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Six Steps to Becoming a Journalist

May 6, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

Journalists aren’t just writers.  They’re also expert interviewers, with the instincts to find the best stories first and the people skills to get interview subjects to open up.  On top of all that, journalists need to be able to bring their stories alive to readers—all without betraying their own journalistic integrity.  Journalists play an important role in our society, keeping the public informed and keeping government and industry honest—and nobody said the job was easy.

If you want to be a journalist, here are a few steps you can take to get started:

Choose the right school

Majoring in journalism will definitely get you started on the right track. When you get a four-year degree in journalism, you’ll learn interview and writing skills, the basics of journalistic ethics and source reporting, and more.  You may also be able to major on a certain focus within the field, such as print or broadcast journalism.  While a degree from an ivy-league school wouldn’t hurt, you can get a good start on this career with any accredited online college

Choose the right major

While majoring in journalism is often considered the best choice, it’s not the only one.  Journalists often get started with a major in creative writing, English, or even something wholly unrelated.  If you do want to take an unrelated major, take electives that relate to writing and journalism.  This could set you up for a career writing in a specialized niche, such as science reporting or education reporting.

See Also: Online Degrees in Journalism

Get clips

As a student, you should have ample opportunities to accumulate “clips”—examples of your published work that demonstrate your skills and experience.  Volunteer to work for the school newspaper.  If the school doesn’t have one, talk to your administrators about starting one.  If this isn’t an option, approach a local paper in your hometown and explain that you’re a journalism student.  If you volunteer with them, you may get the opportunity to write—although you may not get paid.

Think about your niche

As a journalist, you have a lot of different options.  You can work as a freelancer or as an in-house writer; freelancers pitch news ideas to many different newspapers and magazines, while in-house writers work on salary at a single publication.  You can work for news publications, magazines, trade journals, or within specific industries.  As you earn your degree, learn as much as you can about the many different specialties and work environments open to you as a reporter.

Get internships

An internship can help expose you to the work environments at several different types of publications, and it can also get you valuable experience that can help you land your first job when you graduate.  Get an internship with a paper in your area at some point while you finish your degree.  Many of the people who will be competing with you for entry-level journalism jobs after graduation will have internship experience, so you’ll need it too if you want to stay competitive in the job market.

Graduate and send out your resume

Once you graduate, you’ll need to start looking for a job.  Get in touch with all the local papers and publications in your area; send resumes and clips.  In addition, keep an eye on online job boards such as JournalismJobs.com, MediaBistro, SimplyHired, and Mass Media Jobs.  Some of these jobs may be for remote freelancers, and they’re good to apply for even if you’re looking for a staff writing position—they’ll give you money, contacts, and professional clips.

Journalism jobs are competitive, and a lot of qualified applicants will be applying for even entry-level jobs—but that doesn’t mean you don’t have an excellent chance.  Major in a related field and collect clips that showcase your experience.  If you’ve got the writing and interview skills, you’re sure to find publications that will be more than willing to give you your first assignments.

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