5 Social Media Dont’s for Writers

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Hey, you’re a writer now. You know what that means? It means that a big part of your job every day is social media-ing, in hopes that anyone anywhere might actually read your goddamn book, story, article or whatever. If you do your job right, you might get some traction. Most likely, no one will read it, but you might get a few “likes.”

That’s okay, I’ve decided. Having hammered away at social media for more than a year now in a more or less official capacity on behalf of So You Created a Wormhole, I feel like Nick and I have carved out an incredibly modest divot into which we fit neatly. I’ve also realized that the vast majority of this s–t is in no way worth the time, money or effort.

I can’t speak from anything but my own experience when it comes to any of this stuff. And I can’t say that I’ve been hugely successful. But I do know what things not to do when other writers on various social networking platforms do them, and if they bother me — a writer who seeks out and pays attention to other writers — I’m almost positive they bother other people too. So here’s the best I can do in terms of social networking advice: a list of s–t to avoid (mostly because I dislike it).

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X-Surface and the Mess That is Online Journalism

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Today, an anonymous guy “leaked” information about Microsoft’s expected upcoming new Xbox console. He did this by writing a long, involved email, in which he made up a lot of information — namely specs and other details that would make the leak seem legitimate. It’s obvious the guy did a lot of research.

Then he sent the email to several websites, posing as an anonymous guy from Microsoft. Some sites picked up the information, and then the information began to circulate as it often does with tech and gaming news. It got picked up a fair amount (here it is on Yahoo! News), although many big gaming sites — VG247, Kotaku and (humbly included) Game Front — didn’t publish it.

You can read the full account of what the guy did and what he thinks of this industry here. He takes it as proof of a failure of games/tech journalism. In a very big way, it is that.

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Why Players Go So Nuts Over Choice

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I know, kind of a lot of video game blogs lately. I’m knee-deep in one of the busiest months of freelancing of the year for the medium, so it’s about all I have to talk about right now. That should be changing pretty soon as I start to do some more fiction work and other things. In the meantime, this is going to have to be about video games again.

And yeah, Dishonored is still on my mind. First, the game started out with a bit of a lovefest. Day One reviews for the game were glowing — it is, after all, a game about a supernatural assassin who has a vast many choices about how to approach those assassinations. And the majority of the praise for the game is for its freedom: You can decide to do a lot of stuff, or not do it. You can pick and choose your way forward, you can avoid things, you can strive for other things. You are the decider, or at least you feel like it, because even if your destination is mandated, your journey to that location is not.

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5 Truths About Games Journalism

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It’s not as much fun as you think.

Inevitably, readers on the Internet always seem to subscribe some incredible attributes to games journalists. Usually these have to do with the exorbitant checks we must be receiving from publishers and developers to sway public opinion. I figured today I’d take a minute and clear up a few misconceptions about the glamorous life of playing games for a living, for your edification.

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In the Brain Holes: Some readings on sexism, assault

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As is readily apparent from this blog and the photos of me sometimes found upon it, I’m a straight white male. Thus, for me to talk about sexism and the experiences of women is, well, idiotic. So I’m not, I dunno, commenting? on that so much here: Even though it’s extremely important, there’s no way I could “weigh in” in such a way as to be helpful to anyone.

What I will comment on is what feels like a rapid and stark change in the conversation about sexism in this country, and also specifically in nerd culture, over the recent months. The number of personal accounts and angry editorials I’ve read recently on the subject, both in general life and in more specific places like conventions and gaming culture, is kind of staggering. All of it is heartbreaking, but here’s the positive side: The conversation is shifting. It’s getting loud(er) out there. And that’s very good.

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5 Tips: Breaking Into Freelance Games Journalism

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I’ve been working steady as a games journalist for better than two years now, and occasionally I’m asked about how to get into the industry. There are no hard and fast rules, unfortunately — nor is breaking into the industry at all easy for anyone. I wound up here by a confluence of lucky circumstances and persistence.

However, it’s definitely possible to get work as a freelancer, in any segment of journalism. But freelance work is as much about playing salesperson as it is writing, and you have to be able to handle both in most circumstances. The bad news is that being your own salesman as well as writer kind of sucks. The good news is, you can distinguish yourself if you’re a little bit savvy and willing to work for it.

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A return to journalism could save journalism

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Occasionally I like to throw down a diatribe about the state of journalism, something of which I’m more spectator than participant. But seriously, it’s impossible to study journalism, to give a crap about it, and not see the state of Journalism The Institution and not freak the hell out. I’ll try to keep the freak-outs to a minimum.

My most recent cold sweat at the thought of what our jackass country is doing to the gathering and dissemination of information came from this Poynter article, which discusses the fact that news magazines like “Newsweek” and “Time” don’t employ fact-checkers. This was important because the cover story of the latest “Newsweek,” which happens to attack President Barack Obama’s track record as president, also happens to get, like, a lot of things incorrect.

But hell, why bother to get things right when you can just be loud? That seems to be the prevailing wisdom in media for the last decade.

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Looking to the Gaming Community for New Stories

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Something you learn quickly when working at a small video gaming website like the one for which I work, GameFront.com, is that access of any kind is really hard to come by.

Quickly, it becomes really difficult to execute what you might call “journalism” in other circles. Doing research and getting interviews with the people who actually make the games you’re writing about is notoriously difficult, and the entire industry is under tight controls by public relations companies. The game-making industry controls the message as best as it can, whenever it can, regardless of what the message is. Innocuous questions go unanswered all the time because information control is power in this industry, and publishers wield it. It’s hard to blame them, really.

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Creating the journalism Spam State

I’m working on a diatribe about journalism in general, but I need to temper and hone my argument better before I post it here. In the meantime, I’ll comment on a smaller portion of the evolving journalism industry: Citizen journalism.

Everyone’s got an opinion as to the evolution of the industry right now, but the ones that drive me the most crazy are these advocates of citizen journalism. Not only as a working journalist, but as a member of this society, I feel like full-scale citizen journalism will be a horrible development.

I’ve spoken at length with Caitlin M. Foyt about this idea. She likes the idea of citizen journalism in a lot of ways – instead of one perspective on events, you get many. You get eye-witness accounts of said events, and different people’s first-hand knowledge of what happened, from diverse voices.

It sounds great, and in certain instances and under certain circumstances, it is. Crowd-sourced news can be great.

Provided there’s a filter.

But often there isn’t. The idea that any clown from any place can write any thing on the Internet and not only are we going to believe it, but we’re going to encourage it, scares the hell out of me. I went to school to do this; if we educate people to do it, probably there’s something important to learn about doing it.

The consideration of ethics, of what’s fit to print and what should be held back, about doing harm when harm is unnecessary or mitigating collateral damage against the innocent, were all major subjects of study during my time at Central Michigan University.

Citizen journalists have no concept of ethics. There are plenty of things that most people don’t think about until after the fact – like the publishing of names of accused people, for example, or of photos showing people in compromised situations. Like at the moment of their deaths.

Not to mention that there’s nothing stopping all these random contributors from just posting whatever they want. Just because you have the name of someone who’s been arrested, or a rape victim, or whatever, doesn’t mean it should be public information.

There’s also nothing stopping these people from running rampant and publishing anything they want, true or not, verified or not. Or pushing their agendas and sculpting the news to fit their world views. All these things, all these biases, are supposed to be avoided by professional journalists. While this doesn’t always happen the way we’d like, at least we all recognize that we’re supposed to try to practice journalistic ethics.

Yes, citizen journalism can be extremely useful in certain situations. My favorite example is a car crash. Lots of eye-witness perspectives of people who happen to be there can bring clear focus to an event that has the potential to be confusing after-the-fact. In that regard, I like citizen journalism, because many accounts mean more of the picture is revealed.

But for a crime? For a government meeting, or a new bill going through the state senate, or anything concerning the rights of the accused, or corporate malfeasance, or any number of other things that newspapers and journalists are supposed to cover and cover well – no, thank you. No citizen journalists can handle things like that.

For one, they don’t know how. Two, they don’t know, or don’t care, that everyone is entitled to certain rights and that you protect those rights. Accused criminals are innocent until proven guilty, even if they’re accused of molesting children or murdering grandmas and puppies. But blogs and Internet comments ALREADY are rife with people leaping to conclusions, convicting people because they’ve been arrested, calling for public executions (really – that happens on newspaper comments all the time). These are the people I’m supposed to trust to give me the truth?

And that’s the other thing: What truth is there when there’s no one looking over your shoulder, making sure you get it right? The best part of the journalism industry is that reporters can’t just make things up (usually). They can’t just put together a story with only one side of things told. Because there are laws. There are editors. There are people who know better reading things over and saying, “You haven’t done a good enough job of meeting our standards.”

One of my major problems with journalism today is that these standards have become far too lax, but they still exist – unless you’re talking about a blog, or a citizen journalist, who not only doesn’t have these rules and this oversight, but has no idea what these journalists and editors are even looking for.

Any reporter will tell you, people are routinely trying to push their story ahead of everyone else’s. Even sources don’t recognize the need for fairness. How can people who write the news fairly when working part-time, for free, without education?

So I’m supposed to read these stories written by untrained, uneducated citizen journalists and find what in them – truth? Trust? Facts? How is it better to let people who have not only no financial stake in the story, but any number of conflicts of interest because they are NOT WORKING JOURNALISTS, create the news? What we’re giving people at random is the power of the press without any of the responsibility or preparation, and we’re pretending like it’ll be better for the country.

If a story is written about the impropriety of a used car dealership by someone else in the used car industry, how is that proper? A former employee – do we trust that? What about a competitor? At what line do we decide that no, your work is not to be trusted, but yes, this guy’s is? And how do we check random people out? If a story comes from random citizen, how do we know that his or her sister-in-law isn’t the owner of a dealership, or friends with someone who was fired, or even just a customer who got taken for a ride? How do you cleanse the news of all these agendas when ANYONE is allowed to push their stories like they’re fact?

Crowd-sourcing and citizen journalism have their place – as a supplement to the work of reporters. As a watchdog effect in which citizens, who SHOULD be gathering their own information, both add those perspectives to and call out reporters on the information they’ve found. But those facts contributed by anyone off the street must be checked out.

A journalist friend of mine mentioned on Twitter the other day what a source of citizen journalism the 10-million-plus user network Facebook could become. He suggested using its college network setup to create huge, crowd-sourced outlets for campus news.

On its face, it could be a good idea, but to me, that’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard of. Most of the people I know on Facebook can barely put together two sentences. Ten million idiots throwing content at the wall and calling it news? It’ll be an inundation of unsubstantiated mud-slinging, name-calling, and agenda-pushing. You’ll be getting the Dennis Lennoxes of the world spreading lies, propaganda, and defamation, coupled with the sorority clones and fraternity clowns making sure everyone knows about their philanthropy, fundraiser and party this weekend. And that’s just some of the b.s. that will populate a crowd-sourced Facebook news program.

What you’ll barely hear about, if at all, are the things that matter – tuition raises, actions of campus police, crime, security, administrative moves, changes in classes. And even if you do, how will you be able to find them, read them, and believe them in the face of all the garbage you’ll have to wade through? And what will these news stories be, except people bitching about paying more with “I’m not happy about this because it effects me” mentality?

You’re creating a spam state of journalism.

And there’
s just too much at risk. The power of the press is too great to try to create the news out of a compilation of random bits of information contributed from people with no filter. And no amount of seminars, workshops, or three-hour training sessions with real journalists is going to create journalists out of random people. They need real schooling.

I’ve been learning and practicing good journalism for the last eight years of my life. That’s why I’m qualified to write a news story – and editors will still read it over, make sure it’s true, and hold me accountable for every word that story says. Is that really something we want to surrender to the Internet just because it’s more convenient to let Bob, Jim, Sandy and Marsha write down what they see?

It’s a bad idea because journalism is no longer about the quantity of news produced, or the speed at which that news is found – it’s now about quality.

We’re going to figure that out real soon if we keep ignoring the fact that trained journalists know how to write stories that are good in favor of something that’s cheaper, faster, and above all, less trustworthy.

On critics, criticism and making a living by ripping on other people’s work

Jamie Kennedy’s documentary Heckler showed up in my mailbox courtesy of Netflix last week.

The film is interesting specifically because it gives a perspective not always readily apparent for the regular consumer of creative works, specifically comedy as film. Kennedy spends a lot of time displaying what it’s like to be heckled as a stand-up comedian, and how comedians have to deal with it.

It’s more than just the idea that sometimes people come and make fun of you while you do a show – sometimes heckling is so intense that it has a major psychological impact on comedians. It’s hard on you, certainly, when you put all you have out there on stage and still, some drunk jackass won’t let you do your job.

So I don’t blame the comedians for getting bitter.

The movie goes on to attack movie critics, which was a different and interesting point of view for me. Not that I’ve never heard of the critiqued complaining about the critics, but Heckler did go out of its way to talk to both sides. The movie also sat a few Internet critics in front of Kennedy so he could confront them directly on their panning, mean-spirited reviews of his film, Son of the Mask.

As some of you may know, I’ve made a living as a film critic and done it for fun for some time. Occasionally I’ll throw reviews up here because I enjoy writing them.

So it was yet another perspective, to listen to these comedians lashing out at the many, many critics who don’t like their work, and who not only complain about it, but who relentlessly attack character.

On that point, I’ll concede: Critics perch on cushy seats in little cubicles, safely removed from much of the creative process. They sit back, watching movies for free, and then turn around and often come up with the best ways to make fun of them. For the worst critics, this involves attacking the personality, character, career and work of the people involved, sometimes to a vicious degree.

And that’s wrong. If you don’t like a Jamie Kennedy movie, that doesn’t mean Jamie Kennedy should never do another movie. Nor does it mean Jamie Kennedy should perish in a car fire with his mother, to paraphrase the anti-heckler barrage of the late, great George Carlin.

However, many of the comedians attack the profession of critique. One director mentions that just because he’s watched football all his life doesn’t mean he could become a coach – a metaphor implying that just because you’ve seen movies doesn’t mean your opinion is worth a damn.

Many other people in the movie follow up with, “Let’s see you do better.”

About this, I must comment.

To say that critics are worthless wannabe movie-makers, stranded in a land of ripping on other people for lack of ability or creativity is, in many ways, very wrong. I’ll agree that many critics are unnecessarily harsh.

But a critic ripping on a movie is no different than a comedian ripping on rednecks, politicians, Christians, cultists, other comedians, or any other group or individual. Pretending that the creators of such things are exalted because they filmed their exploits, but me, I’m an asshole because mine appears in print, is hypocritical as well as naive.

You may have watched football all your life and not be able to coach – but you can recognize good football and bad, peewee league football. Being a critic is about being educated about film to the point where you can make a judgment about the quality of a project in comparison to other projects.

As a critic, you fulfill two functions:
1. You’re giving your opinion for the benefit of others, so that they can save money on things they may not want to spend money on. This is why they read your reviews, value your opinion, and pay you to do a job.
2. You’re an entertainer. Your job is to write a review not just that you give that opinion, because really, nobody cares what your opinion is if they really want to see the movie. Most people discard the value of critics’ opinions for Harry Potter, the latest Schwarzenegger vehicle, or a romantic comedy. So what you’re really doing is giving your opinion for the people who want it, and trying to give everyone else something fun to read.

So saying that you’re just some clown wannabe who never made it and now sits around, picking apart other people’s work, is ridiculous. Readers want to read funny reviews – I promise. Your review sells because it’s funny, or in some other way interesting. But you’re writing for your audience.

Not to shirk my responsibility for the way I treat people in my reviews, because that’s not my goal. But pretending like it’s just bile and vitriol is to treat the critic just as you’re complaining the critic is treating you.

For my part, it takes a lot for me to call out a filmmaker to the point where I really dislike them. A few – Michael Bay, Paul W.S. Anderson – I cannot stand. Bay’s work pisses me right off because it lacks substance and glorifies cliches, and Anderson loves to take franchises I love and do a half-ass job of adapting them to film. Anderson’s a wannabe fanboy, and I have no problem saying that if he never made another movie, I’d be happier for the film industry.

Whether or not that makes Jamie Kennedy cry isn’t my problem, I guess (though I really do like Kennedy, and I loved Malibu’s Most Wanted). Just as I have to have some thick skin when people comment on my writing – and they do (or did), and I did have to take it – so too must people who are creative be ready to deal with the fact that the Internet is a place where people rip on them.

And yes, I realize I’m feeding into this negative Internet stereotype by sitting in (relative) anonymity, writing this blog, but just because Kennedy gets paid for his soapbox and I get mine for free in cyberspace doesn’t necessarily make him president and me a crazy hobo. The point is, I have my perspective and he has his. I appreciate him being creative and I appreciate my ability to make comment. That’s the way it works when you make things.

Without third-party perspective, what’s the point of creation anyway?