Being a reporter encompasses so many things. You could be the face of a news station, a regular contributor to a magazine or newspaper, or you could be tweeting and blogging as your own brand of news sourcing. If any and all of this sounds good to you, with a little hard work it could be your future.
Getting Qualified in High School and College
Get on your high school’s newspaper. If you have a flair for writing and your grammar is top-shelf, be active in your school’s newspaper – or any other writing program they have, for that matter. The sooner your resume starts beefing up, the better. Even if you’re writing the school lunch menu, it counts.
Looking for a job in high school? Get a job at a local newspaper, even if it is sorting out their mail. When you come back home for summers, you may be looking at a promotion to something more along the lines of what you’re looking for, and it’ll be easy to sink into.
Go to college with a double major, if possible. Plenty of journalists don’t have journalism degrees – if you’re naturally a good writer, you’ve got the hard part is covered. But it does make everything a bit easier, so do consider getting an undergrad in journalism…but also something else. Something else a bit more tangible (your parents might call it “practical”). This way when you write, you have an area of expertise you can actually write about.
Consider getting a minor instead, if a double major is for some reason unfeasible.
Work on your campus newspaper, radio, or with other news outlets. One of the greatest things about college is that there are so many opportunities. If you’re not jiving with your campus newspaper, there’s half a dozen other resources you can be a part of. Get your hands on something in line with your interests. It doesn’t have to be perfect now; it just has to be a start. There are likely groups that you don’t even realize could give you writing and reporting opportunities. Many groups have newsletters and publicity people whose job is to get the name of the organization out there. That could be you.
Take a gap year if you’d like. Truth be told, going to college and majoring in journalism sounds like the platform you need to become a journalist, but often it’s not. Having that background doesn’t mean your writing is good, it doesn’t mean you have interesting things to say, and it doesn’t mean you have the connections you need. So take a gap year. Why? You can go abroad, find interesting stories, learn about different cultures and ‘’write about it.’’
This will give you great material should you be looking for freelance gigs. You’ll essentially be a location reporter doing international news. What’s more, the competition in the West is intense. If you go to a different country with different language and cultural skills, it’ll be easier to land a gig to pad that resume.
Another plus? It’ll help you learn a foreign language. When you go to apply for real adult jobs, saying you can speak another language is a definite perk.
Consider getting your MA or a postgraduate diploma in journalism. After you’ve gotten your BA to set up your knowledge base and you’ve taken a year off to get experiences, hone your craft, and just take time to settle into the fact that yes, this ‘’is’’ what you want to do, think about going back to school to get your master’s or a postgraduate diploma. Most take 9 months to a year, but each program varies.
Remember, this isn’t 100% necessary. Plenty people do it the hard way and just put in the work, building up their portfolio, and trying to make connections. If more education doesn’t apply to you, don’t stress. There are other ways.
Look for a program that’s nationally recognized. For example, in the UK, you’d be looking for a program that’s affiliated with the National Council for the Training of Journalists, or the NCTJ.
There are also shorter courses you can take affiliated with major institutions that only last a couple of months. They give you a certificate at the end, showing everyone that you have the basic skills to cut it out there in the field.
Starting Out in Your Career
Find an internship. You gotta walk before you can run, you know? Spend a couple of months dedicated to finding the best internship possible – preferably one that’s paying. The bigger and better the reputation of the company, the further you’ll start ahead when you’re looking for a full-time, salaried gig.
Most companies go on to hire from their intern pool. If you can’t get a full-time paying gig initially, consider an internship to get your foot in the door.
Do some freelance writing. A great way to build up your portfolio and to get your fingers into a lot of pies is to do freelance writing. There are hundreds of websites out there that are constantly looking for good material. Why shouldn’t it be from you?
You will have to pitch ideas to various editors; they won’t be handed to you. Find out the name of the editor of the department you want to work for, and shoot them an email. Link them to some of you work and give them a full-fledged picture of what you want to write. If the bait is good, they’ll bite. And that’s money in your pocket and possibly a byline for your name.
Keep up your digital presence. Being a reporter anymore does not mean just writing. It means having a website, designing your blog, making videos, and being present on online. You’re not just a writer, you’re your own brand. This is you making yourself a full-fledged force in the journalism community. It seems silly, but put effort into getting a following on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and all those other trendy websites that show the world how popular you are. The wider your digital presence, the more you will be taken seriously.
Dabble in editing and other related duties, too. To round out your skillset, it’s a good idea to do a bit of everything. It’s not detracting from the job you want, it’s ensuring you’ll get it and keep it later. If an opportunity arises that involves photo, video, copy editing, marketing, or broadcasting, go for it. You’re just making yourself more valuable to the organization you’re working for now and any organization you’ll work for in the future.
At certain jobs, this will be requested of you. Many journalists find themselves in one department and end up helping out their coworkers in others. You could get asked to do a radio interview, fill in for a TV broadcaster, or edit some footage for a friend who’s running behind. They’re great opportunities to improve your skills.
Land a job at a newspaper, magazine, radio or TV station. Now’s the moment: you’re officially a tried-and-true reporter. Even if it’s for a town of 3,000 people, you’re still a reporter. Now you get to sit back, drink your coffee at 10 o’clock at night, and shuffle around hysterically trying to meet that deadline. Ah, the dream.
A good reporter has three kinds of source material: by researching the written record, interviewing those involved, and observing the events at hand. When at all possible, have all these sources available to make your news engaging and full of vivid detail.
Relocate to a larger market. The most gigs are in concentrated, large urban areas. That means the easiest way to get the job of your dreams is to be in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, London, Paris, or any other mecca of art and entertainment. While it’s a good idea to start out small, know that you’ll probably have to relocate at some point to truly do what you envision yourself doing.
Some people do choose to start in these larger markets, and sometimes it works for them. If you have the money and the means, it’s worth giving a shot – just know you’re starting out against some of the fiercest competition in the world.
Work your way up. The more and more experience you get, the wider and wider your reputation, and the bigger and more impressive your portfolio, the more and more doors will open for you. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your career. But with time, it will bloom.
That is, it will bloom if you’re constantly looking for opportunities. Always keep your eyes peeled for the next big story and for the next big story for you. Doors don’t open themselves, you know. Opportunities have to be created.
Honing Your Skills
Know how to get a good interview. One time, Vivienne Leigh (the star of Gone with the Wind) was asked in an interview, “Sooo…what part are you playing?” Needless to say, the interview ended there. To get a good interview, there’s work involved beforehand. Here are some basics:
Research the person you’re interviewing. Know what you’re interviewing them about, their interests, and even how this lines up with yours.
Dress for the occasion. If you’re just meeting for coffee on a Monday morning, you can be casual. Dress how you think they’ll be dressing.
Make conversation. Don’t bust out your pad and paper immediately. Be friendly and casual. This way you’ll get to their true personality, not some papered version of them.
Constantly improve your writing. This doesn’t only mean your writing should get better and better (though it should), it also means your writing should get more and more adaptable. Imagine if the writers for Saturday Night Live wrote the New York Times. Different platforms require different skills. Yours should be as varied.
This means when there’s an opening in the broadcasting department of a local TV station, you’re on it, because you’ve got the writing skills. But when there’s a position coming available as an editor of a local magazine, you can do that, too. Most people can’t.
Get comfortable with all aspects of reporting. It’s well into the 21st century now – reporters aren’t just writing: they’re tweeting, blogging, making videos, and going on air. They’re maintaining a news presence 24/7 and always reading what others are writing, too. To stay viable, it’s necessary. Devote your “free time” to these ideas to fully immerse yourself in the world of journalism.
Establish relationships with others in the business. Just as with any industry, a lot of the time it’s about who you know, not what you know. With each job you take (even if it’s sorting mail), take advantage of the relationships you have there. Get to know people. Make friends. Your career may depend on them later.
A large part of this industry is truly about being relate-able and friendly. You have to be friendly to make connections, friendly with interviews, and relate-able on TV and through the written word. In short, people have to like you. Which brings us to…
Having the Personality
Get a rush from crazy hours and a crazy schedule. Often being a reporter doesn’t mean your boss determines your hours, the news determines your hours. When a big story breaks, you’ve got to be on it. Time is of the essence and it can be rapid-fire. If this type of thing thrills you, you’re perfect for the job.
Your schedule over time will be a little wacky, too. You’ll end up working over holidays, weekends, in the middle of the night – and then sometimes there will be slumps where it feels like nothing is going on. This is just how it is. There isn’t anything quite like it.
Handle the limelight (and the criticism) with grace. Whenever your name gets put into a print and something is associated with it, someone is likely to get in an uproar about it. Whether it’s good publicity or bad publicity, it’s important to stay well-grounded, down-to-earth, and positive. With time, it’ll just brush off your shoulders.
The Internet is the world’s greatest platform for negative comments. It’s important to realize that everyone has different opinions and not everyone is going to agree with you. Take others’ words with a grain of salt. If your company likes your work, you’re probably okay.
Develop ways to cope with stress. In a recent report, “journalist” was the “worst career” one could choose. Why’s that? Well, considering how much stress you’re under, it does not pay well enough. There likely won’t be six figures on that paycheck of yours to justify the insane schedule and the negative criticism, so you’ll have to develop ways to cope. If it’s your dream, it’s worth it.
Be sure to always be conscious of your stress levels. If you feel it building up, add yoga, meditation, or even a night devoted to a glass of wine and a good book to your routine. If you’re stressed, your work life and your home life will suffer, so it’s best avoided.
Know how you come off. Especially if you’re on TV, though also if you’re in print, it’s incredibly important to know how you’re viewed. This can change what you say, how you say it, and, in the end, make you a more successful journalist.
Ideally, you’re aiming for straightforward, likeable, and articulate, amongst other positive qualities. And the only way to work on your weak spots is if you know what they are. The more self-awareness you have, the easier it will be to tweak your performance.
Be courageous, relentless, and open-minded. It takes a very specific kind of person to be a great journalist. It’s hard work and most people aren’t cut out for it. Here are just a few qualities a successful journalist has – do you have them, too?
They are courageous. They need to seek out a story, taking risks with interviews and publishing their name to a piece they know not everyone will like.
They are relentless. A story doesn’t develop on it’s own. They often do months of research just for one idea.
They are open-minded. A good news story comes from an angle that hasn’t been explored. To see that angle, they think outside of the box.
If you’re a student, school newspapers are a great chance to see if you’d really like this job.
Don’t think it’ll take a day to become a reporter; it takes patience and hard work.
Reporters always say the truth. Don’t lie or cheat in your articles; you could even face legal consequences.
Don’t badger people to interview them just because you want to realize your dream!
Sources & Citations
How to Write a Newspaper
How to Become the Gossip Columnist for a Local Newspaper
How to Write a Newspaper Column
How to Become a Radio Reporter
How to Read and Speak Like a TV News Reporter
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