’s subsequent shocked tweet about the game prompted a flurry of reporting. Now TFG Co. has removed the Breaking News level.
My nephew let me play an iPad shooting game with him. He chose the mission: It’s called “Breaking News,” and the objective is to shoot a journalist who just received documents from a police officer.
The goal is to make the journalist “famous in a different way.” pic.twitter.com/nQy4Hzq97r
— Lil Uzi Hurt (@lostblackboy) May 18, 2019
An executive at the game-maker told HuffPost that TFG was responding to negative feedback about the game, which was first released in 2014. “At TFG, we work to create games that bring fun and entertainment to users all around the world. As such, we take feedback from our players very seriously. After listening to our community today, we have decided to remove the mission ‘Breaking News’ from the game,” Michael Mac-Vicar said.
There, of course, have been actual acts of violence against the news media in the United States—most notably a shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper. In a 2018 attack, a gunman killed five and wounded two others in the paper’s Maryland newsroom. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 54 journalists were killed around the world last year; the committee lists 34 of those deaths as murders.