Journalism is a field that allows people to make a meaningful impact on society by sharing news and information. However, building a successful career in this industry requires more than writing skills. Different types of journalism require other crafts, and many other niches within journalism require different approaches.
This article will outline nine essential steps to achieve a rewarding journalism career. It will discuss everything from understanding the basics of the profession to creating an impressive portfolio and networking with professionals in the field. It will also discuss the importance of ethics and how to ensure that students receive the appropriate education for a career in journalism.
Step one: understand the landscape of journalism
Journalism is a vast field covering various mediums, from print to broadcast and everything in between. There is a wide range of different types of journalism, each with unique elements. Print journalism is one example, typically in newspapers and magazines. Print journalism focuses on delivering content through words, photos, graphics, and illustrations.
Next is broadcast journalism. This involves reporting the news via television or radio broadcasts. This category also includes online video streaming platforms. For example, regional nightly news or broadcast coverage of a big event like a political election.
The third type of journalism is investigative journalism. This is a highly specialized form of journalism where reporters investigate complex subjects. This could be topics such as political corruption or a crime investigation. This type of journalism is typically where journalists spend a long time on one case, covering it from all angles and untangling a complex story.
The landscape of journalism is continuously evolving. It should not be surprising that traditional forms like print journalism have faced fierce competition from digital media outlets. In 2020, print newspaper advertising revenue in the US was still large – $14.8bn – but massively down from the $49.4bn produced in 2005.
Another important area to understand in the journalism landscape is the roles and responsibilities of those in the field. Working in journalism demands long hours. It is a fast-paced environment, and that often means deadlines are short. There is little room for error, and journalists constantly race against the clock. Like most careers, communication is also vitally important in journalism – inside company walls and when dealing with sources or third parties. Understanding the industry landscape and what will be expected of a journalist is an important first step to consider.
Step two: attain education
A journalism degree can help aspiring journalists build a strong career foundation. There are several reasons why it is important to have one. A degree in journalism provides students with all the valuable skills and knowledge required to succeed in the field. It teaches them how to effectively research, write, edit, and report news.
Students who pursue a journalism degree will gain experience in numerous areas. They will typically take media law and ethics courses and learn to write for various platforms (print, broadcast, digital, etc.). They will also learn about multimedia production (photography and videography), investigative reporting techniques, and how to analyze data correctly. Some budding journalists will also pursue a master’s in journalism online, such as the program offered by St Bonaventure University, as it can provide an even more comprehensive education, covering a wide array of relevant courses and subjects.
One other area of education that is important is internships. Internships provide invaluable experiences that cannot be replicated in classrooms. Given journalism’s fast-paced nature, exposure to how it works in practice is vital. Interns will also be able to work alongside professionals already established in the field, providing even more invaluable experience.
Step three: hone writing skills
Excellent writing skills are a must-have for any aspiring journalist. Writing is the primary communication tool in journalism, and it can make or break the credibility of a story. Thankfully there are several ways to hone writing skills.
The first method is to read extensively. Reading is fundamental to becoming a great writer. It exposes the reader to different styles, structures, and approaches experienced writers use. The next thing students need to do is practice regularly. With writing, practice makes perfect – just like any other skill. Students should consider setting aside time daily or weekly to write on various topics.
They should also aim to receive feedback. They can share their work with trusted friends or mentors who can provide constructive feedback that helps identify areas for improvement. The next thing to consider is developing a unique voice. Good journalism should reflect an individual’s personality through their writing style while maintaining objective reporting standards.
A strong understanding of the different styles required for each type of journalism can also help students improve their writing skills. For example, news journalism differs from feature writing, which is again different from opinion pieces or long-form investigative reports. Radio and TV scripts are also other, so it is essential to understand these distinct formats.
Another obvious area of good writing is the importance of grammar, punctuation, and style. This cannot be overstated. These three things help convey an idea clearly without ambiguity or confusion. The reader relies on the journalist to accurately describe the story in an easy-to-understand way.
Step four: build a portfolio
When applying for journalism jobs, students will typically be asked to present a portfolio of their work. A portfolio is essential in journalism because it showcases ability, and it is a chance for candidates to differentiate themselves.
The first thing a portfolio should contain is samples of published work. This could include articles, videos, or photos published in reputable news outlets. Journalists should also have some writing samples. These are different from the published work, as they demonstrate writing style and an ability to cover varied topics.
Both multimedia work, as well as awards and recognitions, can also be good to include. If a journalist has produced videos or recorded podcasts, they can consist of them as evidence of multimedia skills and highlight any accolades received. This could consist of awards for investigative reporting or feature writing. They could also consider adding some personal projects to the portfolio. Showcasing personal projects can give employers an idea about the types of stories the individual is passionate about covering.
It is important to understand that building and maintaining a portfolio takes time and effort, but there are some ways to make it easier:
- Organize work by topic or type so potential employers can easily find what they want.
- Keep updating the portfolio with new work as soon as it is published.
- Regularly review and update older pieces to keep them relevant.
- Ensure all links are up-to-date and working properly so visitors can access content easily.
One last area to discuss is digital portfolios. As the world becomes more digital, online portfolios have become increasingly important in showcasing journalistic abilities effectively. An online presence can also help new journalists gain visibility among prospective hirers, and it is much easier to share links than paper portfolios.
Step five: networking and building connections
Networking and building connections are crucial in any field, perhaps even more so in journalism. Journalists should consider that it is not just about who they know but who knows them.
It is also a good idea for journalists to attend events. Journalists have many opportunities to attend workshops and seminars where they can meet other professionals in their field. They should watch for local or online events and not be afraid to introduce themselves and converse. They should also be prepared with business cards or contact information: When attending networking events, journalists should ensure they have something to give out so that people can easily connect with them.
Showing genuine interest is also important. Nobody likes someone who just wants something from them, so journalists should take the time to show genuine interest in others’ work and opinions. In addition to showing interest, they should remember to follow up after meeting new contacts. A quick email note thanking someone for chatting at an event can go far toward keeping relationships active long-term.
Step six: specialize in an area of interest
There are different areas of interest to consider within journalism. Choosing a niche or specialization is crucial. Doing so allows an individual to become an expert on a particular topic and stand out among other journalists. Here are some fields that new journalists can consider:
- Sports journalism. In this field, writers cover news related to sports events, athletes, and teams.
- Fashion journalism. This area encompasses writing about fashion trends, designers, models, and beauty products.
- Travel journalism. Writers in this area specialize in showcasing regions and cultures of the world. Even outside traditional journalism, many people have found career success as travel bloggers.
- Environmental journalism. A journalist specializing in environmental issues reports on topics such as climate change, conservation efforts, and sustainability practices – an increasingly popular area.
- Political journalism. Journalists specializing in political reporting cover stories about government officials’ activities and motives.
When choosing a suitable niche, there are some things to consider. First, individuals should think about their own personal areas of interest. What do they like doing outside of work? They should ensure they choose a size that aligns with their passion so that work doesn’t feel like drudgery but something to enjoy.
If students follow these steps, they will have a network that they can leverage to help. Many established journalists have worked across a wide range of areas throughout their careers, and they will be able to offer some unique insight. Individuals may also find some places more interesting than they previously thought through research.
Once a journalist has chosen an area of interest, they can focus on building expertise through research and experience. They can also attend seminars or other events related to the field and start growing their network specific to the specialization. By having a specialty, they will gain recognition for being knowledgeable about particular topics and may even become the go-to person in their field.
Step seven: seek internships and entry-level jobs
Internships and entry-level jobs are crucial for aspiring journalists. The industry moves quickly, and it can be hard for new journalists to establish themselves when they don’t know anyone or have any experience. This is why internships and entry-level jobs offer important opportunities to gain practical experience, build a portfolio, network with professionals, and eventually land a full-time job.
Finding internships and entry-level jobs can be challenging, but new journalists can start by researching the companies and publications that interest them. They can check websites for job postings or internship programs and look for job listings on career sites such as LinkedIn or Indeed. There are also regular career fairs or other related events they could attend.
When applying for these positions, applicants should ensure that their resumes are tailored to the specific role they are interested in. They should list relevant courses, skills, or experiences that highlight why they would be a good candidate. Once they secure a position, they must maximize the experience by being proactive and eager to learn. They can take initiative on projects, ask questions, and seek supervisor feedback. The goal is to stand out. If the goal is to turn an internship into a full-time job offer after graduation, demonstrating an exceptional work ethic is how interns will achieve it.
Step eight: continuous learning and improvement
In journalism, just like most careers, continuous learning and improvement must be prioritized. Journalists must stay updated with industry trends and news, especially in an industry increasingly more reliant on technology. This means they should read newspapers, magazines, and blogs, listening to podcasts, and following the relevant social media channels.
Many writing skills are relevant here. Just because journalists have become established doesn’t mean they can stop learning. They should continue to practice writing regularly, even outside of work. This could mean keeping a personal blog or contributing articles elsewhere freelance.
In addition to keeping up with the latest in the industry, journalists could join social media groups specifically for journalists or writers. Not only will this help them expand their network, but they will also be exposed to many different approaches and ways of thinking that can help them continue to develop as journalists.
Step nine: upholding journalistic ethics and standards
The principles and guidelines set by these ethical practices ensure that journalists produce accurate, truthful, fair, impartial, and accountable work. Upholding ethical standards is not only the right thing to do morally but also a legal obligation.
Journalists must be aware of the basic ethical principles and standards in journalism. This includes accuracy, fairness, impartiality, and public accountability. They must adhere to their code of conduct when gathering information or reporting news stories regardless of whether they are a print media, broadcast, or any other type of journalist.
Violations of journalistic ethics can result in serious consequences for both the journalist and their employer. This may include losing credibility among their audience or even lawsuits against them or their organization. The latter is usually applicable when defamatory information is reported.
Impartiality should always be maintained, too. This is especially important while reporting on highly polarizing issues like politics, where differing views exist within society. Fairness must also be ensured so as not to show any bias. A failure to do this will quickly result in the public wondering whether a journalist’s reporting has been influenced by personal opinion or political beliefs.
These nine steps provide a comprehensive and detailed overview of the various aspects to consider when building a rewarding career in journalism. Everything from understanding the current journalism landscape to honing writing skills and networking with peers is important. Becoming a successful journalist requires dedication and consistency over a long period, but the rewards are well worth it.