A couple of weeks ago I attended an event hosted by the National Union of Journalists, where the status quo of gaming journalism was a hot topic. Are professionals even needed where amateurs are prepared to do reviews, features, interviews, and just about everything else, for free?
It was basically a room full of people scared sh*tless at the prospect of being made redundant by an overcrowded marketplace. However, behind all the doom and gloom and postulation at how their lot in life could be improved, there were some salient arguments being raised about how professional games journalists could outclass amateur games journalists, thus reclaiming their status as ‘indispensable’ and – more importantly – demonstrating that they are indeed worth paying a decent salary.
Assuming someone can write fluently already and their industry awareness is greater than that of, say, the clueless rabbit I ran over on my way to work the other night, here are some of the more advanced areas for self-improvement they might want to consider. From editorial to content management and production roles, adding some points to the following skill trees would prove useful across the games industry and the online media world in general.
“The Internet and Knowledge Thereof”
It wasn’t so long ago that professional journalists sneered at the mention of the word, “internet.” It was considered a poor man’s substitute for the gilded craftsmanship of print media; a world where quality writing was overlooked in favour of wild speculation and rumour-mongering. After all, anyone could paste their nonsensical cacophony of poorly-worded conjecture on one blog page or another.
Now the internet is the games industry’s biggest recruiting station and this has resulted in a significant bump in media quality, both from amateurs and professionals, as well as tweaks to presentation styles and article layouts. Just take a look at Ben Croshaw’s work; that’s a true example of modern journalism that simply wouldn’t have been acceptable back in the days of stuffy print media rule.
Ergo, if someone wants to be a games journalist in these troubling times it is no longer acceptable for them just to be able to write well (although that certainly helps to boost your credibility). Can they work with HTML code as well as rich text format? Do they understand how to design and improve website functionality? Do they know how to get the most out of their visual assets and how to implement them alongside a written article?
These are the things a lot of professional journalists are having to come to grips with in an effort to stay afloat. Good written content is one thing, but knowing how to structure, present and publish it effectively to a worldwide audience is quite another. Aspirants would do well to familiarise themselves with online jargon, at least basic coding, and the various assets provided by PR companies and publishers, because the future of gaming media will see them working with a lot of it.
Having a decent blog, while not critical, gives both amateur and professional journalists two hefty advantages.
The first and most beneficial aspect of blogging is that it allows content producers ample opportunity to practice their style of presentation, particularly with things like coding, page layout, and design. People get picked up just as much for their visual flair as they do for everything else now, so if they’re able to throw in their own designs alongside their written content in a blog then that potential recruitment factor gets a huge boost.
The second advantage is that they’re showcasing their raw material, their personality, and writing style on their blog. As a general rule website editors like to spend more time organising what content they want to have ready for their audience, rather than going through poorly-written articles and correcting grammar, spelling, and referencing mistakes. The only person responsible for a blog is the blogger; therefore it gives head hunters a good idea of what a content producer is capable of if they consistently post well-structured articles, saturated with an entertaining voice for good measure.
So it pays to blog regularly and blog well. It’s better than a CV for people to gain an understanding of someone’s basic skill set.
“The YouTube Channel”
One might imagine this comes under the heading of “The Blog”, but they’d be wrong; it’s a new kind of thing entirely.
Good video editors are harder to come by than people might think. Good video editors who can present well on camera or do a decent review voice-over? Rarer still.
The beauty of doing video work around games and gaming on a YouTube channel is that video makers have full creative control and can employ all the other skills they’ve honed over the years. They can also use it in tandem with the skill sets outlined above, posting videos to written articles and blog entries, and in so doing link their professional assets together.
Whether it’s through on-camera presentation or staying hidden in background as a disembodied voice, creating animations for segments in videos or designing tasteful (or not so tasteful) ‘.png’ or ‘.jpeg’ files to add a personal touch, putting videos together shows a degree of care and attention to detail. Learning how to use capture cards and video editing software might seem like a deviation from journalist skills, but the payoff will soon be realised when site editors see what video makers can do after those first experimental videos are out of the way and they’ve found their feet.
“Networking for Business and Pleasure”
One aspect of journalistic practice that cannot be overstated in its importance is getting to know people. This will never change and it is a constant across all media industries. It’s not ‘what’ people know, it’s ‘who’ they know. Amateurs would do well to carry business cards with their contact details and exchange them at any given opportunity, and professionals are generally happy to collect and swap their details too. Nobody knows where their next job is coming from.
Rhianna Pratchett, who was a games journalist long before becoming a games script writer, remarked at the aforementioned NUJ event that it was her contacts – some of whom she’d met only once and years beforehand – who had given her the first footholds in her new career.
In conclusion, this is about hard work and adaptability. If aspiring journalists can write, that’s a start, but now the games industry is interested in seeing what else they can do.