Interview: Adam Pasick, Reuters’ virtual world bureau chief
(Updates with coverage links below)Adam Pasick, a Reuters’ media correspondent based in London, will serve as the news organization’s first virtual bureau chief in Second Life. He’ll be using a personal avatar, or animated character, and will be known as “Adam Reuters,” in keeping with the game’s naming system.Adam discusses with his Reuters’ colleagues Kenneth Li and Eric Auchard the unique challenges of plying the journalism trade in a made-up world, where sources can be humanoid or giant two-headed creatures.Q: What are you doing in Second Life as a reporter running a bureau for Reuters?Adam: As strange as it might seem, it’s not all that different from being a reporter in the real world. You talk to as many people as you can, you read what you can, you find interesting stories and you chase them down. The fact that we are in a virtual world, once you get used to it, it becomes very much like the job I’ve been doing for years.
Q: What kinds of stories are you finding?Adam: It is really fertile ground for reporting. There is so much change going on. (Second Life) is growing at 20 percent a month. There are so many creative people packed in…There are so many interesting questions about how a virtual world behaves. There is a lot of reporting to do where the virtual world meets the real world.Q: How do you identify yourself?Adam: Adam Reuters, Adam Pasick: I am not making any secret that that is the same person. It is important to identify yourself as a reporter. (Most people are anonymous with the exception of site administrators from Linden Lab and celebrities).Q: Do you keep your real-world persona? Some people play different characters, even different species, in Second Life.Adam: I don’t think I am going to be a furry reporter, but you never know. Some people look like Transformers. Pretty much anything you can imagine, people look like.Q: How do you verify your sources? How do you confirm they are who they say they are when they make controversial claims?Adam: The good thing is there’s no way to fake an avatar, that’s just the way the game is made. There’s only one unique name for each person. When you instant-message someone you know exactly who it’s going to. When they get back to you and you’re talking to them, their name appears over their (character’s) head and there’s no way to fake that. The big question is who’s the person behind the avatar? The guidelines we’ve worked out are that whenever possible, we confirm who the person is behind (the avatar). …Some people are not willing to do that. One of the stories I wrote is about a guy who runs a really big bank. He refuses to say who he is in real life. Obviously I can’t force him. I put in the story “he declined to say who he was in real life” just like we would put in regular story that “he declined to be identified.” The guidelines are that we provide as much information about the people we’re talking to as possible. If we verify we say so.Q: Isn’t there a difference between when we say “a source who declined to be identified” versus someone who has never identified themselves to you?Adam: There is a difference. Transparency is the key. If I have an allegation against somebody and the accuser won’t tell me their identity, well, that tells me that their allegation may not be credible and I’ll take that into account when I decide whether to print what they said….As soon as it gets controversial, I’m going to want credibility, which, if possible, means sharing your identity. People have reputations within Second Life. Even if you don’t share your real identity you will have spent a lot of time and in some cases, money, building up your avatar, you’re not going to just throw that away. That gives people a stake in being honest and accountable. You’re not going to want to be shunned by a community you’ve spent all this time you’ve tried to integrate yourself into. That gives a kind of check on your responsible behavior, whether they’re talking to me or just existing in SL. Q: How do the methods Reuters’ reporters use in the real world, in places like Iraq or on Wall Street, apply in a simulation game?Adam: It shows that the Reuters editorial principles translate pretty well, whether you are in Bagdad or whether you are in this 3-D virtual world. Being unbiased, being accurate, being fast, all the things that Reuters strives for, they hold true in just about any environment in which you would want to report the news. Obviously, you need to adapt to the fact that you have things like anonymous avatars, but the principles are still the same….Q: Second Life mirrors many aspects of the real world. It’s got an economy, politics, culture and interaction between players in the game. How will you approach coverage of virtual sex in Second Life?Adam: I don’t anticipate that being an area of coverage for me. New York Times’ coverage of the Reuters Second Life news bureau here. Reuters coverage here. The Guardian story can be found here.
Image sources: Reuters, Second Life