|Lauren Rae Orsini. Photo by Robert Mang.|
By Georgie Carroll
Lauren Rae Orsini is a 24-year-old, self-confessed geek and lover of all things fandom who adores attending conventions and catching up with other fans. She runs a blog devoted to everything anime, which chronicles her adventures as an ‘Otaku’ (a serious fan, in layman’s terms).
She’s also a journalist who won the chance to have a post featured on Forbes.com. After her post, ‘How To Be A Journalist in 2011’, was published, she found herself momentarily internet famous, and with a job offer from The Daily Dot in her inbox. As a fellow fangirl and aspiring journalist, I jumped at the chance to ask Lauren some questions about her own love of fandom, her new role at The Daily Dot, and a bit more about journalism in 2011...
Georgie Carroll: What will your new role at TheDailyDot.com entail? What will you be reporting on?
Lauren Rae Orsini: So far, I know that my reporting at The Daily Dot will cover Internet culture. I’m not yet sure which part of our vast Internet culture will specifically become my beat. Since I haven’t started yet, I can really just tell you what my job position is “Reporter and Graphics Specialist”. That’s right, since I’m a multimedia journalist, I’ll be designing infographic features as well as writing stories.
You’re very open with the fact that you’re a geek/fangirl and largely report on matters concerning fandom. Do you feel there is a risk in being typecast like this as a journalist, or do you see it as an advantage? Individuals pose this question at me a lot and I’m happy to have an opportunity to answer it for an audience. It all comes down to whether you think journalists are able to separate their quest for the truth from their personal interests. Some journalists are very strict about this. For example, when I was in journalism school, one of my professors encouraged us not to vote in presidential elections if we wanted to be good journalists!
However, I don’t think the best reporting comes from distancing yourself from your subject and steering clear of anything that might interest you in the slightest. It helps to have knowledge about the communities you are writing about, and it helps to have connections in the field. I can’t imagine, for example, that a crimes and courts reporter who isn’t close with the Chief of Police is able to write very accurate stories.
I think that by writing about things I am passionate about, I’m able to do a better job. Of course, there’s still a line I have to be careful not to cross. I can’t use interviews with geek icons to get their autographs, even if I admire them. It’s okay to be a fan, but it’s not okay to let my interests get in the way of telling an accurate, truthful story.
Do you feel budding journalists should have blogs/websites/twitter profiles? What do you see as the benefits or disadvantages in this? I absolutely believe this! My only regret about my own blog is that I did not start it sooner. You can’t wait around for “the right time” to finally launch your blog because that time will never come. Your writing will always be improving and evolving. I started my blog in graduate school in order to showcase my writing portfolio for school, but it eventually became a place for me to share my fandom reporting and analysis.
The benefit of having a blog is that it’s your own space and nobody can tell you what to write there. You’re free to experiment with different topics and writing styles until you find out what works for you. Meanwhile, if you work for a larger blog or a newspaper, your editor can always scrap your story pitches or choose other assignments for you. That’s why I’ll always have a personal blog no matter what else I’m doing.
The only disadvantage I can think of is that your blog isn’t likely to have a very large audience. For the first year I had my blog, the only people who read and commented were my friends! But if you keep it up, you’ll start to develop a community. It always makes my day when somebody stops me at a fandom convention and tells me they read and like my blog, but it took almost two years for me to get to this point.
If you had to choose just one, what would be the story you’ve most loved working on? Just one? I’d have to say the Katsucon maid cafe piece. I really enjoyed immersing myself in this culture during my interviews. I had to wait tables, but it was worth it! In the future, I plan to do more immersion journalism.
Do you have/have you had any mentors or role models who have inspired you throughout your career? My journalism and creative nonfiction professors in college were the people who renewed my interest in journalism after a brief stint when I was considering a career as a lawyer -- something I can’t even imagine now! I still keep in touch with them.
Thanks to the Internet, I am constantly finding new role models. One is Steven Savage, a geek blogger who encourages others to pursue the geeky career of their dreams. And Gala Darling, whose blog I’ve been reading since I was in college, has been a constant inspiration. At this rate, I think I discover a new person to admire online at least once a week.
How did you get your big break? I don’t want to think of this as my big break because I am always hoping that there will be bigger things ahead, but getting my job at The Daily Dot was about luck combined with working really, really hard. And as I told Media Bistro, it is going to take more than just one “big break” to stay relevant online.
I found out about Susannah Breslin’s contest on Forbes through Twitter. I spent the morning reading through her blog until I got up the courage to write her a pitch. I did my best to forget about the contest all week until Susannah let me know I won! I was surprised that she picked a young woman who wrote about fandom over a hard news journalist, but I think it was the fact that I reported on what I wanted without waiting to get hired that appealed to her.
After my article, 'How to be a journalist in 2011', ran on Forbes, I was Internet famous for about two days. I got fan mail, hate mail, and, yes, job offers. Two were about my technical skills as a web designer and programmer, but one was from Owen Thomas of The Daily Dot. It was titled, “Not sure I agree with you about a lack of journalism jobs.” We had a phone interview and then I sent him my references and portfolio. The next week, he called to say I had gotten the job! I called my family as soon as Owen and I got off the phone. The dream I’d had of becoming a professional journalist had come true! It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
Have you always wanted to be a journalist? Not exactly. When I was a child I wanted to be an artist, and eventually I put down my paintbrush for a pencil and decided I was going to be a writer. In my teens I discovered web design and wanted to be a programmer. But at the same time, I was on the newspaper and yearbook staff in high school. I actually just discovered a diary entry I wrote when I was fifteen that said, “I either want to be a journalist or a programmer when I grow up.” The turn that the journalism industry has taken, though, means I can be both. I’m working on learning a new computer language, Python, before I start at The Daily Dot, as well as continuing to hone my writing skills.
How competitive is it for American journalists at the moment? The American job climate in general is pretty competitive right now. Last summer, I was actually working as a cashier after failing to find other work. The sad part is I was only one of four employees with a Master’s degree. In the end, it took me four months to find work as an interactive designer, not my chosen field!
Journalism is a particularly tough field right now. Even though the Internet began changing the way we get our news back in the 90s, it’s hitting traditional media the hardest right now. There are far fewer paying positions than from just a decade ago. This is exactly what prompted me to start a blog and report on my favorite subjects for free. It may not make money, but it keeps me sane and builds my reporting portfolio.
What’s your favourite part of fandom? I love how fans can take the creators original premise and turn it into an entire culture. For example, if you think about it, Harry Potter is just a series of books and movies. It’s the fans that make it legendary, with their fanart and fanfiction and handcrafted House scarves. Their tribute bands, like Harry and the Potters, and their tribute films, like Potter Puppet Pals. Their forums for discussing theories about the books and their costumes at the midnight movie releases. It’s what inspires me to keep reporting on fandom, paid or not. Nobody pays fans to create their labors of love, even though creating a Harry Potter fan video game or authentic Butterbeer recipe takes a lot of time and energy. They do it for the love of the subject. And so do I.
What advice would you give to young people interested in journalism in today’s society? Start writing as often as you can. Preferably on your own blog. Build your skills as a multimedia journalist by learning to customize your blog and use online tools for journalists like Quora, Storify, and Twitter. Borrow a camera or video camera and practice photojournalism and documentary filming. You don’t have to become an expert at it in order to learn to think like a multi-platform storyteller. Try different forms of journalism until you find one that fits for you.
Keep up to speed on the news. You don’t have to read all the news that comes out every day, but focus in on the subjects you’d most like to specialize in. And definitely keep up to speed on news about journalism. And if you want to be a journalist, BE a journalist. Don’t wait to get hired, don’t even wait to get out of school. I’m not saying to quit school or work, just report whenever you have the time. Nobody can make your journalism career happen but you. And I wish you the best of luck.
Georgie Carroll blogs at Frangipani Princess and files 'Teen Girl With a Satchel' monthly.