It is exactly like Mordor.
I don’t know how other people get writing jobs, newspaper jobs, media jobs — however one might want to describe the job I have. All I know is how I got mine. It’s a story I tell a lot, whenever people ask me in person, but it’s not written down anywhere online yet, so I’ll put it here.
I majored in English at BU. Throughout college, my only “plan” was to get a job that allowed me to write. Maybe I’d get paid for it. Maybe I wouldn’t. I wasn’t picky.
I didn’t think I wanted to do journalism, but I swiftly realized that no other writing internships existed. There is no such thing as a novel-writing internship. Between my sophomore and junior year of college, I got a terrible internship at a magazine called WARM2Kids. It was a children’s magazine run by a former basketball player and his family members. I don’t know if it still exists. I also don’t know why they gave me the job, because I had no experience writing for a magazine. I worked 9-5, three days a week, unpaid. I brought my own laptop. I wrote during all of the hours I worked. The job was, “pitch articles for our magazine, then write them.” They told me to go ahead and write every article that I pitched to them. But they never published a single article I wrote. They never even edited the articles or told me what was wrong with them. I kept showing up to work anyway. I did have another part-time job that actually paid money, as well, but it was only part-time and it didn’t involve writing at all. I figured at the very least WARM2Kids would look good on my resume, even though the job itself was a joke.
The next year, I tried to get another writing internship. I wasn’t willing to go back to WARM2Kids unless I had to. I made a list of publications in the Boston area. I sent cover letters and resumes in both physical mail and e-mail to every place I thought had a remote chance of hiring me. The Improper Bostonian. The Globe. The Metro. The Weekly Dig. Other places I don’t even remember that may not still exist.
Only one of these publications had an internship that I actually wanted, and that was the Boston Phoenix. They had advertised online for “web interns,” alongside many other internship possibilities (editorial, graphic design, etc). The web intern job required experience with photoshop, blogging, and data entry, and — this was in the description — knowledge and willingness to write about video games was a plus. Finally, I thought. I won’t have to lie in this interview and only pretend that I’m qualified.
The problem was that they never called me back.
I didn’t have e-mail addresses, other than that of an internship coordinator who wasn’t responding to my queries. I didn’t have contact information — I could have called the office on the phone, but I didn’t feel like getting blown off.
So, I looked up the address, walked into the offices, and demanded a job.
The secretary was disgruntled. She told me to leave. I told her I’d wait as long as it took. I sat down and settled in. Eventually, she told the internship coordinator to come out and talk to me so that I would go away.
The internship coordinator came out and asked me why I was there. She told me they were all full up on interns and didn’t need any help, in any department. “Did you receive my resume?” I asked her. “I never got a response from you.” I shoved it in her face. She looked at it. She paused.
We went into a nearby conference room. She told me she’d never seen my resume before. I had e-mailed it, and mailed it, directly to her. I had followed up the e-mail as well. I suppose she never looked at these things. I began to pretend I was in a job interview and I explained eloquently to this woman why I was qualified.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have any intern slots available,” she kept saying. “You’d be great, though, I’m sure.”
“I would be great,” I said. “And so I’d like to freelance for the Phoenix until an internship becomes available. How might I go about pitching an article for the paper or the website?”
She eventually surrendered the e-mail address of Ian Sands, a guy who used to be the administrative assistant to the editor here. I wrote a (terrible) article about Anime Boston and cosplay culture, and I sent it to him within the week. I told him I wanted to review video games and write about other geek-related stuff, and that this was an example of what I could do.
He responded that he “didn’t know shit about video games” and that he had forwarded my piece to some other people at the paper. He gave me the e-mail address of Ryan Stewart, the guy who used to be our Games Editor (the job that I now have — Ryan is an English teacher now). I e-mailed Ryan and asked for a job yet again. Sent my resume. Sent my cover letter. Pretty sure I attached those two documents to every e-mail I ever sent anyone at the Phoenix during this period of time.
(I should probably also note here that I didn’t hear back from a single other media outlet to which I applied. If the Phoenix hadn’t eventually worked out, I would have gone to other people’s offices as well.)
Eventually, Nina McLaughlin contacted me. She was the Assistant Web Editor at the time. She called me up and left a message (I don’t answer numbers I don’t recognize). She offered me an interview. For … an internship.
I called her back within minutes. Yes, yes, yes, I said. I came in. I interviewed. I told them that I was told there were no more internships. They told me there were lots of internships left and that they hadn’t been getting any resumes. I told them I sent my resume to the internship coordinator. They were shocked. Of course they had never received it, nor any other resumes. At the end of the interview, they hired me on the spot.
The internship back then wasn’t as fun as a web internship at the Phoenix is nowadays. Back then, it was a lot of picture cropping and data entry, and no opportunities to write; nowadays, we encourage interns to write web-only pieces. I decided to write articles even though no one was telling me that was a possibility. With no prompting, and without having pitched it first, I wrote a terrible review of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon and sent it to Ryan and Nina, asking for their advice/edits. They never responded. But a few weeks later, Ryan grudgingly tossed me a free copy of Pokemon Battle Revolution and asked if I wanted to review it. I said yes, even though I was going on a trip that weekend and had no time to play it. I played that game in a hotel conference room in Atlanta, blowing off all of my previous plans just so I could get the review done in time. It was terribly written, Nina completely reworked all of it until it was passable, and it ended up getting published in the newspaper. I even got paid. It felt like the greatest single achievement of my entire life. Never mind that the game had been terrible, never mind that I had canceled all my important weekend plans in Atlanta to review that piece of shit — I had gotten it for FREE, and I had REVIEWED it, and I had gotten PAID! I was living the dream!!
Months later, I got asked to review a Call of Duty game. I can’t remember if I asked to review this. I probably asked. I was pretty assertive about asking, or writing things without even having been asked. I was a terrible writer at that time, though. I suppose I was better than some people are at that age, but I had a lot of learning to do. I look at my early work and cringe. I’m kind of shocked I got paid for that hackneyed crap. But it was good practice.
Shortly after that, I wrote an article about cosplay and Anime Boston, modeled after the article I had originally written and sent to Ian Sands — the article that had landed me the job in the first place. By that time, I had been interning for an entire year. At the end of the original summer internship, I had stayed on at Nina’s request, and then stayed on for a third semester yet again. My boyfriend of five years broke up with me in January of ‘08, and I had one semester to go before I graduated and had to deal with the “real world.” I had no idea wtf to do, but luckily, the Phoenix still seemed to want me to intern there, so I kept going back in addition to my classes as often as I could. I nursed the serious depression that followed that break-up by working more hours at the Phoenix and playing more games. I threw myself into work with a gusto that did not go unnoticed.
My first official day on the payroll at the Phoenix was on the same day of my very last final exam at Boston University.
I got lucky because a menial data entry job on the web team had opened up around the time I graduated, and since I’d been a dedicated intern for a year and a half, I was the obvious choice. Nina and Ryan recommended me strongly, and that helped. My hard work paid off.
I reviewed games every few months or so, sometimes because I asked and sometimes because I was assigned a game that the other reviewer (Mitch Krpata) didn’t want. Eventually, oh-so-slowly, I became better at writing video game reviews. After about a year working as a Listings Coordinator, a coworker of mine who hadn’t been at the Phoenix as long as I had got promoted. I asked my editor why I hadn’t been promoted. He told me it was because I didn’t write enough.
So I wrote more. I bullied the Phoenix into finally creating the geek blog that everyone else at the paper always said should exist but never got around to creating. We decided to call it Laser Orgy, and I wrote in it every single second that I could. Eventually, people started noticing. Eventually, people starting complimenting me. Eventually, people at the office starting knowing my name, saying hi to me, telling me they liked what I did. And eventually, I got promoted yet again. And now, here we are today.
The advice here is obvious.
Go into the office of the place you want to write. Demand a job. Write a lot. Be assertive. Write a lot. Realize your writing will suck. Write a lot. Write MORE. Keep writing. Realize yet again that you probably still suck. Keep writing anyway. And so on. Also: some internships suck, but they might help you get an internship that is good. But no one is going to hand you anything. Pitch your own pieces. Demand a job. It’s not going to get handed to you on a silver platter.
It requires stubbornness, to be sure, and the ability to trick yourself into believing you deserve this and you will get better if you only work hard enough. Because you will. But you can’t give up.
I imagine it’s even harder to get a job in media nowadays. But we still have internships here. They’re pretty fun, actually.
One September evening in 2005, I sat in a packed MIT lecture hall and watched as Mike Krahulik drew the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory on a blackboard. The Theory was one of the things for which Krahulik and his partner, humorist Jerry Holkins, first became famous, back in 2004 — just around the same time that their Web comic, Penny Arcade, was blossoming into a community and a convention and a movement.
On the blackboard, Krahulik drew a smiling, unassuming man, and labeled him “Normal Person.” Then he drew a plus sign next to the man’s face. The audience was already tittering with excited recognition. Finally he finished the full equation: Normal Person + Audience + Anonymity = Total Fuckwad. The MIT audience burst into laughter and applause, and I did too. It was brilliant shorthand for describing the behavior of people on the Internet, and an example of Penny Arcade’s knack for getting at the heart of video-gaming culture’s unsavory tendencies.
None of us knew that Krahulik and Holkins had just described their future trajectory.
Read the rest: When dickwolves attack. By Maddy Myers.