So you want to be a games journalist?
The sensible part.
Friends and I are to be posting a series of essays on how to be a games journalist. Our field requires a constant input of new talent – talent that’s currently being sucked up by the web, but drowned out in the general noise of dumb blog churn. If you want to do this, you should be reading the entire series. Some of the advice will be contradictory; some of it will outright disagree. But at least it’s from those who’ve been there, and done that.
Important questions to begin:
a) Why do you want to do this?
b) What do you expect to get out of this?
So know this: when you start, you’ll be earning less than peanuts. I started on under 12 grand a year – I now earn more – but my career rise has been slightly quicker than most. For that amount of money, on a magazine you’ll be expected to write around 25 pages per issue. When you start, it’s certainly not going to be the big lead review, either. You’ll be writing the stuff you probably skipped over when you read the magazine – quiz pages, directories, shit reviews, news-roundups. Big reviews are usually kept back for known writers – those who an editor can rely on to produce sparkling copy super-fast, and have a track record. When we look at new hires, we’re not necessarily looking for the guy who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of early 90s strategy gaming. We’re looking for someone we know we can share an office with, and we can trust to ping-pong across the planet to be our epresentative to a developer. We’re looking for someone who can pick up the phone and not sound like a serial killer. We want someone reliable enough to hand in copy on-time, to deadline, with all the elements required. And someone who showers regularly (you’d be surprised). If the answer to the above two questions was a) not that much and b) because actually, I really care, continue.
How do you get in?
1) Start writing now. Review the games you have now. Start a blog, start poking people for email interviews, start making posting online, start making noise. Write about what you care about. People are paid real money to find new writers. If you’re good enough, they will come to you.
2) Do work experience. Four of those who have come for work experience at PC Gamer have been hired by games magazines within Future. They all came into our office for a week, wrote well and got on with the team. This is important.
3) Pitch freelance. Most of our freelance writers, and most new starters want to sit and write reviews. Too few people come to me with ideas for features. This is a problem. In our regular freelance pool, we have five or six guys who’ve been doing this for years. We trust them and our readers trust them. You’re not going to break into that inner circle any time soon. Instead, come to me with ideas for what I should be covering. I promise only to nick the best ones.
The informal guide
Don’t be a donkey, and you’ll probably do quite well at games journalism. Seriously. One of my friends from university moves poo from test tube to another. Someone else works in a food processing plant putting lettuce in your sandwiches. Compared to them, I have the best job in the world.
So what do I do? I’m deputy editor of PC Gamer. Half my day is spent on the phone – talking to the PR reps that act as the gatekeepers to games industry and talking to our freelancers who write up to half of the magazine. With them, I’ll commission copy, talk through their work, chase up any late text or missing elements. Meanwhile, I’ll talk through pages with our art team – because magazine journalism is 50% writing, 50% making the words look pretty. 50 % more of my time is spent talking through mag strategy: what’s to be our next big review, how the flat-plan is shaping up, what we should put in the next issue. And my final 50% is spent working on copy – writing or re-writing. And yes, I’m well aware that there are many halves to a whole.
What am I looking for? I want to work with people who are smart, who make me laugh, and who are going to put in the hours when a deadline goes to shit. That is all. Even though we don’t look it all of us who do this job are professionals, and we look down on those that don’t act like it. I like dealing with grownups.
There’s no real secret to getting involved. If you want to join a magazine, then you need two skills: language and half a social life. Both can be learned – the last one involves going to university to kiss other humans, the first one means reading everything you can get hold of, and thinking about why it’s good. When you get there, be courteous and professional when you speak to people, and have ideas. Write like you mean it, write what you want to read, and understand your own limitations.
If you want in, I might be a good place to start. Email me samples, and we’ll go from there.
(Of course. We haven’t covered how to be a good games journalist yet. Another group post, eh?)