A lot of people aspire to become a journalist. Whether it’s reporting on current events, covering sport or writing about celebrities, the career paths available to a journalist are many.
Most importantly, journalists will need to have well-honed writing skills. Good reporting requires a specific writing style, delivered in an informative and non-biased way.
However, you still need to tell a story and draw readers in.
Journalism today has rapidly changed from the medium it once was. It is now more common for people to report digitally rather than in print. There’s also a lot more ways to consume the news than reading it. Many publications are offering their updates through video and audio means, delivering breaking news right to a person’s computer or Smart Phone.
Where once you read yesterday’s news today, people expect to hear about major global events minutes after they take place.
This means that how journalists find sources for their stories has also greatly changed. There are websites dedicated to helping journalists discover important news (HARO) and it’s common to see journalists trawling twitter to get updates on live events.
One thing is for sure, this is a fast-paced industry with no set hours.
When a story breaks, you can be working all hours to keep your audience updated.
It’s also a career that offers little ‘permanent work’. While some publications will hire journalists on a full-time basis, most will look for multiple contributors that they use on a freelance basis.
This is both good and bad.
Good that you have the opportunity to work with many different titles. Bad that until you can build a name for yourself, it can be difficult to secure regular work.
Education & Training
It’s recommended that journalists achieve a bachelor’s degree in journalism or communications etc. However, if you have a strong writing style and develop a well-rounded portfolio, you can write on a freelance basis with little difficulty.
You should have a good understanding of journalism including legal areas. This is important to make sure you are reporting using the correct terminology and not landing yourself in trouble.
Courses that can help you to develop your knowledge in these areas include:
- English for Journalism – University of Pennsylvania
- Become a Journalist: Report the News! – Michigan State University
- Gathering and Developing the News – Michigan State University
- Effectively delivering the news to your audience – Michigan State University
- Create your own professional journalistic portfolio – Michigan State University
You really need to write and start building a great portfolio. Concentrate on the areas you’re interested in and start from there. A fantastic way of doing this is to start a news blog. If you can write regularly and develop a following, this is very attractive to potential employers. Who knows, you might just decide to keep writing for yourself if you learn to monetize your news site correctly.
If you are looking to work for a leading publication, however, then you will need to gain some experience. You can do this by developing your own site, however, larger news companies will prefer you to understand how they operate.
In this regard, it’s recommended to secure work experience or an internship. Not only will this give you the experience that you need, it will also help you to decide which area you want to go in.
Your duties and responsibilities will depend on the type of journalist you are and whether you’re writing for yourself or not. However, common elements of the position include:
- Interviewing people from a range of backgrounds.
- Building a wide range of contacts to help you discover breaking news.
- Finding stories and sources and verifying facts.
- Press Conferences
- Attending events with the view of reporting on them or developing your network.
- Reacting quickly to breaking stories.
- Working with editors and photographers.
- Using Shorthand.
- Recording Interviews.
- Producing great copy to strict deadlines, multiple times a day.
- Writing filler stories on slower news days.
- Using a website CMS to upload content
- Live reporting and blogging.
There are many areas you can specialize in as a journalist. Some people want to cover news, others love sport, some write article after article on all the latest celebrity news etc.
It really depends on your interests and your style of writing or filming. Whatever area you decide to focus on, you’re going to need to develop a portfolio of work in that area, develop a list of source and contacts, and start building your name.
Branding yourself as an expert in your field is essential to climbing the career path. If you want to focus solely on producing content then the more known you are, the easier you’ll find this to do.
Some people go down the route of creating a news site or managing an existing one with the responsibility of pulling everything together. Sometimes known as editors, these professionals are responsible for everything that goes out. They might develop series ideas, request specific opinion articles for journalists in the area. Send out reporters to get the latest on a particular story.
They are effectively the person that makes sure everything runs smoothly and that everything is being covered.
Whatever area you choose to go down, it will take some time to get your name out there and start getting more exposure. It’s always best to keep writing, even if you don’t have anyone to publish it yet. Many publications will accept opinion pieces of the latest from people who happen to be in the right place.
Make a list of all publications that will accept pitches and start getting your work in with them. The more you are successful with, the easier you’ll find this to do in the future.