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How to Become a Working Journalist

Nov 14, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Journalists keep the world informed.  It’s an important job, and it requires a lot of work to get started and stay successful.  If you’re interested in a career in journalism—either in print, on television or online—here are a few tips that will help you get there.

It All Starts With the Degree

Most publications look for employees with an online bachelor's degree in journalism, English, communications, or some other related subject.  If you’re looking for a position writing for a publication within a certain industry—like tech, health care, or fashion—a degree in those areas can be desirable as well.  Particularly with more technical industries, a degree that’s related to the industry can often give you an edge over other applicants who have a background in writing alone.  You show that you know the subject inside and out, and with a few strong clips you can prove your writing ability as well.

Experience Starts in College

Even more than a online college degree, employers value proof that you can write—and that you’ve written for print before.  Journalism requires a certain style, and if you can demonstrate that you’re fluent in that style, you’ll have an advantage over other job applicants.  They see that proof in your clips—samples of articles you’ve written for other newspapers and magazines, often clipped directly from the publications themselves.

So how do you get published clips when you’ve never worked for a newspaper or magazine before? Simple. Start with your college newspaper.  Join the staff or just submit an article from time to time.  If you write well, your newspaper should be willing to publish it.  If they don’t take outside contributions from the student body, join up and write your own byline.  This can be a great way to show that you have an interest in journalism and a knowledge of the basics, even when you’re just starting out.

In addition, you may also be able to secure an internship with a newspaper, magazine or broadcasting station that will allow you hands-on learning experiences and opportunities to interview, write and edit.  Some internships offer college credit instead of pay—and if this is the case with yours, check with your college and your department first to ensure that they will allow you credit for the experience.  These internships can give you a strong edge in your future career search, especially if they allow you opportunities to collect clips from an established publication.  Most professional journalists worked in at least one internship while in school.

Know Your Specialty

There are many different routes you can take toward a career in journalism.  Know whether you want to work in broadcast media or print journalism.  Know whether investigative reporting, foreign correspondence, or photojournalism appeals to you more.  It’s never too early to start thinking about this.  The sooner you know where you want to focus, the earlier you can start tailoring your education and work history to land your ideal job.  The degree program and school you choose, the internships you apply for and the types of samples and experience you accumulate in college can all be affected by your choice of specialty.

Freelance or Regular Employment?

When you first start out, bear in mind that you may not find regular employment as a journalist at first. It’s a competitive field, and many newspapers are scaling back on hiring as print media loses market share to the Internet.  Success will depend on how well you network and how persistent you are in seeking work.

However, you can make contacts, collect clips, and earn money working as a freelance journalist as well.  Freelance journalists query publications with article ideas. If they receive approval, they write the article and receive payment.  Many publications have scaled back their employment of full-time journalists and increased work with freelance journalists, because this method is cheaper overall for the publication.  Many professional journalists stay freelance for most or all of their careers.

Journalism is a rewarding career—and one that makes a positive and much needed contribution to the world.  Follow these tips, and a career in this exciting field may well be within your reach



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