Games journalism: What Not To Say pt. 3

Rules 11 through 14 are an editor special!

That’s a bit like a detective special, except instead of being a gun it’s where I interview Tim Edwards, editor of PC Gamer UK, and try and make use of his advice. Of all the magazines, sites and ezines I’ve worked for (around, uh, 21 in total), PCG is the only outlet which has combined consistent high standards in games journalism with a desire to experiment and push the envelope. The most interesting paid work I’ve ever done has all been for PCG.

And so:

11.  Do not think a single element of the template is somehow less important

Great body copy is useless if a page, digital or otherwise, doesn’t draw a reader in, and in print journalism you’re kidding yourself if you think the reader is going to read the title first, then the article proper, then any boxouts. Think about how you read magazines. Your eyes bounce around a page like a fly caught in a bottle. So, any element of a template can let you down, and there’s no benefit to any one part of what you hand in being better than anything else. Screenshots are particularly easy to phone in, especially if you’re taking shots of a bad or ugly game in the first place.

Tim says: “Basic rule – if you miss anything out entirely, you’re incompetent. If you start thinking about boxouts, screenshot captions or titles once you’ve written the article, you’re not very good. If you start planning them while you’re still working up your ideas, you’re good.”

12.  Don’t think coming within 10% of the wordcount is okay

Disobeying an editor sounds like a pretty bad idea, no? And yet in handing in something that’s under or, more likely, over the wordcount we’re bucking orders all the time. Remember, we’re given wordcounts for a reason, and when we fail to hit them somebody has to spend time cleaning up our mess.

Tim says: “In order of sin – highest to lowest. Under the wordcount by more than 20 words – ridiculous. Shoot yourself in the face immediately. Over the wordcount by more than 200. Man! Over the wordcount by more than 50 – okay, we’ve got to cut it, but you’ve probably written a shit intro anyway. Hitting the wordcount. YOU THE MAN.”

13.  Don’t take offense at edits or requests for changes

You ever noticed that the same beginner journalists who often ask for feedback on something they’ve written often clam up in agony the moment you tell them to change something? That’s because they’re not used to the hurtin’ that comes from being told their creative work isn’t good enough. Well, that’s something you have to get good at.

When an editor tells you to change something, there is no room for you to get offended. This is because you’re the one who fucked up. If you get offended, or worse, argue your case, you’re making the most difficult part of an editor’s job even harder. Remember, editors might not have time to write much now but they did write an awful lot to get where they are. Don’t think them unsympathetic.

One more reason to take your editing like a man: if you’re busy being offended at changes to your piece then you’re missing out on the most genuine feedback on your writing will ever receive.

Tim says: “No-one likes to be edited, and every writer thinks that an editor is ruining their copy. But we’re not being dicks. We have an idea of how the mag should read and feel, and we’re asking you to essentially psychically understand that. It’s not easy.”

14.  Don’t go into this half-cocked

I’ll just let Tim outline this one:

“One thing I want to say, to those seriously thinking about getting a job writing about games: have a back-up plan in place now. I think there are probably more news-presenters working in the UK today, than there are games journalists. Probably more judges. The house of commons has more working MPs than the games industry has journalists. Our field is tiny, but because games are awesome, and nice articulate boys want to write about them, the competition for spots is ridiculous.”

15.  Don’t use “we” when you mean “I”

“We went to Epic to take a look!”  “We think Squenix could have done better”  “We’ll believe that when we see it!”

There’s two reasons to hate this. The first is that it makes no sense. Who is ‘we’? Is everyone on the magazine or website sat around your monitor, agreeing with you as you type and slapping you on the back? No. So what on Earth are you talking about?

The other reason to hate this is that it’s cowardly. By swapping your statement from the first person singular to the first person plural you no longer have to bravely venture opinions. Suddenly it’s what your whole team thinks. And because you’re in the clear it becomes easier to fall into the terrible habit of voicing insubstantial opinions without the arguments to back them up.

Obviously if you’re writing for a magazine where the tone demands it, fine. But if you’re creating a website or similar, don’t get into this habit.

COOL. Okay, that’s us nearly done. I’ve been saving some good ones for the final five. Then I’ll get on compiling this.

 

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Comments

  1. Don’t write a review around how the game didn’t work :D

    • I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. If a game doesn’t work, I want the writer to tell me why. I’m not talking about Zero Punctuation style rants or anything, but a writer should take a game apart and articulate how it works or doesn’t work.

  2. Jill Jackson says:

    Number fifteen is one that I get particularly annoyed at. There’s a nice, standard phrase for it too: “weasel words”. When you claim that “people” say something when really, as far as you know, you’re the only one who’s saying it.

  3. This is all invaluable advice.
    I’d recently started writing a few reviews and I’m desperate for getting shouted at by a quality editor.

    Quinns, any rules about writing things which are not reviews?

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