Posted by Steve Ruddock, July 13, 2014
One of the better known adages in poker reads something like this: Poker is a hard way to make an easy living. It's a saying many people have heard and parroted over the years (usually following a bad beat), but like the Star Spangled Banner, there is also a second part of the adage that few are aware of, which states, "reporting on poker is a hard way to make a thankless living."
In this column I'll give you an inside look at precisely what it is the poker media does and why the job is a lot harder than most people assume.
Working in poker media seems like a dream job to the fanboys. After all, the job seems easy enough: do some poker interviews, read some FREE poker books and poker magazines and bang out some poker media coverage on the WSOP or the latest software upgrade. Not to mention you get paid to rub shoulders with the poker players who are the game's equivalent of Michael Jordan or Tom Brady.
Unfortunately, reality paints a different picture of the duties of your average poker media representative.
First off, you need to realize the poker media is a diverse group of people doing a number of different jobs. There are tournament reporters, bloggers, opinion writers, legal and legislative pundits, and each group has a different role to play.
As Chad Holloway of PokerNews.com puts it, "I think the role of the poker media is dependent upon the outlet for which someone works. For us at PokerNews… it’s to keep [our readers] up to date and informed on what is going on in the poker industry."
Freelance writer Jennifer Newell agreed with Chad, saying, "The role of the poker media is to report what is happening in poker, from player news to industry happenings."
Lee Davy (who seems to write at just about every poker outlet) echoed Holloway's and Newell's thoughts, saying, "we are there to provide information for the people within the industry that want to be entertained or informed."
Davy also has different take on the role of poker media as well, seeing the media as ambassadors for poker. "We are there as a member of the masses whose collective role is to spread the word of poker around the world," he says.
My own take on the role of poker media is along these same lines; it simply depends on who you work for and what you're passionate about. For some people, it's the players and the tournaments; for others, the beauty of poker is in the strategic or psychological aspects of the game; and still for others, the minutiae of the legal and legislative side of the industry are the most interesting.
Think double shifts and you're pretty close to what full-time writers do day-in and day-out, in any genre not just poker.
For poker writers this entails 12 hour days on your feet reporting on a tournament, or just as bad, 12 hour days sitting in a well-worn computer chair while your sciatica flares up when you're working from home.
Furthermore, picture how boring playing live poker can be. Now try to imagine how boring reporting on live poker can be, and in between the boredom you have to pester players for interviews, with many brushing you off like you don't even exist, or worse berating you for bothering them.
And in between the boredom, the scoldings from pissed-off players, and drinking cold coffee, you have to somehow remember chip stacks (god forbid you get those wrong!) and player names and somehow find time to get to a computer to write.
Still sound appealing to you?
Chad Holloway's day certainly starts early and takes up most of his waking hours: "When I’m at the World Series of Poker, my typical day is 12-14 hours of live reporting… Outside of the WSOP I spend quite a bit of time on the road traveling to various tournaments such as the Mid-States Poker Tour and European Poker Tour to offer the same live reporting services."
But Holloway's day doesn't end there, "I also write daily articles and other content on a daily basis for PokerNews while contributing to other outlets such as Ante Up Magazine, Midwest Gaming and Travel, and writing a nationally syndicated poker column. To put it another way, I write about poker all day every day."
Lee Davy's day starts pretty late, but is just as full. "I wake up when I want (usually anywhere between 10-12)… I meditate for 20-mins and then start writing. I will stop midday to make dinner, and then I usually go for a walk. I come back and write some more. I stop about 6-7pm and meditate for another 20 minutes. Then I go for a run, come back and write some more. At around midnight I will stop writing."
And it's not just writing that needs to get done as Davy detailed, "In between writing I make sure I keep my NeedyHelper Facebook page updated, answer comments on my blog, read my e-mails, check FB messages, read at least one blog post per day on addictions (and comment) and tick off five things on my "Five Minute" to do list." Davy later copped to being, "a to do list nut."
Sensing a pattern yet? Well, what if I told you Jennifer Newell also writes morning, noon, and night?
"I get up at 6am each day to walk the dogs, and I am always at my desk before 7am," Newell told me. "I work throughout the day and sometimes into the evening, but I often take breaks to run errands. The days vary for me depending on assignments from clients, the time of year (WSOP is the busiest), and how easily the words translate from my head to the Word document."
One constant criticism of poker media is we show favoritism to certain players, or that we refuse to broach controversial topics.
Chad Holloway doesn't necessarily agree with this critique, and explains the favoritism as one of simple supply and demand: "I’m not sure I would call it favoritism, but outlets certainly give more press to those players that fans and readers care about," Holloway said. "Doing an article on Phil Hellmuth or Phil Ivey is certain to garner much more interest than a player who hasn’t put up as many results."
Lee Davy is a bit more pessimistic about poker outlets and some of the content being churned out: "It is extremely rare to find a poker outlet that will allow you to speak your own mind and write what you want… It's a shame because it stems creativity, and prevents much needed discussion within our community. It also creates a situation where 10-20 poker media sites write the same shit every day."
Jennifer Newell finds the same type of covert censorship in the industry: "Most poker media outlets are beholden to advertisers and won't write things that may risk that income or relationship… There is a concerted yet unspoken effort to keep our industry positive and clean."
Newell went on to say, "There is also a rather constant dilemma regarding writing the truth and risking jobs/relationships in poker versus playing it safe and not staying true to my beliefs. I've burned more than a few bridges by being as ethical as I could be. There are very few truly independent media outlets that will report the news and the whole truth without fear of repercussion."
So what does the birth of a poker journalist/reporter look like?
Chad Holloway: "After dropping out of law school, I began contributing fantasy poker article to Poker Pro Magazine, which eventually led to an internship with BLUFF at the 2009 World Series of Poker. A year later I was hired as a freelancer for PokerNews, and I must have done a good job because shortly thereafter they offered me a full-time position."
Jennifer Newell: "I was doing accounting work for the World Poker Tour in Los Angeles about 10 years ago. I always wanted to be a writer but never found my niche … I started doing free work … I built a published portfolio that I shopped around… and quit that office job about eight years ago."
Lee Davy: "I quit drinking alcohol and realized that I had the power to do anything I wanted to, so I quit my job and decided to see if I could earn $45,000 through poker in one year… That was five years ago, and I have my own company, and do help people quit drinking."
One criticism of the poker media is that we are little more than a bunch of busto poker players, which seems to be both true and false, as I asked the panel if poker media types were failed players.
Chad Holloway, a WSOP bracelet winner certainly doesn't see himself as a failed player: "I continue to play and supplement my income with poker winnings, which include a WSOP gold bracelet in 2013. I wish I had more opportunities to play, but by no means would I consider myself a failed player."
Lee Davy seems to think so: "… at the risk of upsetting those writers who worked hard at school to earn their titles, I will say this: Quite a lot of the writers I know have all tried to play the game at one point or another. Does this make them failed players? Well would they rather be players or writers? I am a failed player 100%."
And oddly enough Jennifer Newell never really played the game seriously: "Not all of us. I've never wanted to be a poker player. I don't mind the occasional game, but I've never tried to be a professional player. Many find themselves in that boat, but I write because I enjoy writing about the game and its players."
Chad Holloway: "The most challenging part of my job is managing my time. With so many deadlines and travel obligations it’s important to keep everything organized and not to procrastinate. I find taking a proactive approach to my job as opposed to a reactive one is much more conducive to success."
Lee Davy: "Finding time to fit everything in, especially time with my wife and son. My creativity wanes somewhat in the early evening and then comes back to me at midnight for some reason, so pushing through that period is always a challenge."
"In general, as a writer, you want your stuff to flow. You want people to talk about it and spread it, so with this in mind I would always advise writers to try and find the better side of their characters, and if this means show a little favoritism then so be it."
Jennifer Newell: "My biggest challenge in poker writing is coming up with fresh ways to say the same thing. There are only so many ways to say that someone busted from a tournament, so the Thesaurus is my friend."
"The other big challenge is getting enough work that pays a reasonable fee to cover my basic bills each month."
Apparently Lee Davy knows what Jennifer is talking about when it comes to finding work and taking odd jobs as he told me, "I was once asked by a poker outlet to write about sex toys and had to try some of them out so I knew what the hell I was writing about." Ah, the things we will subject ourselves to in order to pay the bills.
Steve Ruddock is a veteran writer in the poker and iGaming industry who covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. Follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveRuddock
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