Reporter Job Description:
I report on the user-created 3D world of Second Life from the inside, as a Second Life avatar named "Hamlet Au", who looks like me, except in a white suit (in tribute to Tom Wolfe); I chronicle Second Life's conflicts, its culture, and its burgeoning internal economy; I also cover games and virtual worlds for GigaOM.com. As a metaverse consultant, I talk with companies interested in creating a presence in Second Life, mainly for marketing or prototyping purposes.
Can you trace your career steps from philosophy major to the job of news reporter?
You only go into philosophy, as a profession, after getting a graduate degree in it; for most people, it's a background resource for another degree, or a profession somehow related to arts and humanities. In my case, working in film/media/computer games was always the main goal. I got my degree from the University of Hawaii, then moved to San Francisco and had a series of slacker jobs while I built up a collection of freelance stories, reviews, articles, along with fiction and screenplays and computer game development, until the freelance writing built up enough momentum where I could do it full-time.
In my case, it was hanging out on The WELL, a legendary pre-Internet bulletin board system frequented in the early 90s by numerous writers and editors; that led to freelance assignments for various magazines, and from those I gradually built up a track record and a brand which led to more. Founded by some brilliant programmers in the mid-80s, The WELL was one of the first virtual communities. Wired magazine did a great cover story about it about a decade ago, by NYT writer Katie Hafner.
As it happens, I've written a lot for Wired, and still do on occasion, along with Salon.com-- did that through the late 90s to early 2000s. To me, journalism per se is a means to an end, which ultimately is telling stories that essentialize what's most important about the human condition; doing that in a world that doesn't actually exist turned out to be ideal.
Can you tell us about working as a news reporter for Second Life?
In the spring of 2003, Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, offered me the oddest assignment in my eight years as a writer. Ordinarily, their world is the kind of thing I’d write about as a freelance journalist for magazines like Wired and Salon. But during the demo, which they had first meant for me to write about, Linden Vice President Robin Harper suggested something else. They didn’t want me to write about their world, so much as write within it, as a journalist—an embedded journalist, as it were.
So I did that for three years, then ended the contractual relationship so I could write a book about Second Life, from its origins to development into what many think will be the Internet's next generation. Linden generously gave me the IP rights to what I'd written for them as a reporter, and I continue the story on my own independent blog, which has a deal with Federated Media - John Battelle's blog network. The book is slated for release in early 2008, from Harper Collins.
Do you recall any humorous moments from your job as a news reporter in Second Life?
I just had a serious conversation about translating Mandarin Chinese with a giant blue fox. The first month of reporting, an alien in a flying saucer picked me up with his tractor beam, and threatened me with his probe. Every time I check into my virtual office in SL, I have to water my fifty-foot marijuana plant, or it can e-mail me "I need water!" messages like a hippy tamagotchi. Pretty much every day in Second Life provides something equally bizarre.
What advice would you give to those who want to learn how to be a successful reporter?
Write a lot, all the time; write about what you're passionate about. Take your passion, find a niche that's underserved in the blogosphere, and start serving it on your blog. Learn to craft blog entries that resemble articles for magazines and sites you want to write for, so when editors contact you or you query them, you have the proof that you can deliver.
What are the challenges and advantages of a news reporter on the web?
From my perspective in high-tech culture writing, building your brand name is crucial-- covering topics that are understandable and engaging to a broad, non-tech audience. There's also great potential for writers who want to cover the money side of technology and tech business. Print generally pays better, but from my experience, web-based sites pay faster and more consistently, and understandably, web editors are not as persnickety as their hard-copy brethren.
How does your salary compare to a reporter's salary? Does it need a second life? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. But when you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale's full salary survey.