Learn About Being a Journalist
What does a journalist do?
A journalist uses skills in researching, interviewing, reporting and writing to inform the public of current events. A journalist may attend political events, business conferences or crime scenes to report a story to the public. A journalist will often have the following responsibilities:
- Research public records and databases to find information to support articles
- Interview witnesses to add a level of personalization to each piece
- Attend local events to investigate and report findings
- Write articles and journal excerpts that give readers a unique view of the event
- Identify topics and create content for news reporters
Journalists may work in a full-time position or they may be a contractual employee with a company. A journalist’s salary will vary depending on geographical location, type of employment and the level of experience of the journalist. For example, a journalist working for a small-town newspaper can expect to make less than a journalist working for a large city publication. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.
- Common salary in the U.S.: $39.15 per hour
- Some salaries range from: $9.55 to $80.15 per hour.
Becoming a journalist may require that you complete certain educational, training and certification requirements and possess certain skills:
A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related field is often a requirement to work as a journalist. Some hiring managers may prefer a degree in journalism, whereas others will hire individuals with a similar degree like English, political science or creative writing. Coursework in writing, research, economics, history, law, graphic design and broadcasting art may be useful in helping you succeed in a journalist position.
Many employers expect a journalist to have previous experience. Some journalists will receive on-the-job training through an internship in their degree program. Other individuals can gain writing experience by volunteering with their school newspaper or a local nonprofit organization. Some candidates will also come from a background in the specific industry in which they want to report. For example, a former lawyer may report on legal issues. A former politician may report on local politics.
Certifications are not often required to become a journalist, but they can help you stand out from other candidates when applying for a new position. The following certifications are available in the journalism industry:
CJ Certified Journalist
The CJ Certified Journalist certification is available through the Certified Journalist Institute and is available for journalists who have a degree in journalism and at least five years of experience in a journalist role. Interested candidates can submit documents showing this information and then apply for certification.
CJ Chartered Certified Journalist Certification
The CJ Chartered certification is available for journalists who want to focus on shorthand journalism and have previous experience in a journalist role. The certification is also available through the Certified Journalist Institute and requires five years of previous experience and an application to the board to review.
There are a few hard and soft skills that can assist a journalist in their role, including:
Journalists are often on strict timelines, needing to write and publish a story before another writer or news station does. The ability to gather facts, investigate and write an article with tight deadlines is crucial in the journalist role. Skills in organization and project management will assist a journalist in being punctual.
Verbal communication skills assist a journalist in accurately translating the information they receive from witnesses. Strong communication skills can also help a journalist create a list of contacts. Written communication skills are necessary for journalists to schedule interviews and report information.
Journalists often have to conduct research to complete assignments. They can find information in public records, databases or through other published sources. Developed research skills will assist the journalist in knowing what information to use, where to find it and how to source it.
Strongly developed writing skills are important as a journalist. Whether the journalist is writing a newspaper article or a broadcast screen, clear and concise writing skills are useful to reach readers of all reading levels.
Journalist work environment
A journalist may work in a full-time position or they may work in a contractual or freelance position. Journalists can expect the following characteristics:
- A fast-paced work environment
- Extensive time spent researching and speaking to witnesses
- Frequent use of computers, tablets and smartphones
- Strict timelines
- A competitive work environment with many journalists attempting to get assignments
Journalists can expect a versatile, busy workday. One day may be spent interviewing witnesses about a local crime, and another day may be spent outside of the courthouse, hoping to get a statement from the mayor. Journalists also spend a lot of time working with computers and tablets to research and record information and to write journalism articles. Journalists can work in all types of work environments, some of which may be dangerous. In some industries, journalists may be expected to travel to cover a story and international travel may be a requirement. Journalists may cover stories in the following categories:
- Local events
- Human interest
How to become a journalist
Becoming a journalist often requires the completion of education and training. You can become a journalist with the following steps:
1. Earn a degree.
Most journalist jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Completing your education in journalism or a related field is the first step toward becoming a journalist. Take classes that will assist you in your work responsibilities, including creative writing, research and law. Take advantage of any writing opportunities during your education, including school newspapers, writing groups or clubs.
2. Gain industry experience.
Many hiring managers prefer a journalist to have previous experience. Volunteer for your college’s newspaper or submit guest pieces to local publications. If possible, take advantage of any internships through your college.
3. Create a portfolio.
As you gain industry experience as a journalist, begin creating a work portfolio. Your portfolio will give hiring managers a better idea of your writing style, capabilities and experience.
4. Prepare your resume.
Besides a portfolio, you will also need a resume when applying for journalist positions. Use your resume to highlight your academic and educational experiences that relate to the journalism industry.
5. Apply for journalist positions.
After completing your degree and gaining experience in a journalist role, you can begin applying for journalist positions. Carefully review the required qualifications of each position and consider the industry in which you want to work.
Journalist job description example
Hollyfield Report is looking to fill the open position of an experienced journalist in our newsroom. The ideal candidate will have previous experience researching, interviewing and coming up with topics in the evening news environment. A bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minimum of four years of experience in a related role is required for this position. The candidate will have strong communication and interpersonal skills and will spend much of the workday interviewing for investigative pieces. Developed time management skills are also a requirement as the ideal candidate will work with tight due dates.