Media & Marketing
Career insights: Become a Journalist
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Do you have a passion for seeking and sharing interesting stories? Do you enjoy writing and communicating big ideas to diverse audiences? Do you have a keen attention to detail and dedication to the truth? If you answered yes to these questions, you might just be the perfect future journalist.
Read ahead to learn more about this exciting, dynamic, and challenging career path. Do you have what it takes to be a journalist?
What is a Journalist?
A journalist is a writer and member of the press who reports on news stories, current events, and politics on an international, national and local level. Journalists can work for newspapers, magazines, and broadcast news organisations (such as TV news channels).
There are many different roles within newspaper journalism, including junior reporters, news editors, and sub-editors. Correspondents specialise in one specific field of study or location, while features journalists cover topics to a great depth and have a personal style.
What does a Journalist do?
At its core, the journalism profession is all about storytelling. In order to share the news in a compelling way, a journalist must be able to craft a story that communicates the facts in an impartial way and also engages the reader. Some journalists focus on hard-hitting investigative stories, while others specialise in entertainment, sport, politics, or human interest stories.
A journalist’s work is very important, as they are responsible for helping the public understand complex issues and news stories. Their articles can be the deciding factors in elections, court cases, and public opinion. That said, their job isn’t a ‘piece of cake.’ While an Op-Ed or other opinion pieces allows a journalist to express their biased points of view, most journalistic writing requires that the writer be as impartial – and as educated – as possible.
They have to dig deep into press releases, develop their story ideas, follow tips from the public, verify those facts, nurture relationships with sources, and interview subjects. Their long-form and in-depth stories can take months, or even years, to complete, and they must be meticulous in their research and fact checking in order to build and maintain a trusted professional reputation.
Some journalists work in the broadcast industry, and so they must also anchor a news programme or film their story for television. They could also be responsible for on the spot reporting, vox pop interviews, recording videos, and taking photographs for print and social media.
If you work as a journalist for a large news organisation, you will likely be able to specialise to a greater degree than if you work for a small town paper. Smaller newspapers require their journalists to multitask, pivoting between tasks and proficiencies. You might be required to help with layout, take photos, write stories, edit others’ stories, and promote stories on social media.
How much does a Journalist get paid?
Journalists get paid a wide array of salaries, depending on their experience, education level, skill, and success at uncovering interesting and important stories. In the UK, the highest average salaries for journalists are from the BBC, Trinity Mirror PLC, and Newsquest Media Group, all around £29,150 per annum. For large media corporations, Newsquest Media Group reports the lowest pay, at around £23,375 per annum.
Based on an average of 28 salaries, a journalist in an entry-level position (with less than 1 year of experience) makes an annual wage of £19,950. A little later in their career, with 1-4 years of experience, a journalist will usually make an average of £21,087 (based on 156 salaries).
After 5 to 9 years of experience, journalists in the middle of their careers make an £26,274 per annum, based on an average of 54 salaries. Based on an average of 54 salaries, a journalist with 10-19 years of experience will earn £34,478. As a journalist gains more than 20 years of experience and ends their career, they earn an average of £37,755 per year.
What skills do you need to become a Journalist?
In order to become a journalist for a living, you'll need the following skills:
- Fluency in the English language (or whichever language you plan to write in)
- A deep understanding of media communication and production
- Thorough attention to detail in all aspects of your work
- An ability to work under pressure and deliver on strict deadlines
- A willingness to take and implement criticism and make edits
- Exemplary written and verbal communication
- A passion for sharing information, and a desire to help others understand an issue
- A working knowledge of word processing, file sharing, photography, and prowess with hand held devices
Of course, if you choose to specialise in a specific field, such as economics, politics, fashion, or sport, you will also need specialised education in these areas. A full degree will not always be necessary, and at times you can ‘learn on the job.’ However, part of your job as a journalist is to be able to understand and explain complex issues and concepts.
What qualifications do you need to become a Journalist?
Journalists take many different routes into their career. However, the most common route is to undertake an undergraduate degree in journalism, or follow an undergrad degree in an unrelated or related topic with a postgraduate journalism qualification. You can obtain both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in many different areas of journalism, including broadcast journalism, magazine editing, newspaper journalism, and investigative reporting.
If you are planning to leverage your undergraduate or postgraduate education into a career in journalism, before you start studying, you need to ensure that the course you decide upon has an accreditation from the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). This is usually a necessity if you wish to work for a UK-based news organisation.
If you do not want to go the traditional university route to obtain your education, it is sometimes possible to undertake an apprenticeship, even with no qualifications in journalism. Alternatively, if you have a lot of experience writing for blogs and magazines, you can sometimes gain employment with newspapers or TV news departments. You should also consider taking online creative writing courses to build your skills at communicating complex ideas in an engaging way.
In summary, in order to gain employment as a journalist, you will usually need a degree in journalism (or a relevant field), and/or experience as a writer, and/or have undertaken an apprenticeship. You will also usually need 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C).
Who hires Journalists?
Journalists are usually hired by established reporters and editors at newspapers and magazines. Networking is an important skill in any field, and will help you to establish and maintain relationships with those in charge. You will sometimes find job postings listed by news organisations, but it is more common for journalists to be hired through networking.
If you admire a reporter or an editor at a news organisation, reach out to them directly and ask if they would be open to a brief chat. Be respectful of their time, briefly list your qualifications, and ask them for advice on how you can get started within their organisation.
How to become a Journalist
If you have read the above information and think that journalism is the right career for you, you can begin to take the necessary steps to achieve your goals. These steps have been designed to help you get on the right track towards gaining the qualifications you need to start your career in journalism.
- Begin by thinking carefully about whether journalism is the right career path for you. This is an intense and exciting career, and it is not for everyone. You must have attention to detail, a desire to uncover the truth, and a willingness to ask difficult questions. Sound good?
- It’s time to start working towards the education necessary to get into a degree programme in journalism. Do have the required GCSEs and A levels? Or will you attempt to go the apprenticeship route? If you answered the latter, you’ll need to start reaching out and networking.
- Have you considered any specialisations or areas that interest you the most? If you plan to report on politics, economics, or sport, you will need to study these topics to a high level of expertise.
- Start approaching networking connections or educational departments in order to start finding out about specific requirements for the programmes you are most interested in. Enrol in the required courses.
- Now that you have the right qualifications, you will need to find a job as a journalist. It is not uncommon to be expected to undertake an unpaid internship to get a footing in the industry – do you have the funds or ability to do so? If not, you will need to look for explicitly paid work.
- As a journalist in your first position, it is time to start building a strong reputation for meticulous reporting. Your reputation is deeply important in the field of journalism, and so you need to obtain letters of recommendation and referrals whenever possible.
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