Interview: The Verge's Megan Farokhmanesh
Games reporter Megan Farokhmanesh talks about how to tailor your pitch to The Verge, her biggest PR pet peeve, and even apologizes for not responding to your email. Yes, yours!
1. Tell us about The Verge and how you think about its gaming coverage. What makes a story uniquely well-suited to The Verge?
The funny thing about games coverage is that when you talk about what makes something a good fit for your site, it really can all sort of sound the same. The Verge’s audience is smart, curious, thoughtful, and we want to write stories that align with that. But you could argue that of Polygon, Kotaku, WIRED, and so on. There are definitely stories that I’d say feel “Verge-y” — typically anything that hits that sweet spot of a fascinating part of tech pushing forward culture, or entertainment that explains, shapes, redefines how we interpret the world. There’s always news that our audience needs to know. But when it comes to original reports, a lot of it depends on the writer. If we’re curious about it, then we’re betting our audience is too.
When we think about games coverage, we’re coming at it from the idea that our audience cares about games and does not need to be convinced. This is a frustrating theme I see sometimes in mainstream media coverage when it comes to games — think about stories that lead with how much money the industry generates every year, for example. Yes, it’s worth understanding that the games industry is a huge, booming business, but that’s hardly what makes it interesting. Games are mainstream. Let’s skip the justifications and get to the good shit.
I think a good general rule is to start by looking at our writers. We’re not a games-specific site, and it’s not our goal to hit every gaming story ever. We all kind of have our own specialties and interests, and we are ultimately what makes The Verge different. I’m really invested in telling stories that can help make things better, whether that’s exploring problems within the industry, or sharing something cool and special about games.
2. You went from covering games, to covering internet culture, back to games again — what brought you back? What are the stories you like to uncover and tell in gaming?
Making the jump to internet culture for a few years, I really felt working in games prepared me well. Video game writers like Patricia Hernandez have been on the internet culture beat for years; it’s just that no one called it that yet.
As much as I loved writing about internet culture, I kept wandering back to stories about games because I felt there is still so much work to be done there. It’s such a rich, vibrant industry to cover, and I care deeply about the ins and outs of it all. And writing about games today, it’s easier than ever to be able to jump to the parts that are fun and cool, without having to do a lot of running around explaining why it matters. Something I care deeply about, for example, is giving a platform to those whose voices might not be heard otherwise. That’s especially true when it comes to issues around labor and culture in the industry, but it can also mean I want to talk about undercovered parts of game dev, or cool stuff communities are doing. I like writing about larger cultural implications of games, whether it’s the stories they tell or how studios are run.
3. What’s a piece you’ve worked on that you’re proud of?
In 2016, while I was working at Polygon, I was at Blizzard’s campus to do a big tentpole story on StarCraft. While it was very cool to spend some time talking with the people who made such an incredible game, I also had the chance to hang out with devs across the company. That included spending some time with a few of the company’s sound designers — I wound up spinning out a small feature just on their work. It was totally unplanned, and is, to this day, one of my favorite stories. Their sound designers let me get hands-on and I watched them turn my goofy attempts at sound effects into something very cool. I rubbed a bunch of styrofoam together, and they turned it into a laser sound effect. Amazing. It helps that they were incredibly charming and fun to talk to, but that sort of demystification of game dev is fascinating to me. I loved being able to share that process with my readers. There are so many extremely cool parts of game dev we so rarely get to explore or explain to an audience, and I wish we could do more of it.
4. What’s the most challenging thing for you right now in your career?
Unfortunately, I think it’s the same thing that everyone is kind of dealing with: no face-to-face. You really can’t replace in-person events for getting story ideas, whether it’s just having the chance to grab lunch with someone and bounce ideas off people, or getting that ah-ha moment for a story from a casual conversation.
5. Because I must ask everyone: what’s your biggest PR pet peeve? What should PR know before they dare to reach out?
Please, I’m begging you, don’t reference things like my tweets or my Instagram (…) in your pitches. Especially if we don’t know each other particularly well. It creeps me out! I know that you’re scoping out my online presence in the name of research, but I don’t want to *know* about it, much like I don’t want to know what the back of my hair looks like.
But ok, to get serious: my biggest pet peeve is PR who treat journalists like marketing mouthpieces. I have a lot of respect for many PR professionals in games. I’ve had many positive experiences with professionals who understand the nature of that relationship. But much of the friction I’ve had over the years is because of PR who didn’t understand or respect this boundary. Our work relationship can sometimes produce a mutually beneficial result, but our goals are not meant to align.
Very earnestly, my job is to tell the truth, and to try to do so as ethically and responsibly as possible. That is my guiding principle.
Also, while we’re talking about the truth, here’s where I toss out the blanket statement that I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your email, but I get hundreds every day and I would actually turn into a pile of dust if I answered them all. Also, please don’t call me on the phone out of the blue. If something has caught on fire — fire, I mean that — a text is ok. No calls!
6. What do you see PR teams getting consistently wrong? For instance, is it mostly bland pitches? Weak follow-up? Bad timing? Loss of momentum? Fear of saying something wrong vs. saying something interesting? There are many things to get wrong but wondering if you notice patterns.
I get a ton of really generic, cookie-cutter pitches that I just know have been sent to about a dozen different outlets. They fail to point out anything interesting about the game, or why it matters right now, or why an audience — or writer — should care. If you send me a pitch that you don’t seem to care about, why should I?
7. What kind of pitch do you wish you were seeing more often?
More stories about how development works and teams within studios. More stories about failures, from ideas to projects, because there is more to the games industry than just its success stories. More stories with voices that are not just the auteurs and most recognizable names in games.
You can follow Megan Farokhmanesh on Twitter (but don’t make it weird).