CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a journalist.
Is becoming a journalist right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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All journalists, regardless of the medium they choose to work in, need a strong background in writing. High school courses in English, language arts, humanities, and social studies will help to develop skills in this area. Writing for the school newspaper or yearbook and working for the school’s TV or radio station can all lay an early foundation for a career in journalism.
- Write every day
- Keep a journal of your activities
- Start a blog
- Perfect your grammar skills
- Get feedback on your writing
- Read everyday
- Stay up to date on current events
- Learn photography
- Learn a second language
- Join or start a journalism club
Two-year associate degree programs in journalism provide an introduction to the field. They cover news writing, the basics of broadcast journalism, social media in journalism, and an introduction to mass communication.
A Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, however, is the leading undergraduate education track for students wishing to pursue the career. This is because journalism is such a broad field, one that lends itself to a four-year curriculum. A bachelor's degree prepares students for numerous career paths and media specialties.
The following courses are common in journalism bachelor degree programs, regardless of concentration:
Reporting news through audio and visual media, as well as gathering and presenting news in the field
- How newscasts work
- Live news presentation
- Writing for a live audience
Analytical skills and techniques required to evaluate newsworthy events and report key information accurately
- Triaging news events and presenting only the most pertinent points
- Following leads and identifying only the most prominent ones
Mass Communication Law
Pertinent laws that affect journalists, including freedom of the press, government controls, source protections, and legal obligations
- Understanding legal points that affect all types of media journalism
- Understanding of laws regarding sourcing and reporting
- Identifying appropriate actions in response to gag orders, suppression requests, and the like
Depending on the specific program, this class may focus on certain concentrations, such as feature writing or broadcasting, and prepare students to craft a well-written, informative, and persuasive piece
- Adhering to time limitations or word counts
- Understanding the difference between informative and persuasive writing
- Various techniques of writing, including narrative, profile, or in-depth features
Master’s Degree (optional)
When journalists refer to journalism school or J school, they typically mean a graduate or Master’s Degree in Journalism.
A master's degree naturally helps further career objectives and enhances employability in more senior level, often more lucrative positions. A master's degree is also a common way for people with a degree and/or experience in another discipline in the arts and humanities to transition to a career in journalism. It is also generally the minimum educational prerequisite for anyone wishing to teach journalism at the university level.
While baccalaureate curricula focus on general mass communication, students in master’s degree programs build advanced expertise while learning the latest technology and techniques. As a condition of graduation, many schools require that students complete an in-depth master’s project demonstrating acquired knowledge and skills.
The following are a few of the typical classes included in master’s programs in journalism:
Intensive seminars tailored to specific concentrations, which expose students to notable experts, readings, and case studies on significant news events
- Advanced research
- Understanding of the social impact of news
- Gauging public relations to news media and how those reactions affect stories and broadcasts
Evidence and Inference
Advanced research techniques, maintaining objectivity, fact-gathering, and the journalistic method of testing assumptions
- Intense research
- Identifying and presenting important facts without bias or agenda
Specialized Topical Reporting
The nuances of reporting on a particular subject, how to use inoffensive language, fact-sharing and collaboration with other journalists, and dealing with sources who might be in precarious situations
- Working closely with other journalists for the good of the story
- Understanding the legal responsibilities of journalists to sources
- Choosing language appropriate for subject matter
Graduate students are encouraged to take courses that can enhance their careers, including finance, business, entrepreneurship, management, and the like
- Understanding the behind-the-scenes information for certain subjects
- How to run a media business
- Improving interactions with colleagues
Learning the principles of journalism is something that does not happen solely in a classroom. It also happens in the real world.
There is frequently a need for journalists-in-training to work alongside professionals at media outlets, including newspapers, magazines, websites, and radio and television stations. These programs, which are often affiliated with colleges and universities, help to prepare students for the work world.
Journalism is a relationship business. Another benefit of participating in internships is the opportunity they present to students to build and maintain strong relationships with mentors, colleagues, and peers. It is not uncommon for these learning experiences to lead to employment opportunities.
Internships also tend to expose students to many different facets of journalism, which is particularly valuable considering that nowadays journalists are increasingly being asked to perform ancillary tasks that support or complement their primary work. In addition, working with professionals allows interns to begin creating their own professional portfolio.
In the past, the practice of professional journalism broke down into two main areas: print media and broadcast media, with radio and television as the two main categories in the latter area.
Digital or multi-media journalism has emerged as a third area that has blurred the distinction between print and broadcast. In fact, the latest trend in journalism studies is toward convergent media, an idea that centers on the fact that journalists and media companies are increasingly online entities that encompass both print and broadcast functions.
Some journalists choose to work as generalists, writing and reporting on assigned stories, regardless of their nature. Others have a specialized area of coverage. Here are some areas of specialization that are typically addressed in journalism programs:
- Broadcast Journalism
- Business and Financial Reporting
- Environmental Journalism
- Feature and Magazine Writing
- Global and International Journalism
- News Reporting
- Online or Multi-Media Journalism
- Political Journalism
- Science and Health Reporting
- Sports Reporting
Employment & Building a Portfolio
Journalists who are new entrants to the field may face the same paradoxical or Catch 22 challenge encountered by many other professionals: they need to have experience and a portfolio to land a job and they need a job to get experience and build a portfolio.
This truth is, first and foremost, a reminder to journalism students of the value of pursuing internships throughout their study years. It is also possible to generate portfolio material through independent activities like blogging, video-casting, and podcasting.
When the time comes to pursue a full-time position, call upon the relationships established in college and via those all-important internships. Depending on your aspirations, consider your location. Yes, here too, you may discover a Catch 22 situation: the major media markets have the most jobs… and they have the most job seekers. But, despite the competition in New York, Atlanta, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, London, and Hong Kong, these headquarters cities may still be irresistible draws.
Journalists who wish to conduct advanced research or teach at the highest levels will complete a Ph.D. program in journalism. These programs commonly focus on research methodology, data analysis, leadership, curriculum creation, in-depth teaching methods, moral and ethical considerations; and doctoral dissertation research, information organization, writing, and presentation.