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Friday, May 10, 2013

Our Reporter In The Field: Writing For A Virtual Newspaper-Mackenzie Abbot Reporting...







The greatest thing about Second Life is that you can be who you want to be.  You can be over 7 foot tall with abs you could stop a train with, or a sex siren with massive.....potential, regardless of who you are or what you look like in the real world. 

You can live your dream, usually instantly, and without qualifications or long boring interviews.  My personal dream is to be a radio DJ; the closest I've got to that is DJ-ing in a club a few days a week.  But I've always secretly wanted to be a journalist.  So you can imagine my delight when I found out about the SL Enquirer.

Writing for a virtual newspaper might sound a bit silly to some people, and the more pedantic among you will say you're not actually writing for a newspaper, merely a blog with idea's above it station.  But, as most of the people here in Second Life know already, none of this is real.  The only thing that's real about Mackenzie Abbot, or you, gentle reader, is the person behind the avatar.  We all know that the reality is far from what our avatars lead people onto be.  I'm 7 foot tall, have blonde hair and a washboard stomach to die for.  In reality I'm 5 foot 10 inches tall with wild brown  hair and a belly that goes around corners before I do.  Ladies...?

So if you yearn to write for a virtual living, how do you go about it?



Which Language Do You Speak?


Ideally, unless you want to write for a specific language group, you should be as near to fluent in English as you can.  You will need to type up your reports and articles, but remember, spell-checkers are a great help but they're not quite there yet,  even after 25 or so years of being around, so your ability to write English and spot mistakes is important.  Most editors will usually pick up on this and eather make small corections themselves, or ask for a rewrite.  Here at the SL Enquirer, the editor usually makes any adjustments to articles that she deems necessary, but that should not detract from your ability to spot mistakes and make corrections.  (If you're not smirking at this point, then you've missed the fact that a few lines back, there were 2 deliberate spelling mistakes).  A polished and tweaked report that is, as far as you can tell, ready for publication is appreciated more than something that was written in ten minutes without love, care or attention.  As I always say, “Ah f**k it, that'll do” usually doesn't.  Think about that for a sec.

How Do I Apply?

Different publications will have different methods of applying, but by far and away the best thing to do would be to do what you would do in real life.  Check with the publication first, most will have directions on how to apply to be a writer for them.  If you can't find any directions on how to apply, simply write the editor an application letter on a note card and really sell yourself.  Yes it's virtual, but the role play factor must still be respected.  The editor expects professionalism from day one, so receiving an IM saying something along the lines of “Hi, I can haz job?” will get you the size ten boot.  But a well thought out and carefully written note card could work wonders and show him or her that you're serious about writing and not just after a quick few Lindens.  If you are serious, then your opening application should be an example of how articulate and creative you are.
What Do I Get Out Of It?  What's The Pay Like?

Well, firstly, different journalists get different things out writing.  For some, it's just something to do as and when they need money.  For others, like myself, it's a labor of love.  Getting the assignment, gathering the facts, interviewing people and putting it all together is more than a quick five minute thing.  It takes preparation, planning and, in most cases, luck.  My own personal experience of interviewing people has relied on people either being available to speak or, indeed, willing.  I've had to return several assignments to the editor with a rather pathetic note saying “nobody wants to speak to me, it's not fair.” but this shouldn't be taken as a sign of failure.  Some people only log in for an hour a day or may have their IM's capped.  Some are simply too busy in real life to find the time to speak to you.  Some may even be in different time zones.  Persistence and patience are the keys to a good journalist.  You will need huge amounts of both to turn that difficult report into a masterpiece, especially close to your deadline.  Most stories aren't time sensitive so a gentle word with your editor usually buys you a few extra days to get it finished.  Here at the SL Enquirer, our editor, Lanai, is very accommodating to people who want to try their hand at being a virtual newshound.  In fact, she is the best boss anyone could ever work for and there is certainly nobody better than her.  Oh and she pays us lots and lots of money and we all love her!

(Please, just release my family....please.....)


What Qualities Do I Need?  Do I Need Qualifications?

Generally, you can just be yourself and inject your own flair into any reporting you do.  However, when facing interviewees, common sense applies.  If you are doing a spotlight feature or an interview with anyone, don't rock up in ripped jeans and a tee shirt that says “Man I Love Titties”.  That give the wrong impression of the publication you work for an, if your editor finds out, you'll get the size ten boot in an uncomfortable place and, more to the point, you'll ruin the chances of that particular person ever doing any sort of business with that pub again.  Every person has a Linden value.  How much will your editor (and in turn, you) lose if you're not the ultimate professional with everyone you meet?  How do you know that the member of the Gorean Battle Re-enactment Society, who may look like a geek with too much time on his hands, isn't actually your publications biggest advertiser?  If you're rude to him, all that revenue goes down the toilet and so will your job.  You don't have to be overly happy all the time, you're a journalist not a children's TV presenter, but giving the right impression is everything.  Smart clothing, neat hairstyle and a little bit of role play can go a long, long way.  Don't just say “Good Morning” or “Hello”, add on “/me offers to shake your hand”.  The little things tend to matter most; if the thought is there, the other person will appreciate it, even if they don't want to follow through with it.

As for qualifications, again, the Editor will have their own views on qualifications and whether you need any.  Obviously a degree in Journalism and/or English will be a big plus for your chances, however, if you had them you'd be working as a newshound in the real world.  Most editors know that you wont be a professional in the writing field, so they will more than likely give you a sample assignment to see how you get on, what your writing abilities are and, in the end, if virtual journalism is for you.  A good editor will provide constant feedback and will most certainly be honest with you.  If you deserve praise for an article, you will get it, but be prepared for the alternative as well.  You will get things wrong to start off with, but how quickly you turn things around is down to how well you listen to your editor, and how quickly you take their feedback on board. 
Personally, I love being able to write and get rewarded for it.  I've been with the SL Enquirer for nearly 3 weeks now and the buzz of seeing an article of mine get published still hasn't faded.  Now I will be honest with you, the pay is good, but you wont be putting down deposits on luxury cars and whole regions of land quite yet.  But when you get told that your article is the most read that month, or you see people +1'ing it on Google Plus or liking it on Facebook, you feel invincible.  Somebody out there actually read and liked what you had to say.  How cool is that?

So, to summarize, if you fancy a go at what can be a personally rewarding career, here's the key points

·         Find a publication via search that is recruiting.  Even if it doesn't say, make a speculative inquiry to the editor via note card.  Remember to keep it professional and as if you were applying for a real job.

·         Play to your strengths.  If you speak more than one language, or you have a superior knowledge of  (or a keen interest in) a certain subject, find a publication that specializes in that.  For example, if you speak Spanish and you love all things to do with motorbikes, look for a Spanish Motorbike publication.  If you enjoy doing it, it exists somewhere on Second Life!

·         Keep everything professional, from the initial interview with your editor, to the finished article you submit on a subject.  If you are given or choose an open topic, then you can generally do what you like, but don't set out with good intentions and end up making a donkey of yourself.  Keep it professional around people, have fun in your article but make sure nobody will be offended/upset by what you've written.

·         Don't expect to get rich quick.  Articles are generally paid for when the article is published or shortly before.  Sometimes there will be a wait while changes are made or articles are shuffled to match the balance of that day/weeks particular edition.  Also, don't pick several assignments to work on at the same time.  As a rule, I have 2 assignments on the go at once, just in case one falls through.  And never ever ever bombard your editor with articles for publication.  This causes undue workload on them and will result in delayed publication and payment of your article.  I use the OPOS method (One Published, One Submitted).  In other words, once an article of mine is published, I can then go ahead and submit the next assignment I have to the editor.  That way, She's not snowed in under articles my colleagues and I have submitted and we can relax a little while she catches up.

This isn't meant to be a “Journalism For Dummies” kind of guide, it's merely a personal point of view about what it is and how to get into it.  No doubt, someone will disagree with points I've made and things I've said.  But that is Journalism 101.  You're reporting on newsworthy items and topics of general interest for the public, but you must be willing to hear what the public have to say.

After all, without readers, you're simply typing to yourself.  And you can get locked away for that...
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