My mother always told me, "Do what you love, and the money will follow." It's not true. I wish it were. Sorry mom. It's a dangerous thing to tell a geeky little girl something like that when she's trying to decide whether to be a coroner, an international diplomat, or a butterfly. I did not become any of these things. I got a degree in what I loved, but the money followed only when I got a job I didn't love to pay for my husband to do what he loved. My landing a job with Massively (almost four years ago!) was the product of an unrelated cross-country move, a lot of luck, and an unusual combination of otherwise mundane knowledge. It was not something I planned and executed meticulously as a career plan.
Let's break down Josh's questions.
Do editors look for people who have journalism degrees and existing experience? That depends entirely on the site. Some of the big sites put a lot of stock in journalism degrees and resumes. I don't. I don't even want to see a resume, and we have some writers who don't have a degree at all. When we're hiring, the only thing I really care about is can you do this job brilliantly and on time without hand-holding. Existing experience and links to work, even unpaid, make for an easy way to prove that, whereas a journalism degree just proves you muddled through some undergrad courses. But I know we're unusual there. Larger sites still do things the old-fashioned way.
What traits are desirable in a technology journalist? Exceptional writing skills. Self-editing skills. Location. Availability. Reliability. Punctuality. Familiarity with the site. Contacts (yes, who you know often counts). Willingness to be edited. Exceptional writing skills. Willingness to do boring things and write about it. Did I mention exceptional writing skills?
The industry doesn't pay much, right? Right. There's more money in tech blogging than games blogging, though, and there's much more competition in games journalism since people are under the (completely misguided) perception that games journalism is nothing but fun BECAUSE VIDEO GAMES WOOOOO. A lot of sites don't pay their writers anything, doling out "exposure" as compensation. Blech. But that's what you're up against, and that's why you have to be exceptional and lucky to pull it off.
Is it possible to support a family in tech/games journalism? Possible, yes. Likely, no. The full-time staff at the very largest networks probably can squeak by, especially if they live in a cheap state where mortgages cost a third of what my husband and I pay in rent. Unfortunately, gaming conventions don't happen in cheap states, which makes you less likely to get hired in the first place. There is no one at Massively for whom this job generates the sole income supporting a family (though I am told one of our staff used to pull it off for a short while!); even our few full-time staff have side jobs or spousal incomes or both. On the other hand, we have had writers who support themselves freelancing for multiple sites full-time. Consider that even at a site a small as ours in a genre as niche as ours, we still get hundreds of applications, many of them overqualified, for every tiny job opening. It's not just because we're awesome. It's because the best freelance bloggers work for a dozen sites to pay their bills and pad their resumes.
I'm sorry to be a killjoy. The economy still sucks, and the games industry is volatile. For every handful of posts about new games and updates, we have one with a darker tone. We post about studio layoffs and game shutdowns on what seems like a monthly basis. Prominent game sites and paper publications have been closing up shop left and right over the last few years. Indie sites are subject to the whims of amateur siterunners and primitive advertising. Professional sites are subject to the whims of corporate beancounters. Massively itself has suffered deeply in recent weeks thanks to budget cuts at AOL and our parent network. I just cannot say this is a great industry to join and try to forge a serious career in. It's fun, if you're lucky enough to slip into it, but it's never safe.
To those of you who expressed your sympathies to our staff after we announced the network's budget cuts and layoffs last week, thank you. Massively and our parent network and sister sites will continue on -- ensmallened, but no less dedicated to this craft. Please feel free to follow our current staff and those who've departed, wherever they may land.
What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every Friday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just ask!