How To Become a Journalist: Education, Jobs, and Specialties

Taking lecture notes

The world of journalism can be very exciting. Journalists are on the cutting edge of local and global events helping to keep the world informed about both hard news and gossip. Before you take a big step for becoming a journalist, like enrolling in a top journalism school, please make sure you are aware of salaries of journalists and the competition for journalism jobs. The climate for newspaper journalists is especially tough right now.

Once you are sure that a journalism career is right for you, here's what you need to do.

  1. Education comes first. A degree in journalism, English, or communications is beneficial for those wishing to pursue a career in journalism. In addition to helping you gain the necessary knowledge, many universities offer job placement services to new graduates and alumni. Some journalists are able to find employment without the benefit of a college degree, but most often, those jobs are at community newspapers or very small publications.

    If you are hoping to work for a large publication or production company, your best bet is a solid education. Attending journalism school, also called J-school, is an investment in your future. Enrolling in shortcut programs, such as seminars and classes offering "certificates of completion," although tempting, should be avoided. Additionally, be wary of online universities that promise a degree based on "life experience." Many of these are not affiliated in any way with an accredited university. There are a number of good online colleges, but most--if not all--are sister schools to a brick and mortar university. Journalism college is very important. It's especially good to find a journalism college with a reputable student newspaper or television program - you will want to get as much hands-on journalism as possible while still in school. This will help you secure a journalism internship, and get around the Catch 22 of needing journalism experience before you can get a journalism job.

    Publishers, especially those with worldwide recognition, will respect your commitment to getting a solid education.

    Since your salary will increase with each level of education that you complete, it is wise to look for employment with a mid-sized publisher after completing your bachelor's degree. At that education level, some employers will be able to meet your salary expectations, opening up a nice variety of options for your first job in journalism. As you continue to pursue an advanced degree, you will be making many valuable contacts through your work for future job opportunities. This combination of actively working your craft as you advance your journalism education is your best recipe for success.

  2. Pick a specialty. Jobs in journalism vary immensely, so it is important to decide exactly what path you wish to take. Here are just a few types of journalists:
    • Newspaper reporters cover stories for community, metropolitan or national publications. Stories are often fast-breaking, so you must be flexible and able to think on your feet. Deadlines are typically tight, so be prepared to write with speed and accuracy.
    • Investigative reporters are employed bybecoming a journalist newspapers, magazines and television networks. Investigative journalism entails getting to the bottom of stories about politics, crime and various scandals. Necessary traits include the ability to discern fact from fiction and being a resourceful researcher. This is a "no fluff" type of job.
    • Foreign correspondents are employed by a media source in one country and stationed in a foreign land. They often cover government, religion, situations of political unrest, and are frequently placed in potentially dangerous environments. Although this line of journalism can be well-paying and quite high profile, in addition to the danger, foreign correspondents must travel extensively and often for extended periods of time.
    • Broadcast journalists include television and radio reporters and news anchors. Such journalists specialize in "straight reporting," with an emphasis on concise--rather than in-depth--coverage. In addition to needing sharp reporting and research skills, broadcast journalists must also have pleasing voices and a certain level of physical attractiveness. A less often considered area of broadcast journalism are writers of documentaries for both film or television. Documentaries give a journalist the opportunity to delve deeper into stories of interest.
    • Photojournalists use both film and still images to capture news events. Photojournalists are widely employed by all sources of media, including newspapers, magazines and television. An artistic eye as well as the ability to choose just the right moments to record for history are necessary. Photojournalists must be "in the moment" and are in place at events ranging from celebrity-rich awards shows to natural disasters.
    • Sports journalists report on popular sports for the radio, newspaper, and even online.
    • Online journalists focus on the 24/7 news cycle that's available on the web; these journalists need to be fast.
  3. You've got to have the right stuff. No matter which branch of journalism interests you, there are a number of necessary traits that are common to all. Journalists must be inquisitive and have a "nose for news." Good journalists must employ high ethics at all times. They must verify facts, be trustworthy with sensitive information and occasionally, must be willing to protect the source of their information if revealing it would put someone at risk. Additionally, they must be able to relate well to a wide variety of people and to adapt to constantly changing circumstances. Lastly, an unbiased attitude is required for almost all areas of journalism; these jobs require a neutral reporting of facts rather than opinions. The one exception to this rule is for columnists, who are employed specifically to offer personal commentary.
  4. Get your foot in the door. Actively seek internships during your last two years of college. Many newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations offer internships (often unpaid) to both undergraduate and graduate students. Check out the websites of media companies in your town; many will advertise their internships online. Journalism internships are the key to journalism jobs later, as many seasoned journalists will tell you.
  5. Networking works. One of the best ways to secure a job in journalism is to let friends and family members know that you are looking. Spread the word to members of any clubs or associations that you belong to, as well as to trusted coworkers. Look for opportunities to meet people in the field. Sign up for writing workshops and journalism classes.
  6. Think big, but start small. It is highly unlikely that your first job as a journalist will be high-paying or high profile (unless you are one terrific networker!), but getting a job at a community newspaper or local television station is a good start. Once you are working in the field, you'll have the chance to prove yourself and actively seek advancement.

 

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Comments

Feb
27

Regardless of specialization, journalists look at each topic and ask "who, what, why, where, when and how." Ask your neighbor why she washes her car every Saturday morning when it's sunny. Follow with the other questions. You might find an interesting angle to write about.

On the education point, I'd add junior or community college courses to the list, as well as high school courses if offered. Many would-be young journalists discover themselves in these courses... or not. It better to know beforehand if an accredited J-school is for you.

Nice article.

By Murry Shohat