To become a journalist, one typically needs to acquire a strong foundation in writing, communication, and research skills, often through a degree in journalism or a related field, and gain practical experience via internships or work with student newspapers, blogs, or local news organizations, while keeping pace with evolving trends in digital and data journalism. Remember, this journey may vary based on individual circumstances and the dynamic landscape of the journalism industry.
Journalists are the number one source for reporting news on any topic of interest. Journalists don’t just write and edit news reports; they perform various tasks based on their area of specialization.
Journalism is changing, evolving, and expanding. There’s a need for intensely–focused journalists, so if you’re thinking of pursuing this career, this article is for you. Here you’ll learn more about how to become a journalist and the duties of one.
What Is a Journalist?
A journalist keeps the whole world informed about the latest breaking news, whether in politics, sports, entertainment, business, or another area. Being a journalist means being unbiased and capable of performing many tasks on topics they cover, such as research, conducting interviews, traveling around the country or world, etc.
Additionally, a journalist can work for radio stations, newspapers, magazines, digital publishing outlets, and other print media. Their primary responsibilities include:
- Generating story ideas,
- Reporting on specific topics of interest,
- Delivering that information in a digestible and well-written way.
That said, they should share information with their audiences truthfully and efficiently. Depending on how big the organization is, a journalist may work as a:
- News editor
- Feature writers
Besides writing a story, journalists must pay close attention to details, which means writing relevant information, being grammatically correct, using proper punctuation and spelling, and avoiding content errors. That’s how challenging this career can be.
How to Become a Journalist In 7 Steps
As with any other career, there are steps you need to follow if you’re interested in becoming a journalist. Whether you want to specialize in broadcast, print, or digital journalism, here’s how you can become a professional in your field:
Plan your career path
For many students, planning a career path in journalism begins in high school. You can start from student newspapers, literary magazines, local publications, or writing websites. Essentially, an aspiring journalist should begin as early as possible. You can do so by researching, writing, and reporting information.
Whatever medium you choose to work in, there are specific courses in English, social studies, language arts, and humanities that will push you to improve your skills as a journalist. You can also volunteer at your school’s radio station or TV to prepare for a real career.
Enroll in a degree program
To become a journalist, you need to enroll in a degree program in journalism, mass communication, or another related field. However, if you have a degree in English or public relations, you can also be considered for positions if you’re experienced in journalism.
During this period, you’re expected to take courses in media ethics, interviewing, writing stories, researching, basic methods of investigations – how to conduct interviews, cultivate sources, search news databases, and other essential journalism skills. You’ll also be able to learn about the different mediums of journalism, such as print, online, and video.
Since many journalists work as freelancers, you can also consider marketing or business administration courses. Whatever you decide to pursue, ensure you’re enrolled in an accredited journalism school, as this will show your future employers that you’re well prepared and serious about working as a journalist.
Gain internship experience
Luckily, many journalism programs have internship courses you can follow to gain experience as a journalist. Most schools that have journalism bachelor’s degrees allow you to have access to local media outlets.
The best way to make the experience is to seek internships with media organizations. Although working for school institutions is helpful, working in a professional setting is more credible to media organizations when applying for job positions.
That way, when a future employer looks at your internship experience resume, they’ll know that you’ve mastered the fundamental journalism skills and are ready to apply them in a professional workspace.
Pick your specialty
One of the main benefits of journalism is that there are many types of journalists, so you can pick an area you want to specialize in and build your career. A journalism degree specialization is not hard to acquire. In fact, most colleges and universities urge their students to pick a specialty.
Bachelor students can specialize in:
- Global Journalism
- News Reporting and Writing
- Sports Journalism
- Broadcast Journalism
- Enterprise Journalism
- Digital and Interactive-Media Journalism
- Public Relations and Advertising
- Political Journalism
- Science and Environmental Journalism
- Journalism Design and Graphics
If you have any of these specializations on your resume, employers are more likely to have their eye on you. Additionally, when you combine internships and field experience, you’re taking your professional life to another level.
Broadly speaking, you don’t need a license to be a journalist, but there are specific areas that need licensing in Switzerland. For example, the broadcasting sector has three central authorities responsible for granting licenses.
Additionally, the Federal Council licenses the Swiss Broadcasting Company (SBC). Regarding other licenses, the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) is responsible for that.
Apart from that, broadcasters of program services are required to get a license. However, broadcasters who work in minor services, such as program services that are received by less than 1,000, don’t need a permit by the Federal Act on Radio and Television (RTVA). Similarly, cable television operators are also granted a license.
To be eligible for a license, you must:
- Complete the mandate
- Have sound financial standing
- Be transparent about your owners
- Guarantee that you comply with the labor laws and working conditions, the applicable law, and the obligations and requirements related to the license
- Acquire a separation of editorial and economic activity
- Have residence or a registered office in Switzerland
If you want to read more about media law and regulation in Switzerland, click here.
Build your portfolio
If you want to highlight your best work, best believe you will need to build a portfolio. For example, when you apply for a job, you shouldn’t leave it up to the employer to read your best articles. Instead, pick the ones you like the most and create a professional portfolio. The same goes for printed submissions.
When building your portfolio, there are some things you need to consider. First, make sure it’s highly organized, meaning you only select some of the works you’re most proud of. If you have different subjects, create separate sections based on the types of style, tone, or writing. This is helpful because it allows employers to find the most relevant work for their organization.
Lastly, try to make the portfolio as accessible as possible by showcasing your journalism skills and making a positive first impression to show your talent.
Apply for jobs
You’ve done all the steps; now it’s time to apply for jobs. The first rule when applying for journalism jobs is to ensure your resume matches the job description. If you don’t have the needed experience in a specific subject, highlight your best work that matches the style of the organization you’re applying to.
You can search for work in newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, magazines, or other internet portals. However, your submitted portfolio needs to be as direct as possible, so you make a better impression.
Important Skills for Journalists: From Core Competencies to Emerging Trends
Being a successful journalist requires more than just a knack for storytelling. It entails a diverse set of skills, some of which are fundamental to the field and others that reflect the evolving needs of the industry. Here are some of the key abilities that can make a journalist stand out and succeed in their career:
1. Writing and Reporting: This is the backbone of journalism. Journalists need to have excellent writing skills, with a knack for clear, concise, and engaging storytelling. Reporting skills involve the ability to gather information, interview sources, and present findings in an unbiased, objective manner.
2. Research and Investigation: Good journalists are persistent and thorough investigators. They know how to research, fact-check, and delve into a story to uncover the essential details that make it newsworthy.
3. Ethical Judgment and Integrity: Journalists must adhere to ethical guidelines, respect confidentiality, and strive for fairness and accuracy. They must also be willing to hold those in power accountable, often under challenging circumstances.
4. Communication and Interviewing: Great journalists are excellent communicators and listeners. They’re skilled at asking the right questions to draw out the information they need from their sources.
5. Adaptability: The media landscape is always changing, and journalists must be able to adapt. This may involve learning new technologies, adjusting to changes in their audience’s news consumption habits, or being open to covering new beats.
6. Digital Literacy: As more journalism moves online, digital skills are becoming increasingly important. This includes understanding search engine optimization (SEO), using social media for news discovery and audience engagement, and even basic coding or web design skills.
7. Multimedia Production: With the rise of digital journalism, there’s a growing demand for journalists who can produce multimedia content. This can include skills in photography, videography, audio production for podcasts, or data visualization.
8. Data Analysis: As mentioned earlier, data journalism is on the rise. Journalists who can sift through large datasets, find the newsworthy information, and present it in an understandable and engaging way will find themselves at an advantage.
9. Resilience and Stamina: Journalism can involve long, unpredictable hours, tight deadlines, and high-pressure situations. The ability to stay calm under pressure, keep going when a story becomes challenging, and maintain a work-life balance is crucial.
10. Curiosity and Passion: Finally, good journalists are naturally curious, always willing to learn, and passionate about the truth. This drives them to dig deeper, ask more questions, and constantly strive to produce the best work they can.
While some of these skills are time-honored staples of the profession, others reflect the evolving nature of journalism in the digital age. Aspiring journalists should aim to build a balanced skillset that combines traditional journalism skills with emerging digital and data competencies. These skills not only help in enhancing employability but also contribute to shaping a resilient and future-ready journalism career.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Journalist?
Aspiring journalists can expect to spend four years on a bachelor’s degree in journalism. However, some may prefer to complete further studies, which may take more time. At the same time, it also depends on the specific career goals and the specialization area.
Salary of a Journalist
The field of journalism is a diverse landscape, encompassing everything from international reporting for globally renowned networks to writing for small-town newspapers. A journalist’s passion for their work often outshines financial considerations, but it’s still important to consider the monetary aspect when contemplating this career path. The journalist’s salary range is quite broad, with a multitude of factors influencing the pay scale.
The median annual wage for reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts in the United States is 55K. However, this figure masks considerable variation within the profession. Salaries can range from $37,050 for entry-level positions in smaller markets to well over $87,750 for experienced journalists in top-tier news organizations or specialized positions.
Several factors influence a journalist’s salary:
- Experience: In journalism, like in any profession, experience plays a vital role in determining income. As journalists gain more experience, hone their skills, and establish their reputation, they often move on to higher-paying roles or publications.
- Location: The media market in which a journalist works can significantly affect their salary. Reporters working in larger, urban markets or internationally recognized media hubs like New York or London typically earn more than their counterparts in smaller markets.
- Type of Media: The medium in which a journalist operates can also influence their salary. For example, broadcast journalists often earn more than print journalists. Meanwhile, digital journalism, while relatively new, is rapidly growing and has the potential for lucrative salaries, especially in roles related to digital marketing or data journalism.
- Employer: The size and prestige of the media outlet can also impact the salary. Working for large, internationally recognized news outlets such as CNN or The New York Times tends to yield a higher salary than working for smaller local or regional publications.
- Specialization: Journalists specializing in high-demand areas, such as financial journalism, investigative reporting, or tech journalism, often command higher salaries due to the expertise required in these fields.
Despite these variances, many journalists agree that the profession’s rewards aren’t purely monetary. The ability to tell stories, inform the public, and potentially instigate positive societal change provide a sense of satisfaction that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. However, understanding the potential income can help aspiring journalists to plan their career path effectively.
Job Outlook for Journalists: Projections and Perspectives
The job outlook for journalists is a crucial factor to consider alongside the salary potential. The industry is evolving, influenced by changing technologies, media consumption habits, and market dynamics. It’s important to recognize the shifts within this landscape for anyone considering a career in journalism.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a decline in the employment of reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts by 9 percent from 2021 to 2031. This decline is primarily attributed to the continual consolidation in the newspaper industry and an increasing trend of news consumption through digital platforms.
Despite this somewhat bleak projection, the reality is more nuanced, and there are areas within the field that continue to grow:
- Digital Media: As print media declines, digital media is on the rise. More and more publications are moving online, and new digital-only outlets are being established regularly. Journalists with strong digital skills, such as SEO understanding, multimedia production, and social media expertise, will find increasing opportunities in this area.
- Specialized Journalism: Niche or specialized journalism is another growing field. Expertise in areas like finance, technology, science, and health can open doors to specialized publications or sections within mainstream media that cater to these topics.
- Independent Journalism: The advent of digital platforms has also made it easier for journalists to become independent, launching their own newsletters, podcasts, or websites. While this path may not provide a steady income initially, successful independent journalists can build a substantial following over time, leading to potential income through subscriptions, sponsorships, or freelance contributions to established outlets.
- Data Journalism: The growing availability of large datasets and the public’s need for help in understanding them have given rise to data journalism. Journalists with skills in data analysis, visualization, and interpretation are increasingly in demand.
- PR and Communications: While not strictly journalism, many journalists transition into public relations or communications roles, which typically have more stable employment prospects. The storytelling and communication skills learned in journalism are highly transferable to these fields.
Although the field of journalism is undoubtedly changing, the need for skilled communicators and storytellers remains constant. Journalists may need to adapt, develop new skills, and explore different platforms or specializations. It’s a field with challenges but also immense opportunities for those with a passion for news and storytelling.
Should You Become a Journalist?
If you have a passion for truth and integrity, you should become a journalist. You must also have the guts to go anywhere it takes and get the story. Obviously, there’s much more to this role, but anyone who plans on entering this field needs to know the necessary skills and demands.
People who have a career in journalism tend to have these qualities:
- They’re interested in current events and developments.
- They have good instincts.
- They have a talent for recognizing interesting stories.
- They love asking questions and ‘digging’ to get answers.
- They’re non-biased when reporting the truth.
- They can take criticism.
- They’re motivated to get the best version of the truth and verify the facts.
- They’re effective communicators.
- They adapt quickly to evolving technologies, social media, and databases – the modern tools of journalism.
Conclusion: Embrace the Journey to Becoming a Journalist
As we’ve explored throughout this guide, the journey to becoming a journalist is as diverse and dynamic as the field itself. While no two paths are the same, understanding the crucial steps — from gaining an educational foundation, building practical experience through internships, honing your writing skills, to continually staying updated with industry trends — can equip you with a roadmap to this rewarding career.
Given the evolving landscape of journalism, staying adaptable and committed to learning is crucial. Embrace the emerging trends, such as digital literacy and data journalism, and remember that these new directions do not replace the bedrock principles of journalism, but rather complement and enhance them.
Although it’s essential to keep an eye on the salary potential and job outlook, remember that journalism is ultimately about passion and a commitment to the truth. It’s about telling stories that matter, holding power to account, and serving the public’s right to know.
Journalism is more than a career; it’s a calling. It demands dedication, resilience, and sometimes a readiness to venture outside one’s comfort zone. But for those with a drive to inform, inspire, and instigate change, it’s a journey well worth undertaking.
So as you step forward on your path to becoming a journalist in 2023 and beyond, remember: every great story starts with a single word, and every great journalist begins with a single step. This is your first step. Embrace it, learn from it, and use it to fuel your journey ahead. The world needs dedicated journalists, and this could be the start of your vital contribution.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What degree do I need to become a journalist?
While a degree in journalism, communications, or a related field is often beneficial, it’s not always necessary. What’s most important is gaining strong writing and communication skills, a solid understanding of ethical guidelines, and experience in the field. Some journalists even come from diverse academic backgrounds, bringing unique expertise to their reporting.
How can I gain experience in journalism?
Internships, student newspapers, and online blogging are all excellent ways to gain journalism experience. These provide opportunities to develop your skills, build a portfolio of work, and establish professional connections. Volunteering for community radio stations, creating your own podcast, or contributing to local newsletters or websites can also offer valuable experience.
Can I become a journalist without a degree?
Yes, while having a degree can be beneficial, it’s not a strict requirement. What’s more important are your skills, experience, and dedication. Gaining experience through internships, local news organizations, or even your own independent projects can be a good start.
What is the work environment like for journalists?
The work environment for journalists can be very diverse. Some may work in newsrooms, others may work from home or in co-working spaces. Journalists often have to work under tight deadlines, and the job can involve local, national, or even international travel. It can be a challenging field, but also exciting and rewarding.