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Career Development

How to Become a Journalist

February 4, 2020

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Journalists play an important role in keeping the population informed. Whether you want to pursue the latest breaking news, political developments or the local sports team, a journalist must first prove their trustworthiness. If you're interested in becoming a journalist, it is important to know what will be expected of you when applying to a newsroom. In this article, we will explore what you need to do to pursue a career in journalism by explaining what a journalist does and describing steps you can take to start on your journey.

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What does a journalist do?

A journalist reports on what is happening in the world in a non-biased manner. Journalism is a broad field, many roles available in each specialization covering nearly all aspects of the modern world. Journalism career paths include print, audio and video reporting opportunities. Journalists must perform research on the topics they are covering, including reading files, conducting interviews and filing requests for documentation from the individuals or agencies being reported on. Some journalists work in embedded fields, traveling around the globe to more effectively cover their assigned subject matter.

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Average salary for a journalist

Journalists can work both as full-time employees of a news source who receive a salary or as freelancers who are compensated per story. Pay rates can vary depending on the size of the news agency and depth of reporting required as well as outside factors such reporting on issues in dangerous settings.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $36.10 per hour
  • Salaries range from $11.45 to $74.25 per hour

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How to become a journalist

Here are the steps you need to take if you are interested in becoming a professional journalist:

  1. Graduate high school.
  2. Pursue a bachelor's degree.
  3. Work for the school media.
  4. Start a blog.
  5. Create a portfolio.
  6. Seek an internship.
  7. Write a resume.
  8. Submit to job postings.
  9. Seek out freelancing opportunities.

1. Graduate high school

In order to pursue a journalism degree, you will first need to complete high school. During high school, taking a journalism course or joining the school paper are excellent opportunities to begin earning experience in journalism. It also helps you determine if this career is something you'll enjoy doing.

2. Pursue a bachelor's degree

A bachelor's degree is the minimum education level for most media corporations. A degree in journalism or mass communication is preferred. However, graduates with related degrees like public relations or English may be considered for positions if they have suitable experience to supplement. While earning a journalism degree, you will take courses that cover crucial journalism skills, such as media ethics, researching, interviewing and writing compelling copy. You will also learn about the different mediums for modern journalism, including print, online and video.

3. Work for the school media

College provides an excellent opportunity to gain experience prior to entering the workforce. Journalism is a field where it is essential to acquire as much experience as possible in order to demonstrate your abilities, even when applying for an entry-level job.

If you know the type of media you wish to pursue, you should seek out work in that field early in your schooling, such as working for the school newspaper or radio station. Working in student media is an effective method to begin building a portfolio of the work you are most proud of and you feel best represents your abilities as a reporter.

If you are unsure of the type of reporting or area of specialization you prefer, you will get exposed to many different areas during your education, and you can further supplement those opportunities by joining student media and trying different roles.

4. Start a blog

Another simple method to help you begin building a track record of experience is to launch your own blog. When creating a personal blog, you have full creative control to choose the subject, format and tone of the writing.

If you already know the field you wish to enter, focus your blog on writing about that subject. An aspiring sports writer can create a blog offering analysis of NFL games every week, for example, while an aspiring political broadcaster is better off creating a blog that promotes videos from their YouTube channel where they provide commentary on current events in the political world.

If you successfully build a following for your blog, it can lead to significantly more professional opportunities, and it could even give you the chance to monetize the blog directly. Even if your blog does not draw in a large audience, you are still improving your skills and job prospects. By regularly creating content, you are both preparing yourself for the work you will be doing in your career and also giving yourself many opportunities to create work that you would be happy to include in your portfolio.

5. Create a portfolio

Although many aspiring writers believe that a personal blog and a portfolio are synonymous, you should actually create a separate portfolio in order to highlight your best work. When applying for a job where you can submit an online link, you don't want to leave it up to chance that the hiring manager reads the best articles on your blog, so it is best to pick and choose your best work to create a professional and polished portfolio. For printed submissions, a portfolio also makes it easier to find the work you want to share.

Your portfolio should be highly curated, with a selection of only the work you are most proud of. If you have covered a range of subjects that are different in style or tone, create separate sections in your portfolio for the different types of writing you have done. This can help prospective employers efficiently find the example work that is most relevant to their media operation.

When applying for journalism jobs or other writing jobs where your journalism skills can be applied, it is likely that the employer will request sample work in addition to your resume. A well-constructed portfolio is the best way to make a positive impression and show your talent as a journalist.

Related: How to Build Your Work Portfolio

6. Seek an internship

As an upperclassman, you will have the opportunity to pursue internships with media organizations. This is the best way to build experience and network within the industry. While personal blogs and work for school institutions provide useful experience and clippings, work performed in a professional setting is more noteworthy to media organizations when applying for entry-level positions.

When a prospective employer sees internship experience on your resume, they know that you not only have learned the basic journalism skills, but also that you have experience applying them in a professional newsroom with hard deadlines. You should always try to feature work from an internship that received praise from your bosses in a prominent position on your online portfolio.

7. Write a resume

When applying for a journalism job, a resume is less important than it is in many other fields, as your writing samples offer more substantial evidence of your skills. However, it is still important that you create a professional resume.

For your experience section, include work accomplished for your school's journalism institutions in addition to any internship and professional experience you have acquired. If you received any acclaim for stories, such as pieces that received awards or were picked up by media outside of your local area, be sure to note these under the relevant position in your experience section or in an awards and achievements section within your resume.

Read More: How to Make a Resume (With Examples)

8. Submit to job postings

When applying for journalism jobs, it is important to curate your sample work and resume to match the description of the job you are applying to. Whenever possible, focus your work experience and your chosen writing samples on the position's specific field.

If you do not have experience writing about the subject of the job listing, choose your best work that matches the style and tone of the media company you are applying to. The more directly applicable your submitted work and resume are, the better impression it will leave on the hiring manager or editor reading submissions.

Related: Guide to Submitting a Writing Sample

9. Seek out freelancing opportunities

The media business has moved more toward freelance work in recent years, meaning that there are many opportunities to work as a freelance journalist while you are searching for a full-time position.

The easiest way to begin a freelancing relationship is to have a story idea of your own that you can pitch to media companies. As you begin to get freelance pieces published, it not only makes finding additional freelance work easier—both with the same client and with others—but it also serves as added work for your portfolio and valuable networking towards a full-time position.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is journalism the right job for me?

Journalism is an exciting career that can take you all around the world in pursuit of stories, but it is also hard work. The career is well-suited to individuals who have a passion for learning and a talent for communication. If you are interested in a career where you can make a difference in the world, journalism is an excellent option.

What should I know before considering a career as a journalist?

Although there are many benefits to working in journalism, there are important potential factors you should be aware of when considering it as a career. If regular working hours are important to you, journalism can be a challenging field, particularly for entry-level reporters who are often tasked with the less-desirable assignments that can result in long or unusual hours. The journalism world is also currently undergoing a seismic shift, with print media declining heavily in favor of video and online content. This has led to a decrease in staff positions and an increase in freelance work to take its place.

Why is it important to diversify your writing during college even when you know what you want to do?

Finding your passion and following it during college is a useful tool for building skills in your preferred field. However, the journalism world is highly competitive. To get started with a news organization, you may need to take a job that is not in your ideal area of focus, and having a diverse array of potential articles to submit increases your chances of finding a job.

What are the most important traits for a journalist?

In addition to strong communication skills, journalists must also have many additional attributes. A good reporter is doggedly persistent when following a story and has the integrity to follow the reporting even when it points in a direction that may not be their ideal outcome. Compassion and empathy are also vital tools for understanding where all parties in a story are coming from in order to most accurately report on events and make sure that no subjects of the story are being mistreated or misrepresented.

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