It’s estimated that the ratio of male to female professional poker players is approximately 19:1. The same could perhaps be said of the field of poker media, where relatively few women choose to make a career. One such woman is Jennifer Newell, who has stood out as a top poker writer for over a decade.
Known for being vocal on numerous subjects, we invite you to read more about Jennifer in this interview, and perhaps discover quite a few things you may not have known about her. For instance, did you know that Jennifer has penned a few articles for this very poker blog? 🙂
We hope you enjoy this next installment in our ongoing “Get to Know the Poker Media” series, featuring our first female interviewee.
How did you first get into the business of poker writing and for how long have you been doing it?
I always wanted to be a writer but didn’t find my place in that world until I began working at the World Poker Tour offices in Los Angeles back in 2003/2004. I was in the accounting department but grew fascinated with the WPT players and personalities. I offered to do some writing for their licensing and online departments (at no charge and during evenings and weekends) so I could build a portfolio of work and see how it was received by poker audiences. That went well, so I began to reach out to poker media outlets for freelance work, and the positive responses led me to quit my full-time job in April of 2006 for the freelance life.
I’ve been writing about poker day and night for more than a decade now. That makes me sound old, which I suppose I am as compared to the younger faces in this game!
What poker outlets have you written for and which has been your favorite (one-time or ongoing) gig over the years?
I’ve written for so many poker outlets! One of the first was Pokerati, and (the site’s owner) Dan Michalski was a great mentor when I first dove into the freelance world. PokerPages was one of my first gigs as well. They sent me to the WSOP to cover the entire series starting in 2007 and running for several years. That’s when I learned the hard way how brutal those 16-hour work days at the Rio could be, especially with few days off during the seven weeks. But since the poker boom was in full effect then, I somehow also made time to hit some nightclubs, poker-sponsored parties, and grab my fair share of swag. Oh, the good ol’ days…
But I digress. I’ve worked for companies like PokerStars and BLUFF, even back to the WPT as a live tournament reporter. I don’t really have one favorite gig, but I will say that the short-lived stint for Epic Poker, working with Michael Craig, was a great experience, as I learned a great deal about writing from him and really started to find my own voice. Of course, when the company sunk into bankruptcy and many of us went unpaid at the end, it soured the whole experience a bit.
What is it that you love about poker that keeps you so interested in the game?
The personalities in the game drew me in from the beginning and keep me interested. I enjoy finding out about players’ backgrounds, education, their journeys to poker and experiences at the tables, and what keeps them interested in the game. Those are the stories I most like to tell when given the opportunity.
— Jennifer Newell (@WriterJen) May 4, 2016
What sort of job(s) did you have before getting into poker writing?
I did a variety of office jobs, everything from secretarial work to bookkeeping and accounting. My favorite job was as a copyright coordinator at Famous Music Publishing in Los Angeles, a company that was owned by Paramount Pictures. That was one of the most interesting and fun times of my life.
That does sound pretty interesting. Would you care to share a story or two from those fun times at that job? Did you meet any well-known celebrities while there?
To be honest, the best part of the job was meeting a group of women who quickly became my second family. There were 10 of us, and we’re all still very close. They taught me how amazing friendship can be.
Famous Music represented songwriters, and some of them were musicians as well. We had a lot of writers under contract who hadn’t yet made it to stardom, like Akon, as well as a lot of them who were just exploding onto the scene. We had a contract with Irv Gotti (Irving Lorenzo) and his Murder Inc. group, and he brought Eminem to us, which resulted in all of us going to a small concert in a Santa Monica airport hangar to see him perform. Obviously, my favorites were all in the hip-hop genre.
The best experience at Famous Music was when Toyota rented our main conference room and most of the building we were in to shoot a commercial starring a certain George Clooney. You have to understand that our usual work attire in the music business was pretty casual – jeans, usually. But when they announced that Clooney was going to be around one day, we suddenly found our cutest dresses. We were told to leave the crew alone and stay away from George, but most of us in the copyright and royalties departments quickly befriended the crew that day.
When we asked for a picture with George, a member of the crew asked him, and he was happy to do it. We have a group picture with him, and he couldn’t have been nicer. I was under the impression that he and I fell in love that day, as he did stand right next to me, but the relationship didn’t materialize. Yeah, I’m still shocked, too. 🙂
Tell us a bit about your personal life; where you live, family, etc.
I live in St. Louis, where I was born and raised. I always wanted to live in Los Angeles, though, so in my late 20s I packed up my life and my cat and headed west. I lived in West L.A. for 14 years, then moved to Las Vegas for two years, and I just returned to “the Lou” in the summer of 2014.
My family is a small one – my mom, my sister, two young nieces, and me. It felt like the right time to come back and be near them, as well as help out whenever possible. I plan to be here until my nieces graduate from high school, so I’m set for a while. (That all may change if a certain orange presidential candidate wins the November U.S. Presidential election, though, so check back for updates!)
How often do you play poker? Home games mostly or in poker rooms? Cash or tourneys?
I rarely play poker. After spending all of my days – and some evenings – reading and writing about the game, the last thing I want to do to unwind is sit at a poker table. Contrary to the desires of many of my colleagues, becoming a poker pro was never one of my goals. I play the occasional low LHE game or $1/$2 NLHE at a casino, but that’s the extent of it.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about poker writers/writing?
The biggest misconception is probably that poker writers have an easy job. Some poker fans think a live reporting gig is a bit of writing mixed with partying with the poker pros, when it is actually long days of watching live poker (without hole cards, mind you) and trying to make it interesting for readers.
By the way, the very best at doing this is the team of PokerStars blog reporters. They are amazing at finding and telling stories from the live poker scene.
Contrary to what some players might believe, poker writing doesn’t pay too much, especially if you’re a freelancer. Do you do any other sort of work, writing or otherwise?
That is another misconception about poker writers – that we make a lot of money. It’s not a lucrative business, even more so in the years since Black Friday. I take what I can get as far as writing goes, whether it’s random editing jobs outside of poker or SEO writing for the online casino business.
I’ve been working on a mystery novel and a semi-autobiographical book for a while, and I hope to have those finished in the next year or so. I’m also working on starting a small retail business, which I won’t really discuss until it’s up and running.
What other hobbies do you have? Tell us about them.
I lead quite the boring life! I am currently teaching myself to play the piano, learning to speak Italian, and improving my photography skills.
In my free time, I enjoy cooking, watching baseball (go St. Louis Cardinals!), listening to hip-hop (mostly old school) and R&B and some smooth jazz, and spending time with my two dogs, who keep me sane every single day.
What do you enjoy writing about most in poker – lifestyle/feature pieces, op-eds, promotional stuff, tourney recaps, live/online poker news, or live reporting?
I most enjoy interviewing and writing about players. Every player in the game has a story, usually a unique one that involves a variety of circumstances that all came together to bring that person to that table or tournament.
When you find players who are willing to be fully honest about their journeys, the results can be fascinating for the audience and add new depths to the game.
Sadly, I feel there is little desire for long-form feature pieces of that sort these days, but I do jump at the chance to do player features or lifestyle pieces when I can. Of course, I’m always ready to write the occasional op-ed when I’m so inspired as well.
What’s something you still haven’t yet done/accomplished in poker that’s on your bucket list?
I would like to write about poker players for non-poker audiences. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve pitched stories to mainstream media outlets, but I haven’t secured any of those gigs yet. I haven’t given up yet, either, though.
I would also like to write a player’s biography, a book about someone like Phil Ivey or Scotty Nguyen, but it would have to be a fully honest and open account, not a promotional book or a glorified list of hand histories.
Alright, the stage is yours – go ahead and let loose about something you just HAVE to get off your chest.
The poker business is a funny bird. There are a lot of things I’d like to get off my chest, but the timing must be right, and I’d like to do it with as little collateral damage as possible. Is that suspenseful enough? Haha.
What I will say now is that the misogyny in poker really must stop. From the sexist marketing to the Royal Flush Girls, the poker biz often chooses to appeal to college-aged boys who still use words like “boobies” or men who think that sexism ended when women got the right to vote.
OK this is literally a drawing. Someone explain how this a key marketing tactic & not really dehumanizing or w/e. pic.twitter.com/OzQj7DaXwB
— Cate Hall (@catehall) June 3, 2016
As long as this is the way that poker entities communicate with audiences, the game will not grow and certainly not entice more women to play. And until more men in poker see it, become educated about the many ways that misogyny appears in cash games and tournaments daily, and vow to help change it, nothing will change. But rest assured, men will still ask us, “Why don’t more women play poker?” and then ignore the answers we give.
Thank you for interviewing me (and my colleagues) in this business. This is a treat to answer a few questions and tell a little about myself, as well as learn about others whose writing I read so regularly.