Helpful games journalists: Stop telling the shackled to run

Do you ever get advice from someone who is qualified to give it, but you’re not capable of acting those suggestions? If so, you know it can be frustrating, if not, you can probably imagine how it might be. With an increased amount of scrunity on games journalists lately, there’s been a big focus on improving the content being produced by major video game news and reviews outlets. Some prominent writers often hand out freebie bits of advice through Twitter, blogs, and podcast, all with the hope of helping less experienced or skilled writers to raise their quality of writing.

The problem is, many of these tips are impossible to achieve for your average newcomer.

Last week, an editor that works with quite a few freelance writers began to vent a bit. Other writers and editors chimed in and either echoed statements or added to the list of dos or do nots. Some of the tips were quite helpful, such as common cliches to avoid or how to abandon old standards that make you look dated. Some tips focused on things that seem clever, but are actually annoying or disingenuous. But then some gems got dropped that left me shaking my head a bit.

One editor told writers the differentiate themselves by picking up the phone and talking to sources to get their own quotes rather than reporting on existing quotes from reports posted on sites. It’s good information, but few writers who are just getting started have the talking heads at Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and the big publishers on speed dial. In fact, getting that information can be a bit difficult, and some companies dislike being contacted by site owners or writers that have no established history of communication. It’s a solid tip, but it’s not that helpful for a writer that lacks the resources or clout to act on it.

Another tip, well intentioned but misguided, was that small site owners need to do their own independent fact checking. Much like the previous tip, this is simply a near impossible task for small outlets. Over at Gamer Theory, we’re at the point where we can contact a publisher and get a timely response, but it wasn’t always like that. It used to be that we’d contact a company to verify something and we’d not hear anything back. If we did get a response, it would be a quick note that someone might get back to us if they get time. By the time we’d hear anything, the news cycle had turned over and the story no longer mattered.

I love that certain writers are engaging their audience and providing tips for hungry writers. It’s great that they do this, but there needs to be some recongnition as to what a helpful tip would be for someone with limited resources. At times I think we forget what it’s like to be a startup or a newcomer on the scene. We expect everybody to have the power of a major network behind them, when that’s simply not the case.

And really, those tips are still worth putting out there, but they should be accompanied with some understanding. Too often these tips are followed up with a remark that includes criticism of those not practicing them. That criticism is only fair if the writer is capable of acting on the advice, but then chooses not to. When a writer’s hands are shackled, it’s really quite rude to offer them an ice cream cone before the key.

Until we get better access to PR and industry influencers for smaller outlets, it’s time to stop expecting more from the lesser established writers out there. Yes, feed them with “tips from the pros”, but reserve the criticism for them until they’re ready to act on it. All you do is sow discouragement and make the writer question whether or not they’re fit continue writing for this industry.

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