Freelance journalist Joe Griffin is one of The Irish Times’ weekly game reviewers, a fortnightly gaming columnist and a regular film reviewer and feature writer for the paper. Joe also regularly contributes to Arena on RTE Radio, both as a film critic and a videogame correspondent, and writes a weekly film column for The Irish Independent.
Previously, Joe has made numerous on-air contributions to The Dave Fanning Show on 2FM, Culture Shock and Weekend Blend on Newstalk, Phantom Daily on Phantom FM, and Culture Vulture on Q102. Additionally, Joe has written for the tourism guide Dublin in Your Pocket, The Irish Examiner, The Dubliner, Mongrel, Film Ireland and (in Australia) general interest magazine Last and music publication 3d World. He’s also worked as editor and chief writer for satirical magazine The Spanner, as a staff film critic for The Event Guide and as a panellist on Phantom FM’s movie show, Cinerama. Joe, a Dublin native, studied TV and Radio at Liberties College.
What makes a good PR person in your opinion?
Someone tactful, organised, helpful, sincere and with an eye for a story. We may not always express it, but journalists greatly appreciate good PR people. Some of them are a pleasure to work with. Some other PR execs really give the industry a bad name: One had to be reminded 4 times to send me a review copy of a book she promised (I never got it), another sent me an angry email based on something I hadn’t said. When I corrected that lady (complete with email proof), she didn’t apologise.
Like every journalist you get inundated with emails from PR agencies and departments. How to you choose those to bin and those to keep?
I’m very lucky: I know that there are a lot of irrelevant press releases out there, but my ratio of relevant to irrelevant is a merciful 60/40. The puff pieces are annoying though: Why tell me about a premiere that I’m not invited to? Why is a quote from a client important in itself? As a freelancer, I don’t merely keep, but cherish press releases with suggested story angles. Why don’t I get those more often?
You publish a lot of your newspaper reviews on your blog. Have you found that being a blogging and tweeting journalist marks you as a more potent force to PR agencies?
Honestly? No. I think a blog is a great resource for collating my portfolio in one online place and Twitter is good for communicating with readers, PR execs, editors and other journalists. But I don’t get huge traffic to the blog, and have just over 200 followers on Twitter (respectable, but hardly celebrity). Also, a lot of PR companies still don’t seem interested in online media, or at least their clients aren’t. In my experience, any change in how I’ve been perceived by PR folk (if any) coincides with progress I’ve made in old media (print, radio).
As a video games and film journalist you are probably very often treated to that rare PR tactic, the junket. Do junkets increase the chances of you reviewing a film or game?
Oh yes! Well in both cases, a junket is usually only for a major release, so there will usually be an interest. However, there is a myth that throwing enough free stuff at a journalist will result in positive copy, and I don’t really think that’s the case. I’ve been sent review copies of games, or attended fancy screening events, and gone onto give the products bad or mediocre reviews.
With media organisations continuing to make staff cutbacks many journalism graduates, as well as those laid off, are increasingly considering a career in PR. As you’ve worked in both PR and journalism, would you have any advice to give or views to offer on this?
Big question! Well, regarding the journey from being a journalist to working in PR, I will say that they require vastly different skills: Some journalists I know seem to think that PR is easier or less demanding than journalism. It’s really not. To work in PR you have to be extremely organised and often you need a wide knowledge of various fields beyond your expertise. Also, you can be a misanthropic journalist, but PR execs really don’t have that luxury! I wouldn’t advise journalists or media graduates not to go into PR, but I would suggest that they a) look into other less obvious solutions (like copywriting, corporate writing or marketing), and b) if you’re a graduate, meet a journalist or PR person separately and ask what their typical day entails. Some journalists blossom in a PR role and of course, many PR execs I know adore their job, but it’s really not for everyone.
For those intent on forging a career as a journalist, have you any tips for wannabe film and video games critics looking to get a foot on the ladder?
Don’t do it! I kid, I kid. First up, I’d say specialise in more than one thing. I’ve lost count of the amount of young people I’ve met who have expressed interest in being a film, music or videogame journalist. It’s outrageously competitive, and very, very few people in Ireland make a living writing about just one corner of popular culture. Nothing beats story ideas: try to come up with, and pitch, at least two a week to start with, and then (after a while) at least one a day. Don’t be afraid of aiming high: Pitch to your dream outlets. Few sensations beat the thrill of getting published in a newspaper or magazine you admire. Don’t be shy about making follow-on calls. But remember to know plenty about the outlet you’re pitching to. Buy and comb through at least two issues. When pitching, suggest a- an event or date that will make the story relevant and b- the section where it would most belong. And for the love of God, find out who you’re pitching to! Writing ‘Dear Editor’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ is one guaranteed way to get your email deleted.
You regularly contribute to radio shows. What makes journalists naturally good radio contributors?
While not everyone will agree, I don’t think it’s a natural gift. As long as you have knowledge and confidence, I believe anyone can learn to be good on air. If you’re prepared enough, there’s nothing to fear. Some use prompt cards, others use notes. I like reams of notes.
Does the addition of a whole page of The Ticket mean that computer games are finally being recognised for their contribution to culture as much as movies and music? Have video games finally gone mainstream?
I think that page is a huge step, but I still think there’s a stigma. It’s a thrilling, creative and lucrative art-form that’s just in its infancy, but the ugly truth is that gaming is still seen by many as a young man’s hobby and a scapegoat for everything from violence to obesity. I do sincerely believe it’s on an upswing, though (both creatively and commercially), which you can’t say for the film and music industry. Game consoles will soon be as common as television sets, and something else will be blamed for the fall of the western world.
What movies have you seen previews for that we should keep an eye out for?
Well by the time you read this, the films might have been and gone! My favourite films of the year so far are Inception, A Prophet, Toy Story 3 and Good Hair. A nice mixed bunch. A film that I’m really looking forward to is The Social Network. That’s directed by David Fincher (Fight Club), written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and stars one Justin Timberlake. It’s about the agonising birth of Facebook, which many people don’t know is a cruel, Machiavellian story.
What computer games are going to be sought after stocking fillers this Christmas?
Everyone and their dog will want the Xbox Kinect system, so place your order now. That’s the motion-sensor controls which use your body instead of a wand or controller. You’ll also be able to use your hand (a la Minority Report) to skim through your media on your Xbox, such as movies and music. On a more personal note, I’m really looking forward to the third game in the Gears of War series. Those games are bloody great!