Friday, April 11, 2008

Whatever Happened to Commitment?

No, I'm not talking about marriage.

I'm referring to making a commitment - in this case a writing one - and not coming through on it. This has been the case with Sega-16 and its revolving door of staff members since we organized the group a little over a year ago. In total, twelve people have joined up, but only five are actually producing anything lately. Many of those who aren't have either opted out of their positions or just disappeared into the wilderness.

My question stems from the fact that of those who failed to honor their commitment, very few were actually approached by me to join in the first place. In the vast majority of cases, it was the writer who emailed me and asked to join the staff. As we're always looking for talented writers, those who are articulate enough and willing to stick around usually get the nod. It all goes well for the first couple of months, and then BAM! all gone...

I understand better than just about anyone how the rigors of real life can wreak havoc with one's online persona. Being a full-time English professor with two small children, it's not easy to run Sega-16 and still be there for my responsibilities. Nonetheless, I've not only been able to do it for almost four years now, but I have a higher Xbox 360 gamerscore than a lot of people I know! Even us family guys have to get our game on!

It's not the inability of some people to meet staff requirements that bite me as much as it is the vanishing act that usually follows. If you can't write for us anymore, that's fine, but please have the decency to let me know about it. Idling on the staff forum, waiting to see if these people are going to check in (Bueller...? Bueller...?) is not fun, and it causes chaos with the site's update schedule.

For that reason, I recently had to scale back said schedule. Where we used to update four times a week (two reviews and two features), we'll now only be updating with one feature a week. I love to write them, but I can't write enough of them to meet the schedule all by myself. As it is, I've often had to write reviews and features ahead of schedule just to have something for the update! That's no way to run a site, so I decided to slow things down a bit.

Not that this will really hurt us. With almost five hundred reviews and over three hundred features up already, our readers have more than enough to keep them busy. I just wish that some people had a higher sense of professionalism about writing for an enthusiast site. Many times, writers tend to think of their position as something unimportant ("I'm not getting paid, so who cares?"), and don't take it seriously. I, for one, do take it quite seriously. Sure, you're not getting a check for your efforts, and since we're not a media outlet, we don't usually even get review copies for staff to check out for free. That doesn't make what we do any less important, and it sure doesn't mean that we don't have to be professional in the task.

Those who are looking to break into the games journalism often get their starts at enthusiast sites. While there, they learn how to improve their writing skills, and they are able to get a feel of what writing for a publication is like. They also get their names tossed around in the industry. Take me for example. Four years ago, my journalism experience consisted of nineteen articles written for a Houston area PC magazine (HAL-PC for those interested). With Sega-16, I've managed to produce over eighty reviews and almost two hundred features, including over sixty interviews with people from all corners of the Genesis era. That includes everyone from game testers to both Genesis-era SOA presidents Michael Katz & Tom Kalinske to big names like Yuzo Koshiro, David Perry, and Trip Hawkins. How have I been able to accomplish this? Has it through contacts in the industry? Special skills? Not at all. In fact, all but a handful of my interviews have been the result of two things:

Google and a lot of patience.

Now, four years later, I actually do have contacts in the industry, and I can even get the mighty Sega itself to hear me. I haven't made a dime off my work, and I don't want to. I do it out of passion for the subject I research and cover, and I do it because I feel that people will want to read about it. Judging from Sega-16's growth over these past years and our steady increase in readership, I can honestly say that I think my work hasn't been in vain.

Surely then, those who chose to write for us can come up with two articles a month (one review and one feature). It's not asking a lot, I think. And this obviously doesn't apply to everyone on the Sega-16 staff, of course. We have a core group that has been brilliant over the years, and with talented veterans and enthusiastic newcomers all working together, I'm sure we can meet our schedule and continue to bring our readership the best Genesis coverage on the planet, bar none. I just wish everyone felt the same as they and I do.

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