A career in journalism offers an exciting, fast-paced work environment perfect for those who love storytelling and current events.
It’s no surprise, then, that this is a much sought-after job title among adventurers, writers, and truth-seekers. If you’re considering a career as a journalist, there are a few things you should know about getting started and setting yourself up for success.
What Do Journalists Do?
When you think of journalists, images of Walter Cronkite, Barbara Walters, and Dan Rather probably come to mind—and for good reason, since these icons and their passion for their work are part of the reason why so many of us consider a career in this field.
But they’re also not the only faces of journalism. True, the most visible figures in this field are the ones we see every night on the evening news. But in today’s world especially, where more people get their news from websites, blogs, and social media than they do from CBS or BBC, the face of journalism is changing.
The term “journalist” can describe someone who writes for a print publication, like a traditional newspaper or magazine; a reporter who chases storms or attends presidential press conferences, before talking to a camera about their findings; or a freelancer who writes articles online for an emerging news site.
A journalist’s job is to tell a story and present the facts, so that audiences can form their own opinions and make their own decisions.
This work requires more than just looking pretty for a camera or slapping your byline on an article: journalists are responsible for the extensive research, writing, and fact checking that go in to their final output, in addition to cultivating relationships with their interview subjects and always looking out for the next story.
How to Become a Journalist
Below are 7 tips that will set you up for success as a future journalist.
1. Finetune your writing skills.
Of course, a degree can only take you so far. To become a successful journalist, you’ll need to hone those writing and reporting skills yourself.
One sure way to do this is by writing across a number of subject areas. You can practice by starting a blog to build your brand and establish your voice as a writer. Try writing blog posts about current events and things happening in your area, and find interesting subjects to interview.
2. Learn how to interview people.
As a journalist, you’ll also have to practice your critical thinking and questioning skills. Study interviews from some of the industry’s top reporters and take note of the strategies they use.
In the video below, Katie Couric explains how to conduct a good interview:
3. Network with reporters, writers, and editors.
A huge part of breaking into any industry is knowing the right people. Start networking early on with reporters, writers, editors, and other relevant figures in the business.
Reach out to reporters you admire and politely ask them if they have time to chat. If you’re given the opportunity to talk with them in person or on the phone, tell them about your experience and career goals, and ask them about their own experiences and for advice they can offer you.
(As much as you may like to cold-call David Muir, you may find it easier to reach out to someone from your local newspaper or broadcasting station if you’re just getting started.)
For more professional networking tips, be sure to check out our post on how to use LinkedIn to improve your career.
4. Try an internship.
Another great way to build connections is through internships. Interning for a newspaper, magazine, or media company provides invaluable experience, and you’ll get a firsthand look at the day-to-day tasks of a journalist.
With so many publications going digital, there are many opportunities today for budding reporters to get started by writing blog articles or conducting research, even from home.
You may not always get paid for your work, but the connections and lessons you’ll get from an internship can really make the difference for recent grads and anyone new to the industry.
5. Write for established publications.
In order to make a name for yourself, you’ll need to get your byline into some more prominent and established publications.
This isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly not impossible. It just takes some strategic thinking and persistence.
Consider your strengths and areas of interest or expertise. Then, research publications that align with those interests and that would be interested in your story ideas.
Find the appropriate contact information for those publications (usually the editor in charge of the section you’d be writing for), and shoot them an email pitching your story. Don’t be afraid to (politely) follow up a few times, but also recognize when it’s time to adjust your strategy and pitch different ideas.
6. Build a portfolio.
Start building a digital portfolio with articles you’ve written and interviews you’ve conducted.
You’ll use these to not only track your professional work, but also to show to prospective employers and other publications you’d like to write for.
7. Make yourself available.
If you plan on being a news journalist, you’ll need to get used to covering breaking news, which can mean putting in some pretty strange hours.
Once you’ve written for a few publications—and assuming you did a good job—they may start reaching out to you with assignments, often ones they need someone to cover last minute.
Make yourself available whenever possible. Send emails to editors at larger publications (including samples of your work) and let them know that you’d be happy to cover any breaking assignments when needed. You’d be surprised how often these opportunities can come up!
8. Get a Bachelor’s degree.
One of the first steps toward a career in journalism is earning a Bachelor’s degree. Now, you don’t necessarily need a degree in journalism to be successful—so if you’ve already graduated, don’t fret if that wasn’t your major.
In fact, many of the most successful journalists didn’t major in journalism, but related subjects, such as:
- Media Studies
Or, if you have a natural knack for writing, you might break into the industry by writing about specialized areas under which you’ve earned your degree, such as:
- Political Science
- International Relations
- Technology Studies
If you do want to write about a more specialized area, you can also consider double majoring or taking on a minor (for example, double majoring in communications and political science, or studying journalism with a minor in international affairs.
The important thing here is that you have a degree, ideally in something related to journalism or writing.
What Requirements Are Needed to Be a Journalist?
More than anything, your success as a journalist will depend a lot on your talent as a writer or reporter. However, there are several key factors that can increase those chances of success.
The ideal candidate for a journalistic position is someone who:
- Has a bachelor’s degree in journalism, communications, or a related field
- Has some experience (work or internship) with publications or media outlets
- Possesses outstanding communication skills (both written and oral)
- Is comfortable and adept at asking hard-hitting questions
- Can write across a number of subjects
- Is great at researching and investigating
- Is willing to work odd hours and travel to cover a story
Start Your Career On the Field
A career in journalism can be grueling, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. If you’re passionate about telling stories that matter and sharing them with the world, this could be an excellent path for you.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
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