Help, I want to be a journalist, but I don’t want to generalize!

Every now and then, students and aspiring journalists write to me for advice about entering the field. Here’s an email I sent recently, published with permission.

Dear Lauren,

I have little interest in general journalism, I don’t care about politics or celebrities. If I were to study journalism it would be purely for the purpose of writing about my personal interests. Would it be a mistake to pursue a degree in journalism when my area of writing is so specific?

Black Ragdoll

You’d think this would be an easy question for me to answer yes to. My whole philosophy is about turning your passions into a career.

The problem is, you’ve got to meet them halfway.

For instance, I no longer see anime journalism as a viable career path. When I was younger, I wanted to make a living as an anime blogger. I’ve since learned that this is a very tough niche to enter, simply because there aren’t a lot of outlets making money. I’ve been published in Japanator, Otaku USA, and Crunchyroll, and nobody paid me very much, if anything. I have contacts who have written for Anime News Network, and earned in the (very) low double digits. I was recently, as a reporter with five years of professional experience, offered an intensive editing job for an anime website that would have paid $50 a month.

It hurts to share this, actually. I really want a passionate anime fan to prove me wrong and make a living off of their reporting. But I can’t confidently sit back and tell people that a career in anime journalism, or reporting on ANY one interest, is a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong—I would never advise anybody to go to opposite way, either. In journalism school I was taught to market myself as a jack of all trades, but I think this is unrealistic. It’s impossible to become an expert reporter on every beat. But you COULD become an expert in three or four beats. Just make sure those are the beats that you enjoy covering. Case in point: you’ll never be an award-winning political reporter if you don’t like politics.

You know I love anime. But it’s not my only interest. My “day” job includes writing about social networks, robotics, tech education, and a looong list of other technology related topics. In previous jobs, I’ve written about video games, Tumblr fandom, cosplay, and women entrepreneurs. I don’t like any of this stuff as MUCH as anime, but I find it all interesting. And, when I do need a break, I have my personal blog where I can write whatever I like.

And sometimes? It’s rewarding just to be an expert on something. Partly by chance, partly thanks to my boss, I was covering the social network Pinterest before almost anyone else. It’s given me a great relationship with Pinterest, as well as a mental timeline of its entire history—both of which make it easy and fun to report on. The funny thing is, I am not a regular Pinterest user. I mainly check it for work. But just the feeling that I’m covering Pinterest as comprehensively as I can makes it one of my favorite topics to cover. You might surprise yourself by becoming a reluctant expert on a specific politician or celebrity later on, and stick with it for the feeling of a job well done.

Chances are, anime isn’t your only interest, either. Are you interested in writing about related topics, like video games, blockbuster movies and the fandom around them, comics, computers, and other nerdy but more in-demand topics? In that case, I’d say go for it!

Here’s my best case scenario for you: you present yourself as willing to write about anything, but make it clear that you excel at writing about a few different topics. You adjust your career to specialize in those topics, and get better at covering them as a result. Eventually, people will remember you for your reporting in certain subject areas, and then they’ll come to you!

Specialization is great for your career. Just keep it in moderation.

Do you have a question you’d like to ask? Drop me an email or visit my Tumblr Ask box.

  • Tony Yao

    I know there is some debate about whether being a jack of all trades makes you hire-able. I mean, why would you trust a guy with average medical knowledge over a professional doctor.

    Though an important thing that you reminded me of is that success leads to passion. It’s not the other way around. Even if you may not like the thing you work at first, the more you cover and/or do it and become good at it, it becomes passion.

    Scott Adams even talks about passion being kind of useless.

  • Nelson Rolon

    Great article, Lauren. Concentrating on one niche and find a group who’s willing to pay you for it is wishful thinking in today’s world, where hiring managers are seeking people with a wide array of skills. Case in point: writing about otaku culture isn’t going to be lucrative, partially because it’s not in-demand content and partially because finding people with that passion isn’t hard to do. But a journalist who can cover a few topics and has some extra skills, such as software programming and design skills, is a valued asset, since it means the company isn’t hiring three or four people to do what one person can. It’s a marketability game: having multiple skills gets your foot in the door, and once that’s over with and people know what you can do, then you start specializing.

    And Tony’s right about passion being secondary in the job market. If you have potential, then passion is a plus. But potential is only proven by marketability, which means having multiple skills in areas you may or may not be particularly passionate about.

    Alas, I feel everyone’s pain. Writing about (list passion here) and getting paid would be a dream job.

    • Lauren Orsini

      @Nelson, excellent point. The problem for me is that I don’t always want to get hired for those additional skills. I can design websites, but I don’t enjoy doing it for a job. I can do logo design, but I don’t think it’s fun to do professionally. When I’ve told previous employers about those skills, I’ve ended up having to use them! So as weird as it is, I don’t advertise every one of my skills anymore, just the ones I’m happy doing professionally.

      • Tony Yao

        At the very least, you’ve set up a system for yourself. The more options you have, the more confidence you have.

  • minato

    you know who makes money? crunchyroll. might as well write for crunchyroll about anime. even that girl who watch anime as her job there makes a lot of money just to watch anime

    • Lauren Orsini

      @minato, I think you’re just guessing. Crunchyroll never told me their employees’ salaries, and Victoria didn’t share hers.

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  • Ennio Wolsink

    Hi Lauren,

    Great post, with lots of nuggets of wisdom. I can relate very much so, having spend most of my free time the past 7/8 years as a volonteer journalist for a local online music magazine. Before that I used to webmaster a website about anime that eventually ran news articles along side lots of other content (forums, images, reviews, episode guides) that drew hundreds of recurring daily readers. Currently I’m working on setting up my own anime blog, about to launch in January. I intend to approach this blog as journalistically as possible, I don’t even think I could attempt anything else as all the experience is just there.

    Eventually I hope to make a living off it, but for now I’m “stuck” with my current day job as an ICT-entrepeneur, building web applications. Which is actually a great mix regarding building blogs and the online community that’d come with it, not to mention financing. But first I’ll just focus on getting a daily posting routine, before I start investing more than my time into it. I’d rather have the website be self-supporting, there are also several business models you can construct around a blog, affiliate referalls being one of them. Amazon is a good one, but it can also be more specific and tailored to a very targeted audience, for higher conversion.

    Anyway, once I can I really hope to bring together a team of journalists with a knack for anime, manga, otakuness and Japanese culture. I wasn’t sure how many of these people are out there. But now I found one! Consider myself one of your new regular readers. And sorry for the long post :P