Dear Freelance Dude,
Do you need to have a degree in journalism to get your foot in the door? I’m doing a degree in engineering, and I can’t change to journalism, but I have a blog and enjoy writing about tech and video games. Do you think that good examples of previous writing will be enough to be considered? Also how would I get started?
Sneaky, sneaky! That’s three questions in one, but I’ll bite. To be blunt, having a journalism degree doesn’t matter much in the gaming industry. Lots of successful freelancers and writers covering games don’t have a journalism degree – or any writing-related degree at all, for that matter. That hasn’t stopped them. Learning the ropes of good writing practices, journalistic integrity, and proper reporting is certainly helpful. It’s a great skill set to have, but a fancy piece of paper saying you’ve spent the obligatory absurd sum of money to plow through college isn’t as necessary these days, particularly in this industry.
Do you need to be able to write well and have a firm grasp of the core fundamentals of proper grammar and punctuation? Absolutely. Editors are far more interested in your writing ability than your schooling or lack thereof. If you can craft great pitch ideas tailored to the publications you’re seeking to break into, and then follow-through with tightly written articles that deliver on what you promised, then you’ve got a great shot at getting an editor’s attention.
Writing clips are important. Having published samples of your work to give editors when they ask is often a key step in the pitching process. Higher profile clips from more established publications may carry a heftier weight, but writing samples you’ve posted to your own website or blog can suffice if they’re error-free and representative of quality work. That means purge them of any spelling issues or grammar snafus, and make sure you’re putting your best work forward.
Pitching is the best way to get started too, by the way. Start pitching editors with ideas for features to get your foot in the door. Finagle that, and it’s a lot easier to book other kinds of assignments.
The Freelance Dude
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For those going to college right now and aren’t pursuing a journalism degree, I highly suggest writing for the school’s newspaper, if they have one.
Though I have taken a few journalism classes, the most important things I learned about journalism happened when I was actually doing it with the school’s paper. And even though most of my articles weren’t about video games, I did manage to squeeze in a few reviews and features. I don’t know of a publication that would look down on experience like that.
Thanks for the comment! You bring up a great point Dylan. Some of the best writing experience you can gain is simply from diving in and doing it. It may be a little messy at first, but it’s a great way to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
I studied journalism college, but writing for the college newspaper was a great experience. For gaming stuff, it seems a lot of college papers are open to covering games, so that is a great way to get published clips and if the college paper is big enough, you might even be able to get a feel for contacting PR for review copies too.
But yes, if folks get a chance to write for your school paper, definitely take that opportunity – whether you’re a J-school major or not.