Journalism is more than just a job; in fact, many would say that becoming a journalist is a calling that derives from a person’s need to speak the truth. Although the rise of social media and other forms of online information has caused this career path to decline, journalism remains one of the most critical aspects of a functioning democracy.
If you’re driven by a need to expose the truth and have the guts to do whatever it takes to get the story, take a look at the guide below to learn everything you need to know about becoming a journalist.
1. Research the Profession
The first step to become a journalist is to understand what this profession entails. Remember that what we see (or read) is just the tip of the iceberg of what a journalist really does, as there’s a lot of research and preparation involved in producing a story.
Broken down to the very core, journalists essentially do one thing: research and document the news in an honest and ethical manner. To do that they must follow current news and be able to pitch ideas to their editors.
Journalists are also responsible for interviewing people and need to be well-versed in the laws concerning privacy, contempt and defamation. Most reporters also need to cultivate relationships with people who can be used as sources and are usually required to have excellent networking skills.
Apart from carrying out research for every story, they also need to be able to fact-check as they have to ensure that what they are publishing is the truth. As such, most journalists have a deep understanding of various topics and can find whatever information they need to.
Of course, apart from ensuring that a story is accurate, they also need to be able to document it in a way that is both entertaining and engaging. Being able to captivate their audience’s attention is crucial to success and most reporters rely on their ability to connect with people through the written word.
As you’ve probably realised, journalism is by no means an easy profession. Most journalists need to tackle lots of stories and sources simultaneously and they need to be able to instinctively understand which story has the biggest potential. Having good instincts is a prerequisite for most reporters, while their ability to stay calm in stressful situations is also vital. Most journalists work under tight deadlines and need to be able to work in fast-paced (and often loud) environments.
As discussed earlier, journalists also need to be highly ethical and their integrity is crucial in becoming successful and remaining employed. Mistakes are generally not forgiven in the journalistic world so not only do reporters need to take great risks, but they also need to be brave enough to report the unbiased truth.
As journalism can be broken into various subsections, including newspaper, broadcast, fashion sports etc. there isn’t a single salary range. Some areas of journalism are quite profitable, while others are extremely badly paid. Newspaper journalists for example make £22,250 per annum on average; a salary that cannot be compared to what professionals with similar qualifications make in other industries. Things are much worse for people entering the profession as most of them are on an intern’s salary and only make between £12,000 and £15,000. Of course, there are some areas of journalism which are more lucrative. Broadcast translators, for example, can make anything between £30,000 and £60,000 in senior positions.
Working hours tend to be unsociable as most journalists are required to work long hours. As research is a huge aspect of a reporter’s work, most tend to work outside the office searching for leads.
2. Get the Qualifications
Most people believe that all it takes to become a journalist is to be able to write wittily, or speak eloquently, but it takes a lot more than that. Apart from your exceptional research skills, you also need journalistic qualifications, especially as it’s now getting harder than ever getting into this profession.
Whether you are interested in becoming a correspondent, newspaper, magazine or broadcast journalist, a bachelor’s degree in journalism, communications or English is generally considered a great starting point.
If you are interested in specialised journalism (e.g., financial, business, fashion journalism) gaining a degree in that field and having elective courses on journalism – or a postgraduate degree is generally recommended.
According to the Guardian these are the five best universities for journalism:
Internships are essential for aspiring journalists as they allow them to do two things; gain real-world work experience which is critical when you’re looking for your first job and to make connections with professionals in the industry which are vital after graduation.
Depending on what you want to specialise in you should look for opportunities to intern with specific companies. If for example, you want to be a fashion reporter look for opportunities to intern with Vogue, for broadcasting consider the BBC and Channel 4, and if you’re into newspaper journalism you can look for opportunities with some of the biggest newspapers in the country including The Daily Mail.
Although postgraduate degrees are not always required, having one can be extremely beneficial if you’re interested in career development. Master’s degrees will also allow you to move from one area to the next, and grow within your chosen field.
Usually, master’s degrees take between one and two years to complete, and universities will not necessarily require a bachelor’s degree in the field to allow you to enrol.
National Council for the Training of Journalists
The NCTJ delivers the premier training scheme for journalists. Programmes accredited by the NTCJ usually carry more weight in the journalistic world, and the NCTJ also offers its own courses which can help you get started in the field.
3. Land Your First Job
As discussed earlier, this is a highly competitive field, so if you are interested in a career in journalism you are going to have to go the extra mile before you land a job that pays the bills. The key is to be both creative and have enough experience to convince editors and newspaper/magazine/TV channel owners that you’re worth the risk.
Gaining Work Experience
Work experience is crucial so don’t wait until after you graduate to start working. Ideally, you should have published work before you even finish school, so start volunteering for projects and submitting articles whenever you can.
It’s essential that you work for your university’s newspaper and that you don’t limit yourself to simply submitting an article every so often. You need to take an active role in the decision-making process and submit articles consistently. The more active you are in your university’s newspaper the better your chances of getting an internship, which in turn can increase your employment potential.
Note that there are also a few graduate schemes you can apply to which can help you gain work experience straight after university and give you space to develop and grow. If you don’t get accepted onto any graduate schemes, keep in mind that there are plenty of internships to apply to.
The key to land your first job is to show that you are creative and not scared of hard work. Taking the initiative and having a few ideas to pitch each time you go for a job interview will really help you get a job.
Where to Find Work
You can look for journalism positions on all the major job boards, but if you’re looking for something more specific make sure to look at the two job boards listed below:
4. Develop Your Career
As this career path is so competitive, it can be extremely hard to develop your career. Few people manage to become well-known journalists and although that has a lot to do with talent, it also has a lot to do with opportunities being offered at the right moment.
Many people move into other relevant fields after a few years as there’s bigger earning potential. Most people tend to move into editor positions, while others may also move into content writing for marketing companies.
Becoming a journalist requires talent and determination as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to enter this profession. However, if you feel that it’s your calling, then you should pursue your dreams.
Do you think you’d be a good journalist? Take an aptitude test to find out and let me know in the comment section below!