Technology writers also get free goodies, too.
November 1, 2008 4:52 PM   Subscribe

I love to write. I love technology. How do I get started in writing about technology?

While trying to think about just what the hell I can do with my English degree and a fascination with computers, gadgets, gizmos, and other shiny things with buttons that go beep, I think I would like to become a technology writer. How can I make it happen? Should I start soliciting myself to places like Gizmodo or Engadget? Try for something in the (drying) print media? Go freelance?

Help get me on the way, Ask MeFi!
posted by SansPoint to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Gizmadget occasionally posts help-wanted notices. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw one within the past week (it might have been on TUAW, though).
posted by adamrice at 4:55 PM on November 1, 2008

Start writing, start pitching. Start a blog.

Look at Media Bistro for classes and information on pitching.
posted by jgirl at 5:00 PM on November 1, 2008

TUAW is looking for writers. I wrote for them a few years ago. It was OK, but grew frustrated with the format and their focus on quantity over quality.

Obsessable is also looking. If you email me (damienbarrett-at-mac-dot-com), I can put you in touch with a person who can help you submit your writing samples.
posted by at 5:02 PM on November 1, 2008

On the one hand, the tech bloggers I know at Engaget / Gizmodo make something like 15 thousand a year. I can't imagine the recent economy downturn is helping their advertising revenue. On the other hand, maybe that kind of cash is big money for an English degree? I guess if you're doing what you love, there's something. Just note that you don't generally keep what you review.

If you discover the tech journalist / blogger route is unworkable, you could take a few different approaches. Low rent bloggers often just dump Press Releases as industry news. You could try applying at various tech companies to write such things for them. Or you could be a technical writer, if the idea of interviewing engineers and documenting how things works for other engineers appeals to you.
posted by pwnguin at 6:49 PM on November 1, 2008

FWIW: When my wife didn't know what to do with her aesthetics degree and her love of film, she emailed the editor of Chile's largest newspaper's film section, he asked for some samples, she sent the samples and she got the job as a film critic.
When said editor got canned she did too, so she started an online film magazine, which has led to much recognition, teaching gigs and now being a critic for the 2nd largest newspaper.
So I'd start writing and emailing editors.
posted by signal at 7:41 PM on November 1, 2008

Best answer: I started writing for Gizmodo back in the day, before it was all flash and glamour and millions of page views. I was an intern for editor Joel Johnson, and it was me, and it was him, for a good six-eight months. (And mostly him; I was only contributing about 5-6 posts a day, while he was slamming out the other 15-20.)

While the game has changed considerably with the market, my story might be something of an interesting one for you. I first got in touch with Joel directly over AIM, pointing out a typo. Whenever I spoke with him on AIM, I kept things very informal, but made sure I wasn't talking like an idiot. I also made sure I wasn't bothering him too much.

Since I had a terrible sleep schedule in place, I'd be awake at 4:30am Phoenix time, 7:30am New York time, just as he was getting into things. So we'd talk, occasionally. I mentioned in passing a few times that I'd love to write for the Giz, even if I wasn't getting paid; it'd be an honor just to get published.

Finally, one day, Joel was bitching about needing an intern. He was going to start looking locally, but I suggested he let me have a swing at it. He was a bit reticent, but I was wildly persistent. And so he gave me a gig. I'd be making a stipend of a whopping $500 a month, or $5/post, depending on the month. (They pay something like $12/post/$1,200/mo. now, I think, but I'm really not sure.)

We had our ups and downs a bit, but Joel asked me if I wanted to cover E3 with him in May. I of course said yes. (E3 had been something of a dream for me since I was very young, so getting a chance to cover it with press access at 19 years old was a big deal to me. While I was there, I recognized the name tag of another person in the press room, Andru Edwards, editor of GearLive, another gadgets blog. He had written a review about the sleeptracker watch that I had linked to from the Giz, and remembered that it had driven him a bunch of traffic.

We struck up a conversation and became fast friends. Things with Gizmodo fizzled out because Joel bailed, John Biggs made me an offer to keep me on, but when I asked for hours/post/salary commitments, he didn't respond... I pinged him once or twice later as well, to no avail. Three weeks later he says "so I guess you don't want the job." I explained to him he was insane, and that I had chat logs to prove it and he basically said "oh, shit, my bad." And that was that, but that was fine, because I was busy working on my business.

Andru's become my go-to guy and has me cover CES and other events with him and his other people. Andru focuses a lot on original video interview content, so I've taken on a role as occasional video podcaster in that regard, but just for events like that. It's a lot of fun because it's basically an expenses-paid trip to Vegas (or Berlin, earlier this year, for an HP event) and I get to flex my interviewing/on-camera muscle, which I have absolutely no other use for outside of this. Sitting down with a VP/board member from AMD, grilling them about their new platform, him in a suit and tie, me in a t-shirt and jeans was a lot of fun and something that is very fulfilling to me.

It's difficult to "break in" to writing with anyone who matters. The Giz and Eng folks are always looking, though, so you need to basically do your best to prove your shit. You should write up pieces in the style of Gizmodo on tech news you hear—be erudite, pithy, funny and smart. I still think Joel (who edits BoingBoing Gadgets now) was the best editor Gizmodo ever had, mostly because of posts like this. I mean, that's just some McSweeney's quality shit there, and unexpected in the gadget blog realm.

If you're not funny, it's going to be an uphill battle. This will be made considerably worse if you THINK you're funny but, in fact, are not. Write some stuff and show it to people and see what their reaction is. You're not looking to write for The Onion here, though, so knowing where the line is and how to get your zings in subtly is key.

Sure, you have a fascination with gadgets, but how solid are you on the specifics of each gadget, how they work, what's coming up, what everyone else has launched and what *really* excites you? If you're not reading every. single. post. from Gizmodo and Engadget at LEAST, every day, you're probably not in a place where you can start writing on this stuff. Joel scared me with his encyclopedic knowledge of all things we had ever. ever. ever. covered. Giz had only been around a few months, and most of it was his content, but he'd remember minor, two-paragraph blurbs on some bizarre USB accessory that he linked to six months ago, but which had resurfaced on the red ferret journal. You need to know what's happening in the space backwards and forwards so that you can actually write insightful commentary, instead of just "ooh shiny".

My typical day, and I'm sure the workflow and duties have shifted entirely, since they have so much more staff now, but my typical day involved combing through 250 RSS feeds, flagging anything that looked perhaps promising and then going over *those* and seeing what I wanted to post about. It was tedious. Then I had to grab an image, resize it, write up a quick post, link properly and be somewhat amusing, all in under a half hour per post.

And I gotta tell you: cell phones get boring as fuck. They release such small, incremental changes, and we covered each of them, so by the time month six rolled around, I just couldn't get excited that SE's new phone bumped to 3.TWO megapixels, instead of just 3MP. Who the fuck cares? Well, the answer is, lots of people, and even, really, myself, but just not when I was the one publishing each of the updates. You run out of things to say with posts like that. But posts on bizarre and fun gadgets were always good times. It's just a mix of the good and the immensely boring.

On the flip side, this was a gig that has put me in Vegas three times covering CES, twice covering E3 and once in Berlin, all for free. I've been to fun after parties, I've played with amazing gadgets, I've gotten to speak to very cool people and influential folks high up at the companies whose products I was covering and I've had a great time meeting some really great people.

Oh. And when I hit "publish" on the Movable Type backend for Gizmodo, I got this amazing rush, knowing 250,000+ (now over 2 million) people were going to read what I had wrote. Me. Who would think?

So compile pieces of your own. Build an amazing RSS feed. (MeMail me, I'll send you the one I used to work off of from Giz; it's a bit old, but it's been updated since then.) Start putting feelers out there. Don't come on too strong. Build your OWN blog first, talking about, well, whatever. These guys like to see that you understand how blogging works. You should know about permalinks and how and what to link out to and how to format your images and basic stuff like that; they're not really looking to teach you it from scratch; they want to be able to just show you how they do it and let you run with that.

And respond to their calls for interns and editors. Giz definitely just put one or two out in the last month or two. Hit them up anyway; Brian & co. will always back-pocket anything that actually looks promising, since when they come around to times when they have no one, it gets frustrating to have to start the search process from scratch again.

Good luck. Gadgets ahoy.
posted by disillusioned at 7:45 PM on November 1, 2008 [10 favorites]

I got writing for a robotics blog because I was a robotics engineer who could write (not a writer who could talk robotics). See if you can get a job in the gadget/consumer electronics industry, make a few connections, and you might be in luck...

Also... if you're just blogging, it's definitely a part-time gig, not a full-time gig. It's a bit of extra cash for me and an excuse to call up famous people in the industry I want to talk to. If you want to write for a dead tree magazine, checkout Wired or IEEE Spectrum or one of those.
posted by olinerd at 7:47 PM on November 1, 2008

I did freelancing for a few years. It wasn't lucrative, but I did get paid at the top of the scale. I focused on creativity (understanding what the editor needed and being able to deliver it), quality (good sources, dynamic writing, no typos), and respecting deadlines.

They always say there are a lot of writers out there, and competition is fierce, but, in my experience, there aren't many wannabe writers that proof their work or can meet a deadline.

So you may want to focus on that too, in order to build your reputation.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:25 PM on November 1, 2008

Entirely on the blog tip.. - really :)

A less "in the deep end" answer would be to start your own blog. You're not going to be getting stuff to review from day one, but even an opinion blog or a high level blog that links to the best of the rest is a start. People hiring you will want to see that you've blogged before - not just that you're a good writer generally (though that helps).
posted by wackybrit at 8:56 PM on November 1, 2008

Something you need to remember:
And I gotta tell you: cell phones get boring as fuck. They release such small, incremental changes, and we covered each of them, so by the time month six rolled around, I just couldn't get excited that SE's new phone bumped to 3.TWO megapixels, instead of just 3MP. Who the fuck cares? Well, the answer is, lots of people, and even, really, myself, but just not when I was the one publishing each of the updates. You run out of things to say with posts like that. But posts on bizarre and fun gadgets were always good times. It's just a mix of the good and the immensely boring.
This translates to 'The things we write about are unimportant and we know it, but making money is nice, and being read is better than not being read.' Which is both true and shitty. If you are writing about the minutiae of the electronic-gadget business(es) for cash, you're not a journalist nor a scholar. (I had originally written, 'You're a whore,' but that seems a bit...blunt. Also prostitution isn't so bad!) If you want to write about culture, do so. Build an audience, develop a style.

Which is to say: if tech/culture is your interest, the Engadget/Gizmodo model certainly isn't the only model to think about, nor the best.
posted by waxbanks at 9:22 PM on November 1, 2008

I think there's a distinction to be made within waxbanks' comments: If you're being paid to write about gadgets by gadget companies, you're a whore. We panned plenty of bad gadgets and gave people plenty of legitimate shit. Joel was also very, very anti-junket, etc, and was big on journalistic integrity. The problem there is that those principles clearly shift and ebb and flow based on what site you're looking at and who your editor is. I think the brand can establish its credibility, or clearly appear like a shill...

But I wouldn't say there aren't gadget "journalists". Or that they're all whores, in any event. Joel interviewed Bill Gates and asked some really great questions that you wouldn't get from Larry Fucking King. Gizmodo was pulling down $75k a month because their sponsors paid a lot for their highly targeted demo. (18-34 yr olds with buckets of disposable income). But Joel never let that influence his writing or what he said about any of the companies involved.

I don't know about the current leadership, but my point was that, in order to be comprehensive and something of a paper of record on minutiae like that, you have to cover it all, and damn does that get boring. Sure you cover because you need readers and readers equal dollars. But covering minutiae and being bored by it isn't what makes you a whore. Junkets and free stuff and overlooking terrible inadequacies in product reviews, that's more like it.
posted by disillusioned at 9:49 PM on November 1, 2008

Some interesting comments here; thought I'd throw my 2 cents in, having been a tech writer for the past 15 years or so, writing for PC World, Gizmodo, Macworld,, etc.

My suggestion is simple; write. Whoever you write for, the first question you'll get is "show me what you've got". Find an area of tech that interests you and start writing about it, focusing on finding your voice and your niche. What you need to show if you want to be a professional tech writer is that, as well as stringing a sentence together, you can find an angle, express an opinion and write cleanly and lucidly. Plenty of tech writers get away without being able to do some of these, but the best ones (like the ones I like to hire) can write about most anything tech related with authority.

Degrees and the like are, to me, mostly irrelevant; I've worked with people from great schools (journalism and otherwise) who just didn't have what it takes, and people with little formal education who were great writers. What matters is their ability (or lack thereof) to write.
posted by baggers at 10:14 AM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Though technology writing isn't my regular thing, I've had luck pitching tech pieces to outlets that don't have much in-house tech editorial, primarily alt-weeklies. The alt-weekly industry is in such a state of panic that many editors will jump on anything that is engaging and helps make the paper seem more relevant to the Publishing 2.0 era.

Be prepared to write for a less tech-savvy audience, and deal with editors who are not well-versed in your topics. Still, I've found the alt-weeklies tend to pay better than blogs, and it's a good way to get writing clips you can then take to more established tech outlets.
posted by mister barnacles at 11:45 AM on November 2, 2008

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