If web addresses could use quotation marks, VideoGameJournalismJobs.com would be an excellent candidate. The word job fairly implies payment, and most of the listings on VGJJ.com are volunteer gigs. It’s easy to tease the site but I have cited it as a place where people hoping to get experience in games journalism should absolutely go to try and find their first position somewhere. It’s how I got hooked up with a website called Game Kudos which got me into my first E3, and my first GDC, and my first Penny Arcade Expos as press, and allowed me to conduct a ton of networking which has paid off big over time.
I never noticed before that VGJJ.com labels itself as “jobs for freelance game journalists.” I definitely see that through a different lens now than I would have around the time I hooked up with Game Kudos. I can’t imagine any of the freelance game journalists I am friendly or acquainted with going to VGJJ.com to look for work. The listings have always seemed quite clearly meant for beginners. They are positions to be graduated out of. But then this ad from indie site RipTen.com was brought to my attention via that wonderful source of endless kerfluffling known as Twitter.
The RipTen.com ad cites a degree in Journalism, Communications or Broadcast Media, or appropriate education/experience combo, and a portfolio of work as prerequisites for applying. For all intents and purposes it reads like a legitimate job advertisement…only it’s a volunteer gig. The kerfluffle was best expressed in the statement “This is what’s wrong with video game journalism,” but that’s entirely incorrect. I can’t get worked up over RipTen throwing that ad out there because I can’t imagine anyone taking them up on it. If that ad were a problem, it would be an immediately self-correcting one.
I think the RipTen ad speaks to something entirely different, namely the outlet’s knowledge that there are plenty of people with the talent to write video game journalism but who simply cannot get a gig because the industry is too damned small. People may be clapping their hands at the number of outlets and opportunities opening up in video game journalism right now, but there are so many un- or under-employed game journos floating around that you’re more likely to see established voices filling slots when they become available than seeing entirely new voices entering the mix unless those new voices fill very specific niches.
That’s not a complaint, it’s a reality. I’m lucky that I was able to do enough networking to get my foot in the door and start paying my dues such that I could get in line for a staff gig someday. As I said last time, being good isn’t good enough. It’s about who you know. It’s also about being in just the right place at just the right time with just the right kind of content someone needs and fitting the voice of the outlet that’s doing the hiring. Whoever it was from RipTen that decided to post that ad knew that people were out there looking for work and can’t find it, so perhaps they could grab some legitimate talent. I doubt it…but the very fact they made the attempt suggests awareness of the glut of talent floating around out there for the lack of permanent homes.
The ongoing debate about whether people should or should not write for free too often demonizes the outlets who don’t pay for work and doesn’t often enough lay the responsibility for that state of affairs on the writers themselves. It’s not like indie gaming websites that don’t pay for original work just cast a net into the ocean, trawl for a while, and then pick up a bunch of writers which they force into slave labor. While I agree with most of what Mitch Krpata has to say about writers allowing themselves to be exploited in this post on his blog, he also ignores the fact that if someone is making money off the free work of a writer the problem lies with the writer, not the outlet. Krpata was speaking of VGChartz and the way the site allegedly treated its writers. No one forced those writers to stay there.
If someone wants to write about video games and they either cannot find the right networking connections to get their foot in the door or simply haven’t had enough practice producing the kind of work that will sell, should they not work at all, then? I certainly think that telling people to stop working for sites whose reputations might be hurting the writer is good advice, but I would never tell someone just to write for their own blog unless they are absolute beginners. I have seen one writer get hired full-time into video game journalism on the basis of personal blogging and a few posts on other sites with good reputations and hence audiences, but the near-perfect storm that got them where they are is not something I would ever bet on seeing again for a very long time, if ever.
One is much more likely to learn this business and get enough practice producing content that might sell as a freelance pitch if they can find a reputable indie site that passes its content through editors, gets review copy so that writers can practice writing reviews against timelines, is hooked into the same PR feeds that the professionals are, just to get a hang for how some of the information hits us, and most importantly gets them into events. The trick is not to write for a site that demands too much of you if they aren’t paying, and to learn how to identify sites that are making money such that you don’t make the mistake of writing for them for free. It’s up to the writer to determine where these traps lay.
Video game journalism, like any business, is filled with bullshit and politics and personalities to navigate and the indie gaming site world is no different. Best to get the practice in early, and the same lesson about avoiding indie sites that might take advantage of you is similar to learning which professional sites you do or do not want to work for. Just because a site is offering you a paycheck doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for your career to work there. In some cases, you might actually find indie sites that don’t pay but get more respect from serious, working game journalists than professional sites that do issue paychecks but get mocked incessantly by the pros behind closed doors.