Do you love to write? Can you picture yourself delivering the news on your local television station? If yes, then becoming a professional journalist might be something you need to look into. Many people think of TV or newspaper reporters when they hear the word “journalist”. However, the truth is that there are numerous other jobs that you can do once you enter this profession.
Indeed, there are tens of thousands of journalists who never report the news or write a single newspaper article. Regardless of the area you’re interested in, you still need to learn more about this profession before you get started.
Getting Started: The Basics
Most areas of journalism focus on either print or broadcast journalism. In both of these cases there is an educational requirement. At a minimum, most companies hiring journalists require that they have a Bachelor’s degree in either Journalism or Communications. Occasionally, people will hire those who have degrees in something such as English or Fine Arts.
If you’re considering furthering your education and going for an advanced degree, that’s fine, too. However, in many cases, companies prefer that you have some experience rather than a master’s or doctorate.
Just what types of courses will you be taking for your undergraduate? Mostly courses in journalism ethics, reporting, editing, photojournalism, feature writing, and of course, communications. You can take additional courses as well. They can include graphic arts, radio and television production, and a host of classes that teach you online media skills.
One of the biggest changes in journalism in the past several decades is the prevalence of media outlets that go beyond basic TV networks. The number of television stations and online newspapers has increased drastically since the introduction of the Internet. This means there are usually way more than just three or four basic news channels in any given city.
A more digital world is changing the face of journalism in numerous ways, most notably in the amount of competition between the different media outlets. There are now more TV stations and newspapers than ever before. Competition is fierce between the outlets, meaning the life of a journalist is now more competitive as well.
However, this is not a reason to get discouraged. There are things you can do to improve your chances of becoming a successful journalist. For instance, you can do an internship while you’re still in school. This will give you practical experience which will let prospective employers know that you’re serious about the career you’ve chosen. Even if the internship is unpaid, the experience you’ll gain is invaluable.
What Can You Expect on the Job as a Journalist?
Print journalists can work in newspapers, magazines, and online media outlets. While most journalists in these fields strictly write the news, others – such as columnists and op-ed specialists – may combine the news with opinions on certain subject matters. In addition, print journalists often specialise in a certain area so they can become an expert. These areas include entertainment, sports, politics, and many others.
Broadcast journalists include both reporters and correspondents. News reporters (or News anchors) report the news inside of a studio, while correspondents deliver news stories from out in the field. In addition, broadcast journalists can also work on any number of online media outlets.
Most often, journalists begin their careers with smaller news outlets and work their way up to bigger ones. When you see a news anchor on a national TV news station, you can safely assume that person’s career didn’t start there. Journalists can also advance to careers in producing, editing, managing, and publishing after spending some years as a basic reporter.
In addition to all of these careers, journalism graduates can also become authors and writers, either working for themselves or with a specific company. Unfortunately, media outlets are merging and the competition between those outlets is fierce. Projected growth for the next decade or so is estimated to be around 1%. In the case of reporters and correspondents, it is a negative number.
What does this mean for those aspiring journalists out there? It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a job; it just means those jobs are expected to be more competitive in the future. So, get that undergraduate degree and find a good small media outlet to work with after you graduate so that you can eventually move up into a more lucrative job.
How Much Do Journalists Make?
As of 2018, the average salaries for journalists are:
- Reporters and correspondents: £42,890
- Broadcast journalists: £71,672
- Authors and writers: £57,003
These salaries can vary depending on your level of experience and the type of journalism you’re practicing. Thus, you may be making more or less than these amounts once you get a job.
Key Skills You Should Have If You Want to Be a Journalist
There are certain skills that can greatly increase not only your chance of getting a good job but of advancing in your career once you start to work. For journalists, these skills include:
- Shorthand: The system of rapid handwriting which can be used to transcribe the spoken word. Shorthand systems use a variety of techniques including simplifying existing letters or characters and using special symbols to represent phonemes, words and phrases.
This is good for field reporters and correspondents to know. There are two basic types: Teeline and Pitman. For each type, perfecting the skill takes time and a lot of practice. However, for writing down notes while you’re in the field, it is an invaluable one indeed.
- A Specialisation: This is not a requirement but a recommendation. Once you specialise in a certain area of journalism, you become an expert at it. Companies pay more for experts than they do for general journalists.
- Relevant Work Experience: Whether through an internship or your first job out of university. Prospective employers put a lot of emphasis on your level of experience, in addition to an undergraduate degree.
- Social Media Skills: Social media outlets are not going away, so hone your journalism skills by writing, reading, and participating as much as you can on everything related to them. (Think: blog-writing!)
- The Ability to Research: Research is a very important part of any news story, regardless of which type of journalism you end up practicing. Don’t look to Facebook for the “facts”. Instead, conduct real research with dependable sources so that nothing is overlooked during your work.
Many aspiring journalists also do freelance writing while they wait for their dream job to open up. You can write short stories, articles, and many others and charge by the piece instead of a per-hour fee. This gets you exposure and some money for improving your journalism skills, both of which go a long way.
A Few More Important Skills
Whether you wish to write or report, all journalists must have one common trait: unbiased reporting and writing. When people read an article or watch the news, they’re not looking for someone’s opinion on what happened; they are looking for the real story presented in a truthful manner. This means that above all else, journalists need to be neutral in all matters.
Opinion editorials, or op-eds, are an exception, as are many articles written by columnists. But for the most part, objectivity is what people want when they’re reading or listening to a journalist. If you want to be a news reporter, you also have to learn to be fast, but efficient in your work, since short turnaround times are often the norm when reporting on a certain story.
A Few Final Thoughts
Journalism is not always a lucrative career, but it is always an interesting one. There are many different types of journalism jobs. Therefore, you can choose which area of the news you’d like to work in. An undergraduate degree and some practical experience are all it takes to get you started in advancing your career so that you can eventually reach your goals.
Best of all, you can learn new things every day. Above all else, journalists learn at least a little bit about a lot of different subjects. If you get bored easily, journalism may be the career for you as you will learn something new nearly every single day. Every company needs a writer or journalist of some sort. This means you’ll have a job regardless of where you live.
If you’re considering becoming a journalist, do your due diligence and get online to learn more about it. You never know what you’ll find out that will pique your interest and make you want to jump headfirst into this amazing career.
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