I'm by no means a "professional games journalist".
For one, I don't think "journalist" is the correct term for what I or 90% of people writing about games do, and two, even when I was getting paid for it my earnings was almost laughably small. With that said, while reading Christian Higley's heartbreaking article on his quest to become a "games journalist", I really only had one question, "Why is it so hard for him when it hasn't been for me?". Up to that point, my experience writing online had been pretty fun and easy, I ran (and continue to run) a mildly popular personal blog that served as great experience and practice, I had dipped my toe into paid writing over at Yahoo, and was in the first week of my first paid game writing job. Sure, said job barely paid enough to be considered "part-time, but I didn't care, because having a place to write about what I love sounded so great.
And then, because karma is a bitch, said writing job kinda fell apart in the four days since I read Christian's article. I thought it would be kinda interesting to share my story here, as a warning for many of trying to break into the field.
I guess I should go back to the start. I found the gig on a job listing website. The listing had numorous spelling errors, and even though I had never heard of the site (the name of which I probably shouldn't say here), I applied, mostly because I was just really desperate to get hired by someone.
I received a response the next morning, giving me basic information about the job. I probably should have noticed something was up right here and then, the email was rife with spelling and grammar mistakes, and the header said "Hello Michael"…even though that wasn't my name. If they had actually read my application and the links to my other work, they would have known that, but I ignored it, mostly because I was so overjoyed at being accepted.
For the sake of anonymity, let's call my assigned editor (he claimed he was "assigned" to me; but the small size of the site makes me suspect he was the only editor) Nico. Nico's first language obviously wasn't English, nor was he based in America, which I could tell pretty immediately from his spelling and grammar errors and his odd habit of only responding to emails between the hours of 1-7 am PST. But once again, I ignored this, and the first week went pretty well. I would write late at night, because that was generally the only free time I had, and when I woke up Nico would have already published all the articles. He generally didn't have any complaints about my work either, aside from one article that had too long of a title, which he nicely fixed for me. And on Monday, the site deposited my full paycheck into my Paypal account.
This week, my second week there, the problems started showing. Nico, for whatever reason, was very particular about length of the articles. So while Joystiq may have written a single paragraph on a story, I was expected to stretch the story out to five paragraphs. And even if I did that, Nico would still reject my articles sometimes. I wrote a story on the Mass Effect 3 deal over at the Microsoft store, because I thought that was a thing people should know about. Nico rejected the article, saying "to short" when I asked why, despite it being around the same length as previous articles.
In the same day, he rejected an article I wrote on the EA server shutdown, saying "You cant start article with list", which I hadn't done. Later that day, he published a (in my mind) poorer written version of the story, done by someone else, that started with a list.
The final blow came today, when I awoke to a particularly confusing email from Nico. Out of the three stories I wrote for the site last night, two of them had come back rejected. The first one, an article about that weird Final Fantasy rhythm game getting localized, got the shaft because (in his words) "Title not ok". For reference, the title was "The Final Fantasy Rhythm Game (???) Is Coming To America And Europe", which, despite being a little long, seemed fine to me. The other article's rejection was actually my fault, I didn't realize the site already had a news story up about the World of Warcraft beta. But still, the Final Fantasy article being rejected just because of the title, was annoying. He didn't even tell me what was wrong with the title, just that it was "not ok".
Finally, at the end of the email, Nico told me "Tom, I`m sorry but the articles quality are not so good, please write only 1 article daily". This was pretty crushing, I never really considered myself a fantastic writer, but I always thought I was good, and being told otherwise kinda stung. And while the other articles on the site were pretty well written, I considered my work on par with it, or even a little better.
It also made me mad, and I immediately drafted an email stating that I'd rather not take feedback on my writing from someone who can barely type english. I deleted that draft, of course, and responded with a nicer letter of resignation. Barely two weeks after I began, I quit the first job that paid me to write about video games.
I learned a lot from those short two weeks. I learned how to write good news stories, and then I learned how to pad them, the last skill hopefully being something I don't have to do in the future. I learned that responding to a job listing with misspellings probably isn't a good idea, and that editors offering (helpful) feedback is a nice thing to have. I also learned that maybe my ego was a little too high, and that I still have a lot to learn. To all the people trying to break into "game's journalism", for lack of a better word, know this; you shouldn't write things you don't want to read. While deciding what to do this morning, I actually read some of the articles I wrote for the site. I'm proud of the first few articles I wrote, but they quickly dropped off in quality when I was forced to follow Nico's bizzare rules on length and content. The last few articles I wrote were exactly the thing I didn't want to write when I started at the site, boring, padded, news articles that were basically taken from Joystiq or Kotaku.
Honestly, more so than annoying editors or anything else, that's why I quit. Because I wasn't happy with what I was writing. Let this story be a cautionary tale to you all, I suppose. Don't sacrafice your integrity just so you can say you get paid to write about video games.
And if anyone reading this needs a writer for your site, I'm available.
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