The role of a journalist is to keep the public informed about current, relevant, and important news. It is a role that is centered around telling human interest stories that offer a unique perspective, reporting on local events, and delivering scoops. When you work as a journalist, you will often need to interview interesting, famous or different people, hunt down the facts, and in some cases, even challenge societal norms or widely held beliefs. One of the most important parts of the role of a journalist is to be able to remain unbiased and impartial. This means being able to understand both sides of a public debate, making sure that each issue is fully represented and argued, and often, asking the tough questions.
It is the struggle for this objectivity that has led journalism to play such an important role within society today, and why it is a key role for democracy to continue functioning. Whether they are reporting on world news, politics, healthcare, or something else, journalists must first and foremost provide content that the general public will be able to use to become better citizens, form their own opinions, and vote based on facts and knowledge.
When it is done correctly, journalism is a voice speaking truth to power, providing tools that offer the public the ability to keep their leaders held accountable for their actions.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Journalist?
Whether you are interested in broadcast journalism or digital journalism, one of the key skills you will need to work in this role is good storytelling. No matter what kind of journalism you decide to work in, it’s important that you are able to express complex information and issues in a way that is interesting and simple to understand. You will need to lay out background information carefully so that any viewer or reader can understand the story.
Most of the time, journalists are people who are naturally analytical and curious. They love learning new things and are always open to different perspectives. Investigating and learning more about something is often a main driver for the people who decide to get into this role. Good journalists should also be committed to honesty, objectivity, and morality in their work. With these values, they will feel emboldened to ask the tough questions and make sure that the truth gets out.
What Are the Challenges of Working in Journalism?
Despite being an exciting and interesting career choice, working in journalism isn’t without its challenges. If you are thinking of getting into a career in journalism, then it’s worth first considering some of the downsides of the role before you decide whether or not it is going to be right for you. These include:
According to Payscale.com, the average salary for a journalist in the US is around $40,000. For a first-year journalist, salaries start at around $33,000, while the average for a journalist who has been in the job for around twenty years is $59,000. If you live and work in a small town, your salary might be even lower. Of course, your salary will vary depending on the type of role you do in journalism, too. Editors earn the most at an average of $53k per year, while content managers and reporters earn an average of $40k. Proofreaders are paid an average of $39k followed closely by photojournalists with a median salary of $36k. Sports writers earn an annual average of $24k.
There is a lack of consistency when it comes to the work hours for journalists. When you are covering a certain topic for a news agency, there’s often no way to tell when you will be required to get to the scene of an event or file a story. You will need to be ready for any notable news the moment it breaks, which can often involve working unsociable hours and weekends since as we all know, news stories don’t stop after business hours.
Journalism is a field that is packed with people who are highly educated and talented. Since the position is so important, qualified people will often enter the field which has saturated the market. As a result, news agencies have the ability to pick off the best talent while still offering lower than average salaries.
Risk and Danger
Journalists may often need to get to the scene of accidents, arrests, protests, and other situations where they may be putting themselves at some risk. Along with this, some journalists may also be sent to pandemics, natural disasters, war zones and other dangerous situations. While the level of risk will depend on where and what you are reporting on, it is worth considering them before you start your journey to becoming a journalist.
With all of the above in mind, the unpredictability of the journalism profession is often what makes it a different and exciting role. Journalists often have the chance to meet different people, travel, and attend historic events. Although it may not offer the highest pay, there are plenty of perks that make this an attractive career option.
How to Get into a Journalism Career
If you have considered all the pros and cons and are still excited about the idea of working in journalism in the future, then there are several steps to follow to get into this career path.
Get to Know Yourself
First of all, be honest about yourself and spend time thinking about what you really want from your career. There are so many options within journalism and choosing the right one for you is imperative, so think about what you like and what excites you the most to determine what form of journalism you are most interested in getting into. Traditionally, journalism was divided into two main paths of written and broadcast journalism. However, in the past few years, there has been more of an overlap between these two with social media, news websites, and news apps becoming more popular. For example, this has led to an increase in the number of newspapers that now have online presences with podcasts and videos. In today’s market, it is easier than ever for journalists to navigate between the two main types of journalism and between different jobs.
Get the Right Education
Most journalism jobs will require you to have a college degree such as a digital journalism degree. However, bear in mind that this is not always the only option to consider and there may be some alternative such as working your way up in a media company or completing an apprenticeship in journalism. When it comes to choosing your degree major, there are several options to consider. Some colleges offer journalism majors while others offer the opportunity to major in communications and minor in journalism.
When looking for the right journalism college degree program for you, it’s important to consider the skills that you are going to need to get into your chosen career and how effective the program will be at helping you develop them. A good journalism program should teach you how to analyze information and fact check, how to conduct reliable research, how to interview subjects, how to format news segments or articles, and other specific industry skills related to the journalism role. If you know that you want to report on a certain topic such as sports for example, then it may be a good idea to opt for a double major or to minor in the subject that you are interested in of possible. There are several areas that you can focus on including technology, law, business, diplomacy, politics, art, health, sports and more.
Outside of your college degree, there are several things that you can do on your own to prepare for your future role in journalism. You should focus on learning how to become a more expressive and fluid writer, since this is the foundational skill of any role in journalism. To do this, you may want to consider reading more often, practicing building article outlines, writing regularly in a personal journal, asking for and acting on feedback, editing your own work, and giving yourself deadlines to practice writing under pressure.
Most of the time, the best way to learn about something is to actually do it, which also applies to the journalism field. Most employers are going to be more interested in your work experience than your education and will see how you have worked in previous positions to learn more about how much value you can add to their news team. There are several things that you can do right from the start to improve your record and build up experience. This might include:
Finding an Internship
Journalism loves interns as there are lots of publications that do not have a lot of money to spend. While this means that there are likely to be lots of different options when it comes to where you can find an internship, there’s also a lot of competition for the best ones. The best thing is to find somewhere that wants the intern to actually participate in the workload and gain experience rather than just grabbing coffee for everyone. Because of this, it’s often better to get an internship for a smaller and less competitive publication that will be in a better position to offer you the opportunity to gain a diverse and useful experience during your time there.
Report for Your School
While you are getting your college degree, it’s worth checking out any opportunities that you might have to join the newsletter or radio station if there is one. This gives you the chance to write news stories, practice writing content, interview subjects, research, fact-check, get scoops, and build a greater understanding of the journalism world from the inside.
There are no educational barriers to freelancing, which is why it’s a great way to gain experience when you are new to the world of journalism. Start creating pitches and sending them to editors. While freelancing means that you definitely need to start getting comfortable with the idea of being rejected, it is also a great way to learn about the field and get more experience, get your work published, and expand your journalism skills.
Start a Blog
These days, blogging has become a fairly acceptable kind of journalism and starting your own news blog on a topic that interests you can be an ideal way to gain experience along with building your portfolio for the future. With a blog, you can write about whatever you like whether that’s the most important topics, breaking news stories, or silly things that you’ve heard about. The main point is to create content and put it out there so that you can get feedback that you can learn from.
When you work in the fast-paced world of media, it’s important that you’re able to stay up to date in the field. Journalism is a world that moves very quickly as news cycles can change several times a day sometimes. You need to stay on top of your game and make sure that you don’t miss anything. You can do this by:
Reading the News
Subscribe to breaking news feeds, online news apps, and other ways to get your news. Read anything and everything rather than just going for the news with the most interesting headlines. This will allow you to learn more about different media outlets and give you a chance to hear opinions that you might not have considered otherwise.
To get a better understanding of the news, you’ll need to get some background. Watch documentaries and read books. Look up events that are referenced that you’re not aware of or not very knowledgeable about. The better your general knowledge, the easier it will be for you to add context to your own work.
Following Trustworthy People
Social media is a great way to interact with reporters, activists, politicians, and others. While any content from these platforms should be taken with a grain of salt, they can be very useful for staying updated.
While journalism might not be the most glamorous career in terms of pay, it is still an exciting, different, and interesting role to consider.