In late April, I received an email from the managing editor of The Daily Dot. It was sent to me through the email address I advertise here on the “About me” page on Punching Snakes. I maintain that address specifically for the rare times when a reader wants to contact me, which is not very often, because who the fuck am I? People also usually reach out to me through Twitter, so I don’t check my Punching Snakes email very often.
The managing editor said they were looking for a full time gaming reporter at the Dot, and had been following my byline for a while, and wanted to know if I was interested in talking about the position. The email was six days old when I saw it. I, of course, freaked out and wondered if I’d blown the opportunity because they’d already started talking to someone else.
When my academic position at Simmons College was eliminated in October of 2012 I decided six months later, after it became clear that the IT position they had shoehorned me into was not appropriate for me, to give my notice and try to make a go at freelancing full time.
I also kept looking for new, traditional, full time work because as John Scalzi said, to paraphrase, you’re crazy if you leave a 9-5 gig with benefits to write full time. Writing is too tumultuous a business to give up the stability and health insurance of a traditional job. What you needed to do was to write on your time, after work, until if and when you were established. Then you might start making enough money at writing to do that, and that alone, to make your living.
John Scalzi is a wise man. After a year of working my ass off as a freelancer, not holding back any pitches I had to offer, and opening up some really tremendous outlets for myself like Salon, and NPR, and Polygon, and GamesBeat, and solidifying my presence on Ars Technica, the money still wasn’t right. I don’t know how full time freelancers do it unless their expense sheet is incredibly short and/or they don’t care about not having mad money.
I had kept looking for another, traditional job the entire year I’d been freelancing, and finally landed something. It was an administrative position that lacked the academic content of my previous job, but it was a steady paycheck and a union gig. I prepared to return to bill-paying work and writing on the side, as I had been for years.
The Daily Dot opportunity was as out of the blue as an opportunity can be. What followed were a lightning round of interviews with editors, and an offer of employment.
I was cautious. After a year of lacking steady employment at a stable gig, I had a better appreciation of the value of that stability. Did I really want to give that up to embrace the full time writing gig I had stopped dreaming about, after countless applications to open positions at game journalism sites, to the point where I wasn’t even bothering to apply for the gigs anymore when editors called for applicants? Did I want to trade stability, and a job I probably could have held for the rest of my life, for the tumultuous world of online publishing?
I still don’t know that I have a distinct voice as a writer, that if you read something from me not under my byline that you would know it was written by me. I have tried to establish a reputation as a reasonable voice, and someone that developers can trust not to screw them, and a writer who takes on social justice issues where he can.
I’ve gone out of my way to build relationships with writers and editors who come from traditional media backgrounds, and who could teach me old school ethics and standards to make up for my lack of any formal education in journalism. I found editors who would bust my balls and force me to do better, and who wouldn’t let me get away with anything, and I wrote things and took assignments that scared the ever-living shit out of me because I knew that was the only way I was going to grow as a writer.
I made a conscious effort to build a portfolio of clips that covered the gamut of everything I could ever be expected to write. Features, interviews, and op-eds are my stock and trade, but I made sure I also wrote previews and reviews wherever I could, and did as much event coverage as I could afford to as I paid out of pocket for travel. I wrote consumer-facing copy, and tried to write business-to-business content, and more recently tried to break out of strictly the enthusiast press and to get into mainstream media outlets, to embrace the challenge of writing about video games for a non-enthusiast audience because it’s hard.
It was after I looked back on all of that, that I decided The Daily Dot might be the perfect opportunity for me, my dream job at a dream outlet. The DD was founded by a man whose family had been in local newspaper ownership for six generations. He left the family business to create an online outlet that would treat the internet as the local community it would report on. The DD was born from the practices of traditional journalism, transposed onto digital publishing.
It was an outlet outside the bounds of the enthusiast video game press and therefore not limited by the expectations of the traditional video game journalism audience, with the freedom to decide what direction they wanted their video game coverage to take. They needed someone who knew the industry to help guide that coverage. They had an audience larger, in some cases by significant margins, than almost every outlet I’ve ever written for.
I don’t say that by way of rattling sabers, at all. For one, it’s not in my nature. My loyalty is earned by and given to individuals, not organizations. For another, the Daily Dot covers a lot more than video games, so of course they have a much larger audience than enthusiast press sites. I mention the size of The Daily Dot’s audience strictly and entirely by way of noting that when I realized this, I also realized just how large a number of people I could, hypothetically, crash and burn in front of should I fail.
The Daily Dot is some of the most fertile ground I could plant myself into for my first staff gig. It was humbling that they came after me, unbidden. It was also terrifying, but turning down this opportunity would have been fucking stupid, which is why I’ve been a staff writer at The Daily Dot since Monday.
I wanted to wait until I felt a little less clueless, and had some bylines and one heavy-ish story on the site, before I said anything. The new gig is exhilarating, and exhausting, because I’m learning how to do quick-hit, short turnaround, daily reporting for the very first time. This is the ONLY type of writing I’ve never done in four years of professionally covering the video game industry, which is another reason why I took the gig. It scared the shit out of me. That meant it was precisely what I needed to be doing, to keep growing as a writer.
I think I’m finally going to be able to establish my voice, because now I only have one outlet’s editorial voice to fit myself into, and ostensibly the DD wanted me because my work was already in line with that voice. It certainly feels that way, so far.
Now I’m going to drop the names of the people I am grateful for, without whom I would not be here, and pardon me for forgetting anyone:
Dan Hsu gave me my first platform to write on with Bitmob, and the conduit I needed to gain the confidence to try writing for an audience. I was extremely proud to be able to write for him a good deal recently at GamesBeat. It felt like coming full circle from April, 2010, when I posted my very first words in front of an internet audience for them to read. When Bitmob started promoting my pieces, I started to think that maybe I wouldn’t suck at this.
Susan Arendt gave me my first shot at paid work on The Escapist, and everything flows from your first, paid, published piece. She also gave me a weekly column, which forced me to start thinking quicker on my feet, and to look at the video game world in a more holistic sense so as to always have things to write about, even though I didn’t always.
Kyle Orland was my very first, genuine friend in this business. He gave me a huge opportunity by giving me page space at Ars Technica, and Kyle continues to be my go-to mentor for all things games journalism. Kyle taught me, more than anyone else, the importance of networking.
Gus Mustrapa has become probably my closest friend in this business. Maybe that’s because he’s never had to put up with me as my editor, and also because he only deals with me in very short bursts. But if I had an older brother, I think I would wish he were Gus because he is kind and teaches me things which have nothing to do with video games and makes me feel uncultured and stupid, but in the best way possible.
Leigh Alexander has been an inspiration for me. As I’ve charted the course of her career, I’ve pointed and said “That’s the direction I hope I can walk in someday.” Harold Goldberg is the one person I absolutely must visit whenever I’m in New York, because he is one of the best journalists in the business, who also helped set the bar I try to chin myself up to.
Jason Wilson has become one of my favorite editors to work with, and has been extremely supportive. I might miss writing for him most of all. Greg Cook at WBUR gave me a chance to write for NPR, and an opportunity to grow stronger roots here in Boston’s game development community. And Stu Horvath let me consistently write on Unwinnable some of the most personal work I’ve done over the past four years, which I think helped me grow, a lot, as a writer.
It’s not like I was writing here very often, anyway, even after rebranding Punching Snakes into a place where I could write about whatever I wanted, because I prefer to spend my time writing things for which I’ll get paid—Poppa always needs a new pair of everything—so I doubt even the slow trickle here will continue. I have some freelance assignments which still haven’t hit the page, which will trickle out, hopefully soon.
But really, if you’re looking for me, you’ll find me on The Daily Dot. Wish me luck.