|The following interview was published in The Chess Journalist, Vol. XXVII, No. 90, December 1998. One-time only publication rights have been obtained from the contributor. All other rights are hereby assigned to the author. Articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CJA, its offices or members. Copyright 1998 by the Chess Journalists of America.|
by J. Franklin Campbell
New technology often provides new opportunities. As a chess journalist I’ve found that the Internet has provided one such opportunity. More and more chess enthusiasts are finding their way onto the Internet and the world-wide electronic chess scene. The size of your potential audience is huge and indeed is world-wide, as English is a language widely used throughout the world on the Internet. One way to reach this audience is through a website of your own. Another is to contribute to an existing website. I started by contributing to other websites, then later established my own. Following are some of my experiences with Internet chess journalism.
Contributing to Websites
There are a number of websites that welcome good material from chess journalists. There are probably few sites which will purchase material (I know of none) but any site with good articles will certainly welcome contributions of similar material. In fact, some webmasters actively solicit contributions. One example is The Correspondence Chess Place (webmaster John Knudsen), which has articles of interest to correspondence chess players. Knudsen has a number of good articles written by other authors. By reading through various chess websites you can identify those which are compatible with your area of journalism. New material is especially welcome, but don’t forget your older material. You may have a whole series of articles or a long-running column that would find a welcome home on the appropriate website. I got started with an article at “The Correspondence Chess Place” plus one at the Chess Mail magazine site, which published an article that had previously been published in the print magazine.
Establishing Your Own Website
Why contribute to other websites when you can start your own? Of course, it helps to be knowledgeable about how to create web pages and write HTML code. When I got started I knew very little about HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language), the “language” used to describe web pages. Actually, it is very simple in its basic application. If you understand how a word processor works you’ll have no difficulty with HTML. Just as a word processor (such as Word Perfect) surrounds a section of text with two codes to describe formatting, so does HTML. For instance, <B>text</B> indicates that the word “text” should be displayed as BOLD. Similar codes exist for italics, underlined, center text on page, etc. HTML isn’t as versatile as you may wish and it isn’t always possible to tweak the appearance of your text to look precisely as you may wish, but it still provides plenty of capability for producing nice-looking documents.
What if you don’t want to learn HTML? I started by getting a free website at Angelfire, a large provider of websites. Yes, it’s free. You may expect some advertising on your pages [they now have started requiring it -- JFC], but I never encountered a problem. They provide a simple editor that allows you to create web pages without knowing a thing about HTML. After you tire of the limited nature of this approach you’ll probable pick up a book on creating web pages and learn a bit more. There are also a growing number of software tools for creating web pages that operate much like a word processor. For instance, the latest version of HoTMetal Pro 5.0 allows you to create documents as WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) and inserts all the required HTML code. Another option this and some other software tools offer is direct inputting of your document in a popular word processor format, such as Microsoft Word (my personal choice). You just create your document using a familiar word processor and then feed this document into your software tool, which will convert it to equivalent HTML code. I won’t go any further describing the tools required ... if you’re interested there are hundreds of books available at your local bookstore. I’ll just add one comment ... if you see something you like on the Internet you have full access to the original HTML code. Just click on “View ... Source” (or a similar term in your web browser of choice) and up pops the code! You can take a look at it, print it out or even copy it to your disk ... stealing code is a way of life on the Internet and is a fully acceptable practice. Just copy something that has the appearance you want and replace the other guy’s words with your own.
It may take a little work to create your own website, but once you do you have a tremendous potential audience out there. It’s important to have some focus for your content. Many of the best websites have an easily identified focus, such as chess analysis, chess news, retrograde analysis, history, etc. I feel it is best, particularly at the beginning, to have a narrow focus for your website. As it grows you can expand your scope.
What about my efforts? I started with an initial body of work. I had written “The Campbell Report” for APCT News Bulletin for about ten years and had about four years of my column sitting on my computer’s hard drive as Microsoft Word documents. I also had about half a dozen articles that had been published elsewhere. First I asked permission of the publications that had published my material (I’m not sure that was necessary, but I took no chances). This gave me about 30 items to start with. Following the example of other websites I added a list of my favorite chess links (addresses of other websites, otherwise know as URL’s), a page describing my philosophy for the website and a page of book reviews (I had reviewed a few books in my chess column, so I just plucked out these column fragments and formatted them as separate reviews). Looking at other websites gave me valuable ideas for content and formatting. My two keys: using my stash of previously written material and borrowing heavily for formatting ideas from other websites.
After getting my website off the ground I expanded with other ideas. Not wanting to restrict my site to only my material I started inviting other journalists to contribute. John Knudsen, well known in the cc web community for his excellent website, wrote the first article to initiate my “On the Square” series of articles. Since then a number of other outstanding chess journalists have added contributions. Noted chess historian John S. Hilbert has written a series of articles describing his research, Roy DeVault, long-time games editor for the CCLA and author of several books (and a long-time friend), wrote a couple articles and other chess journalists contributed as well, including a number of master-level competitors. This is an opportunity to call in some favors from your fellow chess journalist buddies and I recommend shedding your timid tendacies in your pursuit of quality contributions. Some will jump at the chance for some Internet exposure, others will finally come up with something to stop your constant nagging (“Oh please, just one little article”) and others may have a body of work previously published that would find a good home at your website. Check out Ralph Marconi’s Chess Page and you’ll find “First Step” columns written by Bill Jones. Much high-quality material has been written and printed in low-circulation magazines. Republishing this material on the web would be a great service to the chess community. Many of you will have a supply of this material at your fingertips, just waiting to be presented to a wider audience via the Internet. Of course, you’ll want to add some of your own original work as well, as I have done at my site.
But can you make any money writing for the Internet? There I can’t help you. I don’t know of anyone being paid for their Internet work, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few. One example of a chess website with excellent writing and professional presentation that no chess journalist should miss is Hanon Russell’s The Chess Cafe. He has a whole stable of top chess journalists writing regular columns, a real Internet magazine which was one of my early inspirations.
A Few Small Warnings
Internet publishing has many things to offer the chess journalist; money probably isn’t one of them.. However, you can gain exposure which may provide future opportunities, establish contacts useful to your journalism work, find new sources for chess news, find personal satisfaction in providing a good resource for other chess enthusiasts and perhaps obtain what chess writers really want: readers.
How about all the latest news available on the Internet? Sites such as This Week in Chess are famous for providing the latest news. The chess newsgroups frequently have interesting material. The chess politics newsgroup has input from many well-known chess personalities, such as members of the USCF Policy Board (including a past president of this organization). Many big chess tournaments are represented by special websites created just for the occasion. The availability of chess material is almost too easy. BUT ... you have to be careful judging the accuracy of this material. Some opinions are presented as facts and some “facts” are actually just the best recollection of a faulty memory. Some people have their own agendas, which color their reporting. The careful chess journalist can usually spot potential problems and seek additional confirmation before repeating possible faulty news. As long as you’re careful, the Internet can provide chess news as it happens and be a wonderful resource. Just be careful.
I have found publishing on the Internet to be a wonderful and satisfying experience. I even have hopes of making a little cash by producing CD-ROMs and/or books based in part on the material I’ve gathered for my website. Just as in other areas of chess journalism, I’ve made a number of new, highly-valued friends through my work on my website, many in foreign countries. Many chess organizations have their own websites (hopefully the CJA will join them soon) providing valuable information and news. Other webmasters will exchange links with good sites, providing additional exposure for your journalistic efforts. In my opinion, the Internet is an important element in the future of chess journalism, and ignoring it is a terrible mistake. Most top chess publishers are combining print with Internet publishing, so you may find it possible to establish some useful contacts with editors and publishers via the Internet. I invite you to stop by my website and let me know what you think. If you wish to follow up on any of the references given above just go to my Chess Links page ... they’re all listed there with descriptions and their Internet addresses. I’d be happy to receive your comments or questions via email. Just go to: