mentorship

The video game beat

Video game journalism is, as I love to say, journalism. But it’s also a beat. That means a specific area of coverage that brings with it its own set of issues, its own field of knowledge and, yes, its own sort of journalistic quandaries.

In this video we talk about that, a bit about GamerGate, and edit mentee Andrea’s news story.

That’s it for this week. You can check out all of the mentorship stories and videos right here.

The importance of previews

This week’s New York Comic-Con means I won’t be able to do a video with Andrea this week for the video game journalism mentorship. We’re still working through her take on the fish piracy story, but I wanted to try and put something up for those of you not in the program, but following along.

Given that this week is packed with preview events, I figured it would be a good idea to walk people through my advice on covering a preview.

In some ways, the gameplay is the least important aspect of a preview. I treat it like I do anything that involves going to cover something, it’s important color, something that can help inform the story and put the reader in the experience, but it’s not the story.

Previews are inherently news events, events created by developers and publishers to impart new information about a game to reporters, typically with a strong time peg. As with interviews and other news events, you should go to these events prepared with not only an understanding of what has already been reported on the game, but also what angles you might explore.

While a reporter may come away from an event with an opinion about the current state of a game and its future potential, they should also leave with a solid idea of what new information came to light during the event through gameplay and interviews. The news story or stories that come out of these events should clearly explain to readers what new information came to light, what the game’s current state is and what you personally found interesting. Interviews at the event that push deeper into those new elements, or other interesting angles, will go a long way in helping preview coverage stand out.

The best sort of story from one of these events has a solid hook or angle that pursues and explains that new information and provides color and light opinion through immersive gameplay explanation. The right balance will lean more heavily toward the news, but remembers to place the reader in the game at some point.

Here are a couple of examples of straight preview events that lead to interesting stories:

Max Payne is a character study shaped by addiction and violence

A video game about mass surveillance in the age of big brother and little brothers

The point is that as a reporter you’re not there to write the story public relations or developers want you to write, you’re there to find what’s interesting, to report it out and then to write it for an audience of passionate gamers who want more than anything else to be intellectually stimulated, engrossed, informed.

The notion of writing a preview that tells you what the buttons do, what the graphics look like, what the new game mechanic is, is and should be dead. Those are all bits and pieces that can and should be weaved into your bigger story: How did the game make you feel? What is important about this game? What sets it apart?

Previews aren’t dead, but previews as early reviews are. Game coverage shouldn’t stop with a game’s release, but it shouldn’t start with it either.

How to write a basic news story and not confuse everyone

Week three and four of my game journalism mentorship is all about putting some of what we’ve learned to use. So Andrea was assigned a story, put together some questions, did an interview and then we sat down to discuss angles and the basics of news story structure in this video.

I’ll write up some of what I went over in the video, below the embed.

The Inverted Pyramid

The ancient Mesopotamians built pyramids for their gods, the Egyptians built them for their god-kings and journalists build inverted pyramids for their readers.

😀

The idea of the inverted pyramid was born out of the need to make stories easy to quickly cut. Laying out a paper on deadline, an editor or layout artist could simply cut from the bottom up to fit a story into a particular space. The inverted pyramid format ensured nothing important would be lost.

Fortunately, websites don’t have the same constraints as print, but our readers are still as impatient, as easily distracted, as unwilling at times to read to the end. So we still follow the inverted pyramid structure.

How’s it work? Simple. A story needs to be constructed with the most important information at top, followed by details for the story, followed by general information and background. Think of it as digging down into a story.

The whole thing should be topped with a “summary lede,” which is another way of saying, essentially, a conclusion.

Ex:

Linda Boreman, who starred as Linda Lovelace in the 1972 pornographic film Deep Throat, died Monday from injuries she suffered in a Douglas County car crash earlier this month.

Boreman, 53, was injured April 3 near Highlands Ranch and taken to Denver Health Medical Center. She was taken off life support and died about 3 p.m. Monday, said her daughter, Lindsay Marchiano.

“I want her to be remembered not as L.L., but as Linda Boreman, as herself,” she said.

The April 3 crash happened about 10 a.m. when Boreman’s Kia Sportage veered off the right side of eastbound C-470 between South University Boulevard and South Quebec Street. Her Kia hit a mile-marker post, then spun and rolled twice, throwing Boreman from the vehicle. She was not wearing a seat belt.

Colorado State Patrol investigators have not determined what caused the crash, but do not suspect alcohol or drugs were involved.

(This is just the top half of the story)

Further listening: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2011/05/20/dear-reader-introducing-world-premier-inverted-pyramid-song/

Further reading: http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/chip-on-your-shoulder/12754/writing-from-the-top-down-pros-and-cons-of-the-inverted-pyramid/

Ledes

The lede is the first sentence or paragraph of your story. There are several styles that can be used. The one you need to learn first, and will use most, is the aforementioned summary lede.

The anecdotal lede is another approach, kicking off a story with a imaginative, eye-catching example, anecdote or description that fits with the story. There are also more complex ledes.

Straight lede ex:

Victor Brancaccio’s mother fainted and his grandmother had to be helped out of the courtroom in a wheelchair, but the man who angrily beat to death 81-year-old Mollie Mae Frazier in 1993 hardly reacted Friday as a jury declared him guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder.

Anecdotal lede ex:

Blank-faced, Sean Paul Hanify tries to explain.

When I’m hurting somebody, I want to see them.

I want to crash their skull.

And I want to get them with that knife.

And I like to hear the sounds of the pounding.

And I like to see the breathing when I’m killing them.

And when I’m killing somebody, I don’t care I’m killing them.

The words fill the silence of the Denver County Jail’s visitation room.

Hanify, 31, glances up at the Rocky Mountain News reporter he’s invited here to confess to killing as many as seven men. Police say it may be as many as eight. He has been charged with one murder and police are looking seriously at four others.

Complex lede ex:

Shack died amid the discarded cans and cigarette wrappers of Northwest Second Street, his bitten and bruised body lying in the knee-high weeds of a South Florida dirt alley.

Tossed into a fighting pit with a trained and vicious dog, the pet pit bull lasted only 15 minutes.

He was put there by Deroy Dawes, a 19-year-old who had found the dog wandering the streets of a coastal South Florida town a week earlier, police say.

After the April 4 fight, Dawes told police he washed the blood from the dog’s body, walked him to a nearby house and chained him to a backyard fence, where he died hours later.

Shack’s owner, Alonzo Austin, found him the same day and buried him where he lay. It was a week after Austin had reported the dog he had owned for three years missing.

“I couldn’t move him, I’d gone through so much,” Austin said. “For me to see my baby like that, it really hurt me.”

Police arrested Dawes April 27 on felony charges of fighting animals and animal cruelty, making him the first person in Palm Beach County to be charged in five years.

“He told us he fought Shack because he wanted to see what he could do,” said Liz Roerich, an animal control officer in Boynton Beach, a small coastal city between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. “It’s becoming fashionable for teens to have pit bulls and fight them.”

Further reading: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/journalism/isaacs/client_edit/Mencher.html

Nutgraph

This is the sentence or “graph” that explains why you’re writing the story, why readers should care, why now.

In traditional inverted pyramid news stories, the nutgraph is often also the lede. But some stories that use anecdotal ledes, or that tackle bigger, longer topics, have a secondary graph that is the nutgraph.

All news stories absolutely need a nutgraph.

Ex:

At first glance, Furtune Troni, clutching a bagel in one hand and a half-empty cup of McDonald’s orange drink in the other, acts like any other 10-year-old: staring at strangers from under her father’s elbow, playing with her braided hair, thoughtfully eating her food.

But on Sunday, when her father started talking about his family’s horrific 20-hour mountainous trek through Kosovo to the refugee camps in Macedonia, the slight girl ran from the room to vomit.

”Our children are very traumatized,” her father, Ilirjan Troni, explained later through a translator. ”They saw things that no child should have seen.”

Ilirjan Troni, his wife and their four children along with two other refugee families from the war-torn region spoke at a rally of 70 hushed and sometimes crying supporters Sunday in suburban Delray Beach.

(The nutgraph is the fourth graph.)

Further reading: http://michellerafter.com/2010/01/07/back-to-basics-the-nut-graph/

Brevity

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it’s also the soul of journalism.

Given the time, a writer should slowly walk through their stories and measure each and every word’s weight, judging it for its value and its use to a reader.

Or as a journalist would put it: Keep it short.

An educational facility is a school. A North American head of public and media relations is a spokesperson. “Has” is rarely needed before a verb.

After you are done writing, go back and see how much you can cut without changing the meaning.

This is especially true with ledes. Flowery, creative ledes are almost never as powerful as a short, punchy sentence.

Twitter is a great agent of brevity; practice your writing there. Try to get across complex thoughts without butchering the English language or breaking the Twitter character count.

Ex:

Melven Febres died twice Tuesday.

Mopsy has looked into the face of death, and it is whiskered.

Gary Robinson died hungry.

When they heard the screams, no one suspected the rooster.

Further reading:

The corpse had a familiar face by Edna Buchanan

 

Strunk and White, aka The Elements of Style, aka The Journalist’s Bible.

http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/chip-on-your-shoulder/10589/the-power-of-brevity/

http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/writing-tools/94055/25-non-random-things-about-writing-short/

A bit of advice

There are plenty of tricks you can use to shorten your ledes and make your stories more easily comprehensible.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Tell a friend: Are you struggling to come up with your lede or summarize your story? Try talking to a friend, a cat, yourself about the story. People naturally summarize when they talk about subjects. What you find impossible to condense in writing you will do automatically when speaking. (I used to call my wife up on deadline at midnight and tell her about the most gruesome murders, car crashes and fires. )

Say it, don’t just type it: When you’re done writing, after you’ve read through and copyedited your own work, take a minute to read it aloud. I don’t mean in your head; I mean as if you’re on a stage, speaking lines to an audience. And read what you wrote, not what you meant to write. You’ll find yourself stumbling over poorly crafted sentences, confused comma splices and misspellings. It’s amazing how much better your writing becomes when you write it to be read aloud. If you find yourself running out of breath in one sentence, it’s probably too long. (When I first started working from home, my wife thought I spent much of my days on the phone with people, until she discovered I was reading my stories to myself.)

Art and science: All of these rules are guidelines. You absolutely need to master these skills and know how to write a summary lede, a nutgrapaph, a “straight” news story. Once you do, then you can start poking at the borders that seem to separate a hard news story from a feature. There’s a reason that a journalism degree is a bachelor of arts at some universities and a bachelor of science at others; good journalism blends both.

Read and write: Not just for work, but for fun. Never stop learning, never stop being inspired by the talent of other’s work.

That’s it for this week. You can check out all of the mentorship stories and videos right here.

The basics of asking questions and getting answers in video game journalism

In the second week of my game journalism mentorship I provide a brief (OK, not so brief) overview of the basics of reporting, how you do it, why you do it, when you do it, where you do it, who does it and what you need to do it. That’s a little reporter joke, get it? You will after watching this video.

This video is more of a question and answer session designed to allow Andrea to get used to asking questions, while also allowing me to get what I think are the important points across. Hope you like it.

You can check out all of the mentorship stories and videos right here.

Script for the elements of (game) journalism.

Last week I posted the first video for my game journalism mentorship program. In the video I walked through the history of journalism, its importance and the best practices of being a journalist. Among the specific topics were things like the pursuit of truth and a journalist’s definition of objectivity and why that’s important.

For those of you who would rather read than watch, I’ve posted the full script of my talk below. This was what I referred to and sometimes just read while doing the video. It’s not an exact match for what the video includes, but it’s pretty close. Also, feel free to watch the video here and definitely take the time to check out our big roundtable on the topics here.

Here’s the talk, keep in mind it’s a bit rough and meant to be read aloud:


 

The difference between being a game journalist and being a journalist is absolutely nothing.

So then, what is a journalist?

That’s a complex question and essentially what the bulk of this talk is about, but in a nutshell, whether a person is a journalist or not is defined by their written work and how it is created.

There is an excellent book out there that anyone hoping to be a journalist should read. It’s the updated third edition of The Elements of Journalism.

The reason this book is so useful is because in establishing and examining what it means to be a journalist and the importance of journalism, the authors worked with the Committee of Concerned Journalist and 1,200 practicing journalists to try and get to the bottom of a bunch of thorny questions.

More than any other book I’ve read on the topic, Elements reflects the attitudes, concerns and evolution of the practice of journalism I’ve been witness to at newspapers, magazines and websites over the 20 or so years of my career.

I’ve drawn a lot from this book, and others I’ll mention at the end of this talk, along with my personal experiences to put together this lecture.

My hope is that you’ll come away from this with a better understanding of the importance of journalism, what it means to be a journalist and a touch of the techniques used to do journalism.

HISTORY

Before we dive into the principles of journalism, let’s talk a little bit about how newspapers and journalism came to be. Tracking the birth of journalism and its evolution is a great way to predict how best to proceed as the media environment continues to grow in complexity and voices.

Modern journalism traces its roots back to popular seventeenth century gathering places, like the coffee house and pub, where travelers would share stories of the things they had seen during their journeys.

As these spoken stories became pamphlets, periodicals and eventually newspapers, the telling of these stories became a profession.

Journalism went through a number of evolutions from the political pamphleteering of the 17th century to the eye-witness accounts and essays written by the likes of Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift in the 18th century. The 19th century brought with it war correspondents and the advent of “new journalism,” which strived for a more populist audience. Then came yellow journalism. The early 20th century saw the rise of tabloid journalism, the birth of investigative journalism, journalism schools and journalism as a profession.

Journalism has always been influenced by the technology of the day, so it’s not surprising that today’s use of Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social communication are impacting the way journalists do their jobs.

JOURNALIST

So, who is a journalist and who isn’t?

Anyone can be a journalist. It doesn’t require a degree or a job at a newspaper or even a byline. Journalism is the act of truth telling through intellectual independence. At least that’s how I would boil it down.

But that’s a very general statement. Truth itself is a hard thing to pin down. And intellectual independence, a phrase used in The Elements of Journalism, is really another form of objectivity.

Objectivity is a word thrown around a lot when it comes to the underpinnings of journalism. But objectivity in the journalism sense is about the method of journalism, not the pure impartiality of the person practicing it.

No one is or could ever be truly objective, that’s why journalism has guiding principles to govern how information is gathered and presented. The idea is that through these methods, journalists can strip away their own inherent proclivities. Journalism is in practice the blending of two skills: The reporting, driven by science and evaluation, and the writing, driven by art.

The duality of the profession is so strong that a degree in journalism can be a bachelor of arts or of science depending on where you obtain it.

In the end, what a journalist should seek before all else, before money or traffic or even their own publication, is a plain, understandable telling of the events.

In its simplest form, it is the job of a journalist to arm citizens with the knowledge they need to make their own decisions and come to their own conclusions.

I use the word citizen because I’m shying away from the word reader. The reader isn’t who a journalist is beholden to, it’s the citizens – readers or not.

EXAMPLE

Before landing my first full-time newspaper gig, I was lucky enough to participate in a year-long, post-graduate fellowship at Knight-Ridder. The program had me traveling to three different newspapers located around the country, and living in those communities for four months each as I worked as a journalist for the paper.

My first stop, straight out of college, was the tiny town of Albany, Oregon where I worked at the Albany Democrat-Herald. During one of my many assignments there, I covered a late night city hall meeting for a nearby town that dealt with the issue of housing for migrant workers.

Over the course of the heated discussion, both town members and council members talked about the concerns they had with migrant workers. Most of those concerns dealt with their own negative perceptions of migrants. They were concerned about workers raping their children, about a rise in crime, about the increased temporary population.

The story raised hackles when it ran, not because people denied the talk happened, but because they seemed embarrassed, in retrospect, of how it made them look.

It was a story that no one at the event wanted to run, but it sparked an important dialog among migrant workers and town folk.

Sometimes, journalism isn’t about providing what a citizen wants to read about, but what they need to read about.

GUIDELINES

In putting together The Elements of Style, Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel created a number of important lists. At the top, is a list of what they believe are the basic principles of journalism.

They are in order: Truth, loyalty to citizens, a discipline of verification and independence of mind.

For obvious and not so obvious reasons, Truth is at the top of the pile. It is through truth that journalists can inform the public. And it is through truth that a sense of trust is established when journalists begin to investigate and uncover lies. Elements goes beyond this to say that journalistic truth is the truth derived from the process of discovery, reporting and writing.

“The first principle of journalism – its disinterested pursuit of truth – is ultimately what sets journalism apart from other forms of communication,” according to the book.

Truth is always a defined truth, but in using the processes of investigating, finding direct eye-witnesses or sources and verifying news, this truth strives to be the most accurate.

Loyalty deals with the fact that journalists have to put citizens first. That means coverage can’t be purchased by advertisers, warped by friends, or skewed by personal interest.

When I am interviewing someone or have access to a place the public doesn’t, I try to imagine the bulk of my potential audience, all of those citizens, resting on my shoulders,n counting on me to get to the truth.

The discipline of verification is best summed up by a line made famous by the new defunct City News Bureau of Chicago: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

It’s also addressed in the grim adage of an editor telling a reporter at the service to go back to the scene of a crime to find out what color a dead baby’s eyes were.

Assume nothing, double check everything. Find multiple sources, multiple takes on the same event. Dig until you get to truth.

Finally, that journalism hobgoblin: Objectivity, or intellectual independence. That doesn’t mean neutrality, it means adhering to those principles of fact-checking, accuracy and loyalty to the public. It means informing, not manipulating.

With these guiding principles also come a number of obligations, including going beyond verification and authentication to provide context and to synthesize the information in a way that makes sense and is interesting to readers.

Yes, journalists need to be watch dogs, but they also can be curators of other’s stories, forum leaders, witnesses to events. They can and should not just cover what the public is screaming for, but also what no one else covers. In so doing, journalism can give voice to the voiceless.

Journalists also need to be role models of journalism and walk the line between advocacy and problem solving.

They need to be willing to seek out and present a mix of coverage, to provide the public with a selection of news. And above all else, journalists need to be responsible to their own conscience, speaking out when they believe these principles are being violated or subverted even if that means speaking out against their own publication.

EXAMPLE

The Guardian made a giant leap forward in their approach to journalism in 2009, by combining traditional journalism with a push online to have readers help them with a story as potential eyewitnesses.

Today, The Guardian regularly uses open journalism to tackle big, important stories. That approach includes the paper’s coverage of Iraq, Afghanistan and Edward Snowden.

What it means is lowering the wall between the reporter and the reader and seeking help which is then pushed through the principles of journalism.

This concept of open journalism has changed how the paper covers everything from world events to sports and travel. It’s a concept that everyone should follow.

EVOLUTION

It’s also a reminder that journalists, professionally trained journalists, aren’t the only game in town anymore. Nowadays you’re just as likely to see solid reporting from a Twitter user in Egypt or Ferguson as you are from a newspaper or wire service.

You can thank technology for that, and you should. It means that journalists are no longer the gatekeepers of information, but it also means that suddenly a good journalist has a million eyes, and they’re everywhere. And it changes the relationship that reporters have to their readers, both increasing a writer’s reach, but also making it all the more important to get the story right the first time and to weigh reaction.

Of course the same rules of journalism apply, but if used correctly, Twitter, Facebook, all of the social media sites can lead to powerful, crowd-sourced reporting.

And it’s your obligation as a reporter that you use this new tool both to forward your reporting but also to keep in touch with the citizens that you serve.

This new boon does come with plenty of danger. The instantaneous reporting of news by non-journalists and journalists can easily lead to bad reporting, a lack of fact-checking and misinformation.

Speed is important in journalism, but not as important as accuracy.

EXAMPLE

Years ago, a friend and co-worker of mine, Mike McWhertor, came to me with a story. He had it down pat with multiple reliable sources and strong contextual reporting. He had learned that Sony was soon to unveil a virtual space on the PlayStation 3 called home. The last step was to seek verification from Sony representatives.

Over the course of an hour or so, that last step lead to a very different sort of story. Sony officials warned and then threatened the publication, saying if we posted the story they would cut us off from all access to the company, its games and its people.

We published the story anyway and Dave Karraker, senior director of corporate communications for Sony Computer Entertainment America, made good on his threat, sending a letter detailing how the blackballing would be carried out.

I made the decision that publishing that letter from Karraker was in the interest of the public because it shed light on what was at the time considered by some video game publishers, a typical way of doing business. That decision to publish was driven by those journalistic principles. As I later wrote to Karraker:

“I think this only highlights the differences that PR people and journalists have. My interest is not in making sure that Sony has positive news or that the timing of their news is correct, my job only is to inform the readers of news as quickly and accurately as I can.”

The reaction by the public and other publications quickly led to a retraction by Sony. It remains a perfect example of why journalists should adhere to these principles and how in so doing those principles afford journalists and the publications they work for a bit of protection.

GAME JOURNALISM

A few year’s back I wrote a short piece on video game journalism and ethics. At the time I said that journalism ethics were never more murky than when removed from the stark light of dire circumstances.

The point I was making is how easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking that in covering culture or entertainment, perhaps ethics and the principles of journalism aren’t as important.

But journalism is journalism, no matter the beat.

Journalism, Gene Foreman writes in The Ethical Journalist, “serves the public by providing reliable information that people need to make governing decisions about their community, state and nation.”

Community is the key word here. In saying that they cover video games, what most game journalists really mean is that they are covering the community of video games. That community includes researches, game developers, publishers, artists, writers, musicians, game players, parents, politicians, and the list goes on and on and on.

The community of gaming wants and deserves thoughtfully informed coverage, journalism created by journalists. Just as importantly, as Kovach and Rosentiel write, the “reporting of culture, social events, trends, sports and much more form a vital part of how we come to understand community and civil society and how, as citizens, we navigate our lives.”

WRAPUP

It’s hard, I’ve discovered, to try and summarize the whole of journalism in a short talk. So what I’ve done here is to try and touch on the most important aspects of journalism and being a journalist.

I highly recommend reading some of the books I’ve listed below. Over the course of your mentorship we’ll also be delving much more into these topics and putting those principles to practice.


 

This was part of a quick primer on journalism and game journalism as part of a mentorship program I am conducting. Citations and reading suggestions below.

Source and reading material:

Book: The revised and updated Elements of Journalism

Book: Online Journalism Ethics

Book: The Ethical Journalist

Article: Video games and newsroom management

Article: Blackballing: On the relationship between journalists and game makers

Article: On gaming, ethics and journalism

Article: The journalism mentorship

A round-table discussion of game journalism

As part of my game journalism mentorship I asked a group of talented and experienced game journalists to sit in on a video chat with mentee Andrea Ayres Deets. The result was a chat with Polygon’s Tracey Lien, Cnet’s Ian Sherr, USA Today’s Mike Snider and Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo about game journalism.

I hope you enjoy it. Make sure you also check out my post and video on the principles of game journalism and a bit on the mentorship itself.

Also, feel free to discuss the topics in the comments below. The more involved the merrier.

The principles of (game) journalism

Today I officially kicked off the mentorship program with this video. The idea is that the video will walk viewers, perhaps too quickly, through the history of journalism, its importance, and very-much-most importantly, the principles by which journalists should work in their craft.

This is meant to be a quick primer. All of this is stuff that I’ll come back to over and over again until the end of the year, when the mentorship ends.

As a special treat, four fellow journalists, all writers I really respect, have each volunteered to offer up a bit of their Friday evening to be a part of what will become a public roundtable about journalism and video games. I’m not sure yet how we’re going to swing this, but essentially myself, Andrea Ayres and the four will be in a video chat for 30 minutes or so about the topics of this video. At some later point, I’ll likely post the video for others to watch.

The journalists participating are Polygon’s Tracey Lien, Cnet’s Ian Sherr, USA Today’s Mike Snider and Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo. It’s wonderful to see so many people coming together to help out. I hope you enjoy, or at least don’t hate, the video.

Make sure you check out the follow up round-table discussion here. You can also read up on the mentorship here.

99 choices, one mentee

It has been nearly a month since I announced my video game journalism mentorship idea.

Back on July 6, I tweeted that I wanted to try and give someone a helping hand, the same sort of helping hand I received when I was a young journalist trying to land a professional job. I’m still hacking away at how exactly I’m going to teach and work with the mentee, a process that I hope to continue with the person I’ve selected.  But I have decided on who I want to mentor.

Before I tell you who, I have to make it clear just how hard this decision was.

When I asked for people interested in a game journalism mentorship to apply, I expected maybe a dozen applications. Instead I received nearly 100. And it was a interesting mix of people.

More than half had journalism experience, with six percent of those racking in more than five years experience. More than a quarter of the applicants worked in the game industry. Most applied out of an interest in reporting, though a close second was a desire to improve their writing. A third of the applicants said they’d be available every day of the week to meet and more than 70 percent said they could devote four to six hours toward the program weekly. Most people seemed to want the program to run four to six months.

The demographics, while not something I required people to respond to, were also interesting. Just seven percent of the applicants were women and most of those applying were 21 to 25 years old.

The most fascinating and most heartening part of the process of going through all of those applications was reading why people wanted to apply, why they wanted to be journalists, why they wanted to cover video games. If this group of 99 is a cross-section of the up-and-coming generation of game journalists, then video games and the people who play and make them are in good hands.

They told me of their love of art, of the emotional impact gaming has had on them, of a video game’s ability to delve into society in a way only games can. They want to tell stories. They wan’t to inform. They’re hungry to tear down complex ideas, examine them and then take those conceptual building blocks and create something new, something informative, something that can spark change.

When I feel beaten down by the daily grind, or start to ponder the worth of my job, I know where I’ll look for inspiration from now on: These 99 applicants, these 99 voices, this school of young journalists eager to inform and tell stories.

If I didn’t select you don’t take it as some sort of rejection. I decided to offer this to one person and one person only to make it clear that I wasn’t selecting the only possible candidate. You’re all very much worth mentoring and one day, if I can make things work out, maybe I can be the lucky one to mentor you. Until then, keep writing, keep reporting, and feel free to bug me. I’m always here.

And now for that name.

Andrea Ayres-Deets.

I messaged her right before writing this, to make sure she was still up for the idea, and she sounds very excited to get started.

I am too.

A video game journalism mentorship

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.

The mentorship
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.

Apply for the mentorship