How to start a career in anime journalism

From left: Patrick Macias, Gia Manry, Colette Bennett

For many of us, it seems like a fantasy. Watching and reviewing anime as part of the daily grind. Getting paid to cover anime and gaming conventions. Making money off of things most otaku pay money to do.

A lucky, hard-working few have made this their reality. This includes three journalists that I deeply admire:  Patrick Macias of Otaku USA MagazineGia Manry of Anime News Network, and Colette Bennett of Tomopop (and more!). I sent out email questionnaires to all three of them about how they started — and maintain — their careers, plus their advice for the rest of us. This is what they told me.

Getting started

As an unpaid anime blogger, I was very interested in finding out how the journalists had made the transition from free work to paid work. Patrick, who began his career pre-Internet, had the most experience in this department.

While he kept his day job writing for a nationally syndicated news service, Patrick spent his free time contributing articles about otaku themes to fan publications for “little or no pay.” This led to him getting a position in San Fransisco covering Asian films. Around 1997, this publicity got Patrick hired at Viz Media’s editorial department. Since then he has gone on to co-own a media company, become editor in chief of Otaku USA Magazine, and write two books.

“I got lucky early on with regards to having my work syndicated and getting decent pay for it,” he said. “But there was little to no fiscal reward for my Japanese pop culture writing for a long time.”

Gia Manry’s career path began while she was still in school. She wrote news for a popular Harry Potter site for free because “it was fun and good experience.” Later, she started blogging about manga, but applied for jobs at the same time.

“I started my first manga-related blog (a very niche one) around the same time I applied to Anime Insider, and I got to work for them about five months later,” she said.

After Anime Insider shut down, Gia wrote for a couple other anime sites, started her own anime news site, and finally ended up at Anime News Network. While she makes a living off her work as an anime blogger, she said she does occasionally work for free.

“I’ve also volunteered my time for causes I appreciate, and I have worked for free when I had things that I wanted to say and had full control over where and how I said them,” she said.

In Colette’s case, blogging became a second career. Stuck working a job in L.A. that she didn’t enjoy, Colette said things turned around after she met a graphic novel artist and admired his lifestyle.

“He really inspired me. I talked to him often about my dream of writing about videogames. And one day he said ‘Why don’t you start a blog?'” she said.

Colette started a blog but took it one step further. As she worked, she emailed a link to her blog to the editors of all her favorite video game websites, advertising herself as a freelancer willing to cover gaming events. Eventually both Kotaku and Destructoid offered her jobs. She chose Destructoid, but contributes to several other blogs including Gamasutra. She didn’t make money off of the original blog, but it certainly contributed to her eventual job.

“I think working for free is a good experience to start out, but I think everyone needs to have a cut off,” she said.

The typical workday

This career is no joke. When I found out about each journalist’s daily routine, I realized that each one of them is an incredibly hard working person. It shows that not just anyone can succeed in the field.

Patrick said he wakes up at 6:30 a.m. each day to begin checking email, blog statistics, and social networks. He pauses to do housework until 10 to 11, when he gets down to the day’s writing and editing.

“Unless I have a really pressing deadline, things start to slow down around 5 p.m., at which point I start thinking about dinner,” he said.

For fun, he has been playing Modern Warfare in the evenings after work. His day usually ends around midnight.

Gia gets up between 7 and 8 and commutes to work — as she joked, her commute is “bed to computer.” You might think that with a trip like that, it’d be tempting to go back to bed, but Gia is truly dedicated.

“It would be so easy to lock myself in the house for weeks on end! I’m sort of obsessive and when you work on a job you love, especially an Internet-content job, there’s always something you can be doing,” she said.

With that in mind, she makes sure to run errands, exercise, or visit friends in order to step out of the house for a bit. But afterward, her workday continues until the evening.

Colette did not specify a wake-up time, but based on the number of sites she contributes to on a daily basis, her workday runs long.

“On a normal day, I start by checking our schedule and going through my RSS feeds to send tips to the staff. After that, I usually return emails, contact any distributors or advertisers I may need to follow up with, edit the work of my writers and then work on reviews,” she said.

Aside from managing a staff, Colette said she spends a lot of her day focusing on site-building. And of course, she takes photos of toys for Tomopop five days a week. “Really stressful [part of the] job,” she joked.

Advice for the aspiring

These three journalists have truly made it, but what hope is there for the rest of us?

Patrick thinks the growth of anime journalism is very limited. Even though the fandom itself is strong, he said, the industry has its own problems.

“Some are common to the entertainment industry at large (such as digital piracy, loss of advertising and sponsorship, competition from other media) while others are unique to anime and manga (the bursting of the ‘manga bubble,’ the closure of several high-profile anime distributors, the difficulties of dealing with Japanese license holders),” he said.

However, he did have advice for the aspiring anime journalists who can rise to the challenge. Learn Japanese to get a leg up on the competition, he suggested. And develop your own unique writing voice, so you don’t get lost in the crowd.

“You have to know more than your audiences, who already have vast amounts of information at their fingertips via Wikipedia and Google,” he said. “Way too much of what masquerades as ‘anime journalism’ nowadays is just people rewriting press releases or recycling content from news aggregators. You really have to bring something unique to the table in order to stand out.”

Gia said she gets questions from aspiring journalists a lot. She said there is only a handful of sites paying content creators right now. Plus, she adds, it’s not only a difficult industry but a difficult economy overall. With that in mind, she doesn’t believe anime journalism is a growing career venue.

She said she wouldn’t suggest anyone quit their day job to go into anime journalism, or even writing online. She said that this field rewards only those who love it and are willing to work harder than anything for it.

“I think a lot of people also don’t realize that working in a field you love is hard,” she said. “Don’t get into this field to make lots of money, and don’t get into this field because you like anime so it’ll be easy to write about it. Expect to work your butt off to prove you’re worth hiring over all the other fans, and expect to care– for better and for worse –about what you’re doing.”

Colette was slightly more optimistic.

“Anime journalism is a viable career venue, but a very small one,” she said. “However, since there is a flood of news coming out of Japan at all times, I think there is always room to do something.”

Colette suggests aspiring anime journalists read as many blogs as they can on a regular basis, and figure out what they cover and cover well and, more importantly, what they’re missing and what they can do better.

“You’ll need a way to stick out since the market is full of people who want to do the same thing, so consider something innovative,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to stand out.”

My interviews included plenty more questions than the three listed. Would you like to hear more about these talented professionals? Let me know in the comments.