There are many types of journalists, from the local beat newspaper reporter to the foreign correspondent, from the magazine feature writer to the freelance book reviewer, so it is difficult to pin down the daily routine of the “average” journalist. Journalists interview sources and review records to assemble, collect, and report information and explore the implications of the facts. Journalism informs, educates, chastises: Don t underestimate the power a journalist holds. Professionals must be able to report quickly and accurately.
Over 80 percent of our respondents listed “time pressure” as one of the most distinguishing features of this job. Journalists must have a “point of view” while remaining objective about their subjects, which can be difficult; around half our respondents said that their colleagues sometimes got too involved in the stories. Interpersonal skills, excellent writing skills, and a reporter’s instinct (the ability to accurately assess the significance of obscure and incomplete information) are essential to success.
The uncertainty of the daily routine makes it difficult to incorporate family, hobbies, and any regularly scheduled plans, but those who detest the predictability of nine-to-five jobs are attracted to journalism because “no day is a carbon copy of the day before. ” Long hours and chronic deadline pressure can be significantly negative factors. When an editor calls you in on a breaking story, you have to be prepared to drop everything; when you’re on deadline, you can get crazed trying to write a complicated story in half the time you need.
This “ball and chain” to the offices leads many to resent, and eventually reject, the reporter’s life. Some journalists complain about being “Under the thumb of Napoleonic editors who control your every word based on their own taste. ” Editors are sometimes Napoleonic but more often they are simply perfectionists. Journalists who are precious about their prose rarely last in this profession, since articles are often edited for publication without their consultation.
Over 40 million people read newspapers in the United States each day and over 50 million people read magazines each week. The opportunity for your writing to reach a large audience is tempting indeed, and many find the initial low pay, uncertain and occasionally dangerous conditions, and chaotic schedule a fair tradeoff to be allowed to do what they do. In fact, many seem drawn by the excitement and challenge of these very conditions. Paying Your Dues Most journalists have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, communications, English, or political science.
More than a few distinguished careers have begun at the school newspaper or at a neighborhood magazine or newspaper. Nowadays, many journalists come to the profession later in life after gaining expertise and connections at other professions. Journalism jobs are highly competitive: gumption and hard work must accompany Credentials and experience. Excellent writing skills are a must, as are computer word-processing skills. Bone up on proofreading skills before applying for any job. Foreign language skills may be necessary for those reporting on the international scene.
Persistence, initiative, stamina, and the desire to tell real stories about real events are critical to the survival of the budding journalist. The best journalists have a knack for putting contemporary events into historical perspective. Associated Careers Journalists who leave the profession become editors, professors, researchers, and analysts. Many teach high school and run school papers; others take jobs in whatever industry they once covered as a reporter. Those who leave the field usually do so because of the uncertain lifestyle and the long hours. Past and Future
The first American newspaper was printed in 1690 and quashed four days later. The growth of journalism has been astounding: Since 1776, the number of daily newspapers printed in the United States has risen from 37 to over 1,700, not including weeklies, magazines, and computer-generated newsletters. Journalism, like most occupations concerned with communication, is becoming more electronic. Online services and electronic publishers deliver expertly written pieces twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week on the Internet. But somebody still needs to write those pieces.
Competition for jobs will remain fierce, but specialized jobs should increase; those with unique skills, such as technological expertise or foreign language skills, should enjoy a distinct advantage. There are an increasing number of women succeeding in journalism, even though they still tend to be paid less than men for the same work. “Journalism is no career for a woman who wants to raise a family,” advised one professional who complained that maternity leave is rarely (or begrudgingly) offered, and the pace of work precludes a normal family life if either parent is in the profession.
Quality of Life Two Years Out: Many aspiring reporters begin their careers by pitching story ideas to local newspapers and magazines on a piecemeal basis. Writers who can show clippings from school newspapers or other publications–no matter how “minor”–begin with an advantage if the prose is good. Aspiring writers may have to survive repeated rejections before a story idea is finally accepted for publication, and the income stream from freelance journalism is so unpredictable that many take more regular paying jobs.
Most aspire to a salaried job at a local newspaper during these scrambling years. As at all levels of this profession, satisfaction is high despite low income. Five Years Out: By now most journalists have held at least two full-time salaried positions. The most desirable jobs at this level are daily newspaper reporting jobs, especially those with a specialized “beat. ” It’s hard for a journalist to break past the low thirty-thousands without daily deadline experience, and this is often what separates “the men from the boys. ”
Ten Years Out: Ten-year survivors in journalism still work long hours, but they have established a strong tone and style, enjoy a dedicated readership, and are finally making a wage commensurate with their abilities. The majority (over 60 percent) of those who began as journalists do not make it to the ten-year mark, dissuaded by lack of opportunity and lack of advancement. Many turn to editorial duties as well as reporting duties. A number switch their specialties after ten years in order to keep their jobs interesting and their writing fresh.