Let’s start with the obvious question, since this is essentially about me hoping to help people ask questions: Why?
Why do I want to spend my free time trying to help a complete stranger become a game journalist?
That question seems to sum up what a lot of people have been asking me since I mentioned the idea of a mentorship this weekend.
The short answer is: Why not?
Here’s the longer one.
I grew up loving to do two thing: Ask questions and write stories. But I never realized, not until I was well into my second year of college, that such interests happen to so perfectly fit a profession.
I was delighted when I discovered that I could be paid to attempt to quench my thirst for knowledge and to express myself through writing. So I started taking journalism classes. I changed my major from business. But I didn’t write, not for any city newspapers.
I worked for two college newspapers eventually, but getting my foot in the door of a newspaper didn’t happen until I spent a summer calling every single newspaper in Maryland looking for a job. I finally found one two hours from my house. I worked there for nearly two years, spending more on gas then I made in pay. But I learned a lot thanks to the patience of the editors who decided to give me a chance.
When I was about to graduate from the University of Maryland at College Park with a bit of experience, plenty of college clips and a burning desire to cover war, of all things, I sent out applications to every major newspaper in the country. I still have the folder of rejection letters I received back from every single one of those papers.
One of my mentors at the university suggested I apply for a fellowship with Cap Cities/ ABC (at the time this included papers like the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Kansas City Star). I made it through the preliminary rounds. I was flown out for in-person tests, interviews and meet-ups, but then nothing.
When I graduated I applied for, and landed, a job at Blockbusters as a manager, deciding that perhaps my dream of journalism was just that.
The morning of my first day at Blockbusters, I received a call from the fellowship asking if I could start in a week. I spent the next year traveling the country, working at newspapers under a collection of talented, and giving editors and reporters. It landed me a job at the Star-Telegram and kickstarted what is now a more than 20-year-career.
My leap from newspapers and crime coverage to websites and video games was just as fortuitous and again fueled by lots of people taking a chance on me and then working with me.
I guess what I’m saying, in a very long-winded sort of way, is that I’m doing this mentorship because I have a debt I need to pay off. I owe my career to a lot of people. And it’s time for me to pay this forward.
I have worked with quite a few young or just starting writers both in my coverage of video games and as a newspaper reporter, but I’ve been wanting to try my hand at this without any ties to publications for nearly half a decade.
What the mentorship will be is still a bit of an open question.
For starters, I want to try this with one person. I’m starting with one because it will make it easier for me to tweak and adjust as I go through the process of teaching and mentoring. And because this is online, there are no location requirements.
Whoever I decide to work with will also help me figure out when we can do this so that it fits within their schedule and mine. (Keep in mind that I am doing this in my free time. It’s not connected to Polygon and it can’t have any impact on my job there.)
My hope is to walk a mentee through a number of topics including: the principles of journalism, ethics, law, news writing, reporting, interviews, social, video game beat reporting, feature writing, investigative journalism, journalism as literature, opinion writing, reviews, video, participatory journalism, advanced reporting and newsroom management.
The basic structure I have in mind is to break up the mentorship by topic. I’d kick off each topic with a lecture of sorts streamed on Youtube (and viewable by anyone interested) and then spend a set amount of time discussing the topic, or working with the reporter on stories that make use of the topic. This will likely be done using programs like Google docs for live editing and Google hangout for face-to-face discussion.
Any stories written would be made public somewhere. (Right now I’m thinking I’d either have them create a blog or just toss it up on Subcathoin). These stories would be bylined by them and would run on a site with no advertising. I think it’s very important to make this writing public, because that makes it more real and allows us to discuss the issues of commenting. I don’t want this to be something that is in anyway driven by a concern of pageviews or readership.
My expectation is that over time the mentee will learn the foundation of journalism and hone their abilities as a reporter and a writer.
If everything works out then I’d love to keep doing this. I hate that young writers feel they have no way into this field, or that it can’t be a profession. I’d like to think that maybe this can change some minds, even if that’s one person at a time.
Let me know if you have any thoughts about this, the way the program should be shaped, or anything else about mentorships in the comments.
If you’re interested in participating, fill out the application at the link below. Keep a couple of things in mind though:
I can only take one of you right now, but I’d love to try to do this again.
This is not related or connected to any site. This is just a pet project for me.
This will not land you a job. Hopefully, it will make you a better candidate for someone out there. But no promises.
I’m not 100 percent sure when I’ll be kicking this off. But I’ll definitely let everyone know on this site.
If you don’t know anything about me, but still somehow managed to find yourself here, you should probably check out my experience before deciding whether you want to apply. You can also read some of my thoughts on video game journalism here.