Journalists are responsible for the creation of features and articles for use by media organizations. If you have an inquisitive mind and enjoy researching, editing, and writing, a career in journalism may be for you.
How To Become A Journalist
While it is possible to become a journalist with no formal training, most organizations prefer to hire candidates with journalism degrees. In addition, obtaining a journalism internship while still in school is a great way to boost your resume and impress potential employers. Follow the steps below, and you should be well on your way to a successful career in journalism.
- Take language arts, English, and social studies courses in high school
High school is a great time to begin preparing for a career in journalism. Courses applicable to journalism include language arts, English, and social studies. In addition, consider getting involved with extracurricular activities such as the school newspaper, yearbook, or radio and television stations.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism
A bachelor’s degree in journalism will provide you with the necessary skills to succeed as a professional journalist. Subjects typically covered in these programs include writing, journalistic ethics, and investigation techniques. You may also want to consider taking courses in business, as many journalists work as freelancers and are required to market their services.
- Earn a master’s degree in journalism
Master’s programs typically delve deeper into the subjects previously studied as an undergraduate. Typical specialties include investigative journalism, international journalism, and broadcast journalism.
- Research and apply for internships
Internships are excellent opportunities to gain experience in the field of journalism. Most colleges have career centers dedicated to helping students find both internships and employment. Securing an internship while in college is a great way to build your resume and set you apart from other job candidates.
The costs associated with becoming a journalist can vary depending on factors such as scholarships, in-state and out of state tuition, and whether or not a graduate degree is pursued. However, an aspiring journalist can typically expect to pay the following amounts:
- Average undergraduate tuition and fees per year (in-state): $8,655;
- Average undergraduate tuition and fees per year (out-of-state): $21,706;
- Average undergraduate tuition and fees per year (private): $29,056;
- Average graduate tuition and fees per year (public): $8000;
- Average graduate tuition and fees per year (private): $26,000.
Job Description / Responsibilities
Journalists provide us with our news. Whether in print, television, or online sources, journalists play a major part in making sure that the public stays informed about current events. Below is a list of responsibilities typically associated with the profession:
- Develop a list of contacts for story development and networking. Developing a contact list is useful for networking, getting leads on interesting stories, seeking advice from experienced journalists, and staying abreast of the latest news in your community.
- Investigate possible story ideas via contacts, press releases, and other media sources. Even if you are employed by a news organization, you will probably be required to come up with your own ideas for articles. Your existing contacts, press releases, and other media outlets are all great sources for story inspiration.
- Research and draft stories for publication. As a journalist, you will be responsible for writing and researching accurate stories. The kinds of stories you write will largely depend on your interests, whether you are an employee or an independent contractor, and your area of specialization.
- Interview people for inclusion in stories. Whether you work in print media or television, you will likely need to conduct interviews to add important information to your stories. People will often be your best source of information, so you will probably spend a good deal of your time conducting interviews.
- Fact-check information given to you by contacts. Fact checking is probably one of the most important things you’ll do as a journalist. It’s imperative that your stories are accurate, so you will need to fact-check every piece of information that you receive.
- Attend and participate in press conferences. Press conferences are usually held before or after newsworthy events. They give journalists an opportunity to ask questions and collect pertinent information about current events. Press conferences are also useful in that they provide opportunities to network with other journalists.
- Attend newsworthy events to provide subject matter for stories. Plan on attending sporting events, premiers, launch parties, and industry events. Basically, all newsworthy events in your area should be on your radar as possible story opportunities.
As of 2014, there were approximately 54,400 individuals employed as journalists. This number is expected to decrease by nine percent through 2024.
Factors affecting the negative growth rate of the industry are declining advertising revenue in television, newspapers, radio, and other forms of mass media.
With growth expected to decline over approximately the next decade, the long-term career prospects for this profession are negative. Also, with declining subscribership to newspapers and other print sources, it’s possible that job growth could decline by over ten percent in the coming decades.
A journalist’s work environment is typically determined by the type of job he or she has. If employed by a news outlet, you should expect to spend a lot of time at your organization’s headquarters, while if you decide to work as an independent contractor, you will quite likely work out of your home office.
However, you will probably spend as much time, if not more, out in the field as you do in your physical office. Remember that writing the story is only the last step in a series of tasks that may include dozens of interviews and months of preparation. In other words, your work environment will vary depending on the type of story you’re working on.
Believe it or not, journalism can actually be a physically demanding profession. Again, this is largely dependent on the type of stories you typically cover. Political journalism, for example, can involve attendance at press conferences, protests, and other such events.
Journalism can be a dangerous job depending on your specialty. Be sure to seek out jobs that you will feel comfortable performing, as there is no point in putting yourself at risk for things you aren’t passionate about.
Journalism can be a particularly stressful job, as it is a deadline-driven profession. If you aren’t comfortable racing the clock on a daily basis to meet your deadlines, you may want to consider another field.
The following resources should help get you started towards your new career as a journalist.
- Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ): The SPJ is the oldest journalistic organization in the United States. Strong advocates of freedom of press, membership in the SPJ offers a variety of benefits including training opportunities and job search tools.
American Society of News Editors (ASNE): The ASNE is an organization open to editors of daily newspapers and other major sources of news. Benefits of membership include conference attendance, networking opportunities, and training opportunities.
- Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC): The AEJMC is an association comprised of journalism students, educators, and professionals. The AEJMC site contains a number of useful resources including event listing and job advertisements.
- SPJ Regional Conferences: The SPJ offers several regional conferences per year. These conferences provide students, journalists, and journalism educators the opportunity to network and attend presentations given by experts on various topics.
- JournalismJobs.com: JournalismJobs.com is a job search website for journalists. The site offers a searchable job database featuring employment opportunities with major news organizations.
- Media Bistro Job Site: This site offers customizable job search functions and is utilized by several top media companies.
AEJMC Job Site: The AEJMC job site is an employment resource. The site is searchable by state and date of posting.
- American Journalism Review (AJR): The AJR is a digital publication that offers original reporting, unique commentary, and intelligent analysis. This publication is an excellent resource for both experienced and aspiring journalists.
- Columbia Journalism Review (CJR): The CJR is an academic publication for journalists and communications professionals. Its content is primarily focused on news and media trends.
- How to Become a Journalist: This excellent book provides step-by-step advice on getting started in the field of journalism. Its author, Nick Rennie, is a successful newspaper journalist with over 20 years of experience.
Journalism requires a broad skillset. While you may not possess all of the following skills at the outset, it is imperative that you work to develop each of them in order to enjoy a long and successful career as a journalist.
- Writing ability: Journalists must be excellent writers. The ability to convey your ideas succinctly, effectively, and quickly is imperative in the journalism profession.
- Storytelling ability: Storytelling and writing ability go hand in hand. Not only must you be able to write well, but you must be able to tell an effective story to your audience. Good journalists have the ability to craft stories that keep readers interested and engaged.
- The ability to write for different platforms: Different writing styles must be adopted depending on the platform being utilized. For instance, web content is often of a different tone and style than newspaper content.
- Social media knowledge: The modern journalist must understand the power and effectiveness of social media for both investigative and promotional purposes. In today’s internet age, news stories often begin on social media platforms.
- Interviewing ability: As a journalist, you’ll spend a lot of your time conducting interviews. Therefore, you must understand how to ask effective questions in order to elicit information from interviewees.
- People skills: Effectively dealing with members of the public is an important skill to have as a journalist. You must understand both verbal and non-verbal cues, personality types, and basic psychological principles in order to excel in journalism.
- Research ability: Good journalism requires effective research. You must be proficient in conducting research using multiple databases in order to ensure that your stories are accurate. This includes both common search engines and subscription-based services.
- Passion: Journalism, with its long hours, tight deadlines, and on-site commitments, can be a thankless job. Therefore, developing a passion for discovering the truth and writing effective copy is imperative for maintaining motivation and progressing as a journalist.
- Intellectual curiosity: Most good journalists possess a natural curiosity about life. Journalism often involves attempting to solve questions of various types. Maintaining a healthy curiosity will ensure that your stories are fresh and thought-provoking.
- Bravery: As a journalist, you may occasionally find yourself in dangerous situations. However, it is often these types of situations that provide the best material for news stories. Therefore, you must learn to accept uncomfortable situations.