Crowdsource me this: Stop the Press - the journalism RPG

edited March 2011 in Story Games
A lot of people mentioned their interest in a journalism RPG. I'm also interested, both in such a game and in knowing more about what you peeps would like it to do, or not. Mechanics, themes, structure, use, the lot.

I'm a journalist, though these days working on the other side of the "fence" as a press/media person trying to get journalists to write my stories (and editors to publish them), so it's also a professional interest.



  • There was Pandemonium which focused on tabloid journalism and weird shit.
  • In general, fiction/film about the news focuses on the quest for the truth and the ethics of its revelation.

    See Deadline - U.S.A. (excellent Bogart film), His Girl Friday (Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell) and All The President's Men (Redford and Hoffman) as prime examples of the genre.

    All The President's Men is my favorite film in the genre in part because of its fidelity to the actual journalistic process (i.e., taking notes and reviewing documents).

    Bogart's last film, The Harder They Fall, is also worth checking out: He plays a sportswriter whose newspaper folds and he turns PR man for a crooked boxing promoter to make ends meet. But once he knows the truth about the crooked game, what is his responsibility?

    In many ways, the news story and the detective story are the same. They both involve unraveling the truth. The difference is that whereas the detective story generally concerns itself with simply discovering the truth (or in some cases the struggle between the letter and the spirit of the law), the news story is about the ethics of revealing truth and the sacrifices that newspeople are willing to make to reveal it.

    Hope that helps.
  • Mechanically?
    -interview based combat
    -a contacts system at least as detailed as Circles in BW
    -a reputation system both for NPCs to react to the reporter but also so you can assassinate someone's character
    -and yeah an investigation system
  • Good suggestions, Thor. All the President's Men would be my reference as well, a marvellous film, one of my favourites, saw it twice again recently.

    Nick, when you say interview based combat, do you mean conflict?
  • The last season of The Wire would make for good source material as well.

    I think that structurally you end up with very different games depending on whether you're targeting a group of reporters working together on a single story versus competing reporters from separate organizations. I'd be more interested in a cooperative game, since the high points of a session are likely to be tied to the big reveals in the investigation and it'd be nice to not shut out most of the players from each one.

    You can still leave open plenty of room for internal tension, based on the values of the different reporters. One might be a glory-hound out to make a name for themselves regardless of the veracity of the story. Another could have their eye on public office, and be more interested in currying favor with public officials than with getting to the bottom of the story.
  • Broadcast News remains my favorite movie about journalism. It's TV, as opposed to print, but you've got everything you need right there, including triangles between characters and a delightfully unhappy ending. If you've never seen it, go right away and get it, if you have, then sit down and re-watch it to be reminded how good it is. It's also very useful in showing how the peple on a news team can be working towards the same general goal but their methods of getting there cause the conflict in the relationships.

    It'd be interesting to have the GM be 'the news', current events and the challenges the reporters face in delivering their stories. It sure seems like the AW threat countdown mechanic woul dbe worth looking at as a way of making sure there's the intense time pressure that exists in real-world journalism.

  • As soon as I think of a journalism RPG, I think of the 40's version of Lois Lane, recklessly breaking into mad scientists labs to get the big scoop. That's not really journalism, I suppose, but its what comes to mind.
  • I'd love it if there were mechanics to take chances and "gamble" to try and get the real scoop.

    Like, you can play it safe, and cross-reference which medical studies this particular pharmaceutical company sponsored...
    Or you can shake things up a bit, and try to sleep with one of their lead account managers, attempting to glean information from him...
    Or you can play it hella risky, and break into their offices in a security guard disguise, late at night.

    Something like that, where you can gamble in order to get a bigger scoop or get the scoop faster, but you're also putting your career and your ethics on the line.
  • I'd like something like the franchise dice in InSpectres, to represent the distribution of your story - how many people it reaches and whether you can make a living from it.

    Also: new media vs. old media.
  • Maybe start with GUMSHOE as a base? That's a good system for investigation; maybe it will lend itself to journalism as well.
  • Actually, a game comes immediately to mind when I think about the insanity involved in news reporting:


    It ends up playing out a lot like a number of the news organizations I've dealt with, if you make the core conceit that the protags are reporters of various sorts rather than corporate drones. Or rather, they're corporate drones for a multi-media organization rather than ...

    Er, you know, its really pretty much straight up the journalism RPG without any changes at all, come to think of it.

  • I guess what I'd like to see in it is the crazy pressure of the deadline.

    The search for truth is great, but it ain't gonna write two thousand words for you in an hour.
  • Posted By: Steve HickeyI'd like something like the franchise dice in InSpectres, to represent the distribution of your story - how many people it reaches and whether you can make a living from it.
    Scott Knipe's Nightwatch is a horror journalism hack of InSpectres. Doesn't use franchise dice as you suggest though.

  • I would like to play a game like this:

    - Me and my mates work for a newspaper or magazine. We choose the theme of the magazine. Maybe it's gonzo as hell, like the Cthulu Times or something normal. Something that we care about playing/researching.
    - We investigate the stories as gameplay, learning new things, etc.
    - We jockey a bit to be the front page story. A bit of competitive play.
    - Our news stories maybe make some difference on the fictional world.
    - If we have some epic fail, maybe we have to write some short crappy article, like Obituaries or the Gossip page.
    - The game is played at the table and can also be played easily via chat or PBP.
    - At the end of a session or series of sessions, we have an artifact of play...a newspaper or magazine that we could show to other gamers.
  • Sam Fuller's "Park Row" is a really neat movie about a newspaper man who leaves the paper he works for to start his own in the 1880's.

    "Ace in the Hole" (Billy Wilder), is great cynical movie about Kirk Douglas' reporter character milking a story for all it's worth, destroying the subject and himself.

    Ron Howard's "The Paper" isn't great, but it's a fun look at all the different types of character classes that might populate a newspaper.

    The Wire season 5 and Sports Night are good television examples of journalism.

    I'd play/run this game in a heartbeat. Playtesting would be agony, though...
  • Oh yeah, Michael Mann's "The Insider" is all about protecting your source. Arguably Mann's best.
  • How about an TMZ-style hack of XXXtreme Street Luge?
  • His Girl Friday is absolutely worth seeing.
  • Erik, seconded. I would play that. I just want to add: rivals, fighting to scoop you.

  • Is there a reason it's called "Stop the Press" instead of the common phrase "Stop the presses?"

    i mean, uppercase Press is, like, all the journalistic print media as a whole, right, whereas lowercase
    presses would be, like, all of the mechanical presses that would be printing out that day's paper (each press would be doing a different spread of pages, however many individual machines they had would vary greatly i'm sure.)

  • edited March 2011
    Jackson, it's not called anything yet, that was just me giving the thread a title.

    If you really want to know, it's a quote from Prince's lyrics to the song "Batdance" from the first Tim Burton Batman film.
  • Well, never let it be said that i questioned what Prince has laid true.

    & ah! good to know.
  • Any more word on this Journo RPG?
  • For a more character and maybe moral conflict game I would use A Dirty World. With rules to work with noir and social combat working like physical combat it can work for the more noir like side of the genre. It also gives secrets a meaning in the rules. Lacks a system for contacts though. Which could be hacked in from other one roll engine games. Like the relationships in Monsters and other Childish Things for example.
  • I was thinking Dogs in the Vineyard myself.
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