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  • So You Want to Be a Games Journalist: Part One

    - Aaron McKenna

    Becoming a Games Journalist FAQ

    The most direct way to become a games journalist is via a degree and straight into a publishing house as a low-level staff writer or assistant. It puts you on the hierarchal ladder, so to speak. There are a few questions and misconceptions to be addressed about this route.

    Do I need a degree in journalism?

    Generally, no. Many employers these days, in all fields, ask for a degree level education simply for the sake of having one. You do not require a degree in Journalism or English specifically to be a journalist, and I've met games journalists with qualifications ranging from Philosophy & Politics to Science and Agricultural studies. You don't technically need a formal education at all, if you want to try the more indirect method of entry which I will cover in Part 2, but it is always advantageous to have a degree when applying for a first job. After that, experience will weigh more heavily than what you've studied.

    Do I need to have a portfolio to get a job?

    Generally, yes. Apart from the fact that you will need to be proficient as a journalist anyway, and this requires practice no matter what degree you have, an employer will want to see a couple of varied examples of your work. A few game reviews, a few news items, perhaps an opinion piece or two as well. You don't need to be a published author, but you do need to have a collection of clips, private or public.

    Do I need to have work experience to get a job?

    Not necessarily, but it helps a lot to have your face known around a publishing house to get a job there. One way of doing this is to be a freelancer before applying for a job, but making everybody their tea for a few weeks can be far more valuable face time. Many publishing houses offer work experience, and I'd recommend you go for it and take any publication they will give, even if it's not in games journalism per se. If you don't get work experience, then Part 2 of this article will still be of interest to you, and publishing houses will still hire people they've never used as freelancers or coffee makers if you cut the mustard in terms of your work and the interview you give.

    Should I work for freebie game sites during college?

    These freebie game sites come ten a penny, offering their writers the chance to write for the glory and not much else. The quality of work is generally low, but they do act as a valuable training ground for aspiring serious journalists. I wouldn't discourage anyone from writing for them, but I would warn against becoming too involved and spending too much time and effort on filling up essentially what is a non-commercial site that's never going to pose much of a problem to the established publishers. Working for the freebie is a good way to become accustomed to working to deadlines and getting the game experience from the sharp end of a press release, but you can work up a portfolio without ever having to actually publish one of your articles and embroil yourself is the oftentimes narcissistic world of freebie game sites. It's up to you.

    Who doesn't want Clark Kent's job?

    Are there many jobs in games journalism?

    Eeerrrmmm... no, actually, in the grand scheme of things there aren't. But, there aren't all that many aspiring games journalists who can actually hack it as writers either, so supply and demand kind of match up. If you want to be a games journalist in a staff position then, so long as you have the skills for it, you are almost certain to get the kind of job you want. You may, however, have to work on another publication in a related field first - say, a consumer electronics magazine. It depends on the publishing house you go into, but there are often routes for transfer between publications and so if there are no jobs going in the gaming end of a publisher's operations it might be worthwhile taking a job in a related field and biding your time. You never know, you might even find more joy in reviewing MP3 players to games.

    Is one publisher better to work for than another?

    Yes. Definitely. As with all industries, some companies are better to work for than others. Sometimes a publishing house is undoubtedly a place you do not want to work, and other times it can depend on personal preference. For example, I recall listening to the woes of a friend of mine who used to work at a publishing house which would only grant its writers the "privilege" to go to Los Angeles to cover E3 for the magazine if they paid their own air fare there and back. At the same publishing house the writers on a magazine concerning itself with a handheld console had to buy their own units to review games on for the magazine.

    Always research the publishing house you are going to work for, and don't be so desperate for a job as a games journalist to chase down staff positions wherever they may arise, or you could find yourself in a position you do not want to be in. Towards personal preference, you can choose to work for a small, tight knit outfit, or you could go and work for one of the large publishers like Future, CMP or Ziff Davis. In these large companies there is more scope for moving around internally, and if you choose to leave the company and go freelance you will find you have a lot more contacts and friends with commissioning abilities than if you work for Joe Small Publisher, which has its own advantages and rewards. Take your pick.


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