Hey everyone! Time for another edition of the Blogspiration Project, yaaaaaaay. Today’s post features the wonderful Selina Wilken, whom some of you may know from her work with Hypable and Game of Owns, and also the occasional guest appearance on my beloved Mugglecast. A huge thank you to Selina for contributing to the Blogspiration Project. I’m honestly so blown away by how far it’s come since I had the initial idea. You can follow Selina on Twitter here & read the other posts in the Blogspiration Project series here; otherwise, grab yourself a cup of tea and sit down for a read- this edition is a big one!
Well I grew up in Denmark, but ever since I discovered the internet at age 12 and made my first fan page (for Friends), I was always eager to go out and discover the English-speaking part of the world. When I was 16 I went to Norway to study at the United World College, and after that I went to Wales to complete first a Film & Television BA at Aberystwyth University and then a Journalism MA at Cardiff University. Wales? you might ask, that’s so random! Well, yeah, but being obsessed with Arthurian legends as I was at the time, I came for the dragons – of which there were none – and then stayed for the friends I made there!
I’ve always been heavily invested in fandom, and known that it wasn’t just something I’d be happy observing from afar – I wanted to get involved! You’ll often hear me soapbox about how important works of fiction and the fan communities around them are in society, and fighting to promote fandom as something far more valuable and important than a lot of the “highbrows” would make you believe. A lot of young (and young at heart) people use fiction to discover who they are and to escape from the harsh realities of the real world in a safe, educational way, and through the internet they can find and connect with likeminded people – what’s not to like?! So working for a site like Hypable is pretty much the perfect way to spend my time: I get to contribute to this environment and help legitimise fandom and fan communities by representing them in the world of journalism, while reporting on and dissecting the books, shows and movies I love.
In the “real world” I also work as a tae-bo instructor (it’s a form of choreographed aerobics-kickboxing – it’s fun!) and try to develop my skills as a writer and filmmaker. In a perfect world, I want to not only write ABOUT movies and TV series, I also want to write them!
What’s your favourite & least favourite things about the internet & online environment?
I’ve just waxed lyrical about all the great things about the internet, so let’s cover the negative first. I think, like any community, the online world inspires fanaticism to the extreme, and even though this fanaticism might not be as extreme as it seems to outsiders, the internet communities can blow it up even further and make fans and fandom seem terrifying to those not initiated.
But that said, I have to counter it by saying what I always say: EVERY group of people, whatever common interest has brought them together (a book series, a sports team, a certain set of beliefs or values) will have extremists. And I think writing fanfics about your favourite ship (honing your writing skills, by the way, so good on you), or going to conventions cosplaying as your favourite anime character trumps beating people up and starting real wars any day. So suck it, that football fan I once met who made fun of me for wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt.
As for the most positive, I’ll state the obvious: the online world allows people to form communities irregardless of social and geographical factors. And to a lot of young people, this is an invaluable resource. The reason you get a lot of stereotypes about all fans being socially awkward is because the internet is a nice and safe (if you look after yourself!) way to meet people and foster friendships based on common interests, as opposed to putting yourself physically out there with no safety net (going offline if you need a break). And can it ever be a bad thing that shy people are allowed to enjoy social interaction and share their love of something with other likeminded individuals? I know that I wouldn’t have half the skills or have achieved half the things I have without the support of the global network I fostered by going to forums and starting weird geeky projects with the friends I met online. My real-life friends just didn’t share those interests, but luckily that didn’t have to hold me back.
How did you first get involved in fandoms and online journalism & podcasts?
I first discovered journalism during my time at Aberystwyth. I originally applied to study Drama, believe it or not, but an unexpected phobia of trust games soon made me change my major to Film & Television. As part of that course I took a module called Online Journalism, just for kicks, and boom! I had never been this excited about a class before. Then in my 3rd year, I decided to join the university magazine as a writer, and within a few weeks I managed to find myself editor of the Arts Section (whoops). Trying to spice up the section a bit I reached out to a number of artists, and ended up landing interviews with Welsh author Jasper Fforde and the pop group Alphabeat for my first issue. Beginner’s luck? Maybe, but the success of landing and carrying out these interviews was such a thrill, and I’ve been seeking it ever since.
In terms of online journalism, Hypable was really the break I’d been waiting for. It launched during the year I took off to earn money in between my BA and my MA, and I’m just glad I joined the site when I did (only a few months after the site opened) – I happened to write to the site owners (Andrew Sims and Richard Reid) suggesting that I cover exactly the fandoms they were hoping to get covered! Before that, I had only done a bit of independent blogging, with the biggest highlight being a stint writing Supernatural episode recaps for SpoilerTV.
Any advice you’d give to someone looking to start working in online journalism & blogging?
One of the things that feels most off-putting when you know you’ve got a lot of opinions an intelligent things to say is that it feels like no one is listening. And why should they? If you don’t get the feedback and recognition for the work you put in, it gets harder and harder to regularly update and maintain a blog, and then who’s going to read it? Of course that’s not to say you shouldn’t practice, especially if you’re younger and/or don’t have a relevant education within the field of journalism and/or media studies.
But the advice I’d give to myself (which luckily I took) is to find a team of people that are just as engaged as you are, and start a project together. Whether that be a podcast, or a website, or a big Tumblr blog aiming to give you the best and brightest in fandom analysis/fanfiction recommendations/funny GIFs/webseries/whatever you know you wouldn’t mind spending most of your free time doing. Because once you establish yourself within a fandom, it’s easier to bring people with you to whatever further projects you want to do. And working with people is both incredibly rewarding because you obviously learn from each other and grow stronger, but also, during those times when you get no comments and it feels like no one cares, at least you know that YOU all care, and are nurturing your friendship by doing this huge and important thing together. And if it fizzles out? That’s fine. It was still a learning experience, and you can always try again. Once you’ve proven to yourself that you can do it, it’ll be a lot easier to convince the world, and to make them listen.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about online communities, culture & interaction?
One thing which kind of hit me as an epiphany recently (ironic, since it seems so obvious) is that really, the world is full of people shouting and trying to be heard – and you can’t just expect them to hear you because you shout louder and really want to be heard. So to really make your mark on the world, you have to stop thinking about how you can achieve instant success and rise up above everyone else, and start thinking about how you can bring value to other people’s lives, and provide them with something that matters to them. That’s what we all want, when it comes down to it – to find something that matters, and which somehow enriches our lives. Both when it comes to our careers, but also when it comes to personal growth.
I’d say that, as a fan of the site and not as someone who works there, Hypable brings value to my life because I can go there and a) be informed and b) be part of a community of people who are knowledgable, professional, and care about what I care about. That’s what makes working for the site so easy, and so much fun, and that’s why I don’t mind spending all my time on it. I know that what I do actually means something to someone.