Writing for a newspaper is often a thankless job. Newspaper reporters tend to be criticized regularly and even blamed for society's ills. But there is no better way to get into the heart of a community and try to right the wrongs that you find there. A newspaper reporter has a lot of power within the community and the opportunity to wield it for the betterment of the community.
- Get a degree. There are very few newspapers that will hire anyone without a degree. A degree in journalism is the most obvious route, but a degree in public relations or in communications can also be helpful for entering the newspaper field.
- Study your AP style. Associated Press style is the style in which newspaper articles are written, and anyone wanting to write for a paper should know it backward and forward. Reporters do usually have a stylebook on their desks to consult when an obscure item comes up, but no reporter could make it if he had to consult it for every story he writes. You should be as familiar with AP as you are with conversational English. Newspapers are very deadline-oriented, and often there will be little or no notice given to write a story. You will need all of that information in your head for quick reference at all times.
- Get familiar with the inverted pyramid style. Newspaper stories are written like an inverted pyramid--the overview of the information comes at the beginning, and it gets more and more specific with detail as the story goes on. Most people don't read an entire story, so the style is useful for getting the maximum information out there for busy readers.
- Get comfortable with interviews. If you are nervous around people and don't want to ask people personal questions, this may not be the job for you. You have to be comfortable walking up to strangers and asking them questions on a regular basis. You have to be able to pry to get the information you need while still keeping the person you are interviewing comfortable with a non-confrontational style. This takes some practice, and even after you have mastered it, there will be people who don't react the way you expect. But once you get the basics down, you should be able to interview most people about just about anything.
- Get your clips together. While in college, you must work for the school newspaper in order to get a few news clips together. Any potential employer will want to see your clips to gauge your knowledge of AP style and your general writing style. If you don't have clips from college, figure out somewhere else to get them. You can try an internship with a newspaper, write a church newsletter, or any other way you can think of to get into print.
- Stay objective. You can want the best for your community and still remain objective with your stories. Your input comes in the form of the stories you choose and the people you choose to interview. Your personal views should never come across in a newspaper story.
If you can write an objective story in AP style, in inverted pyramid form and with a fresh, interesting perspective, you should be able to get a job in the newspaper business. Most newspapers don't pay very much, but the power you will have to bring attention to the problems present in the community will more than make up for it.