Behind the Scenes: Outlining Your Future as a Journalist

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Respected Journalist is a writer's dream job, and it's never been more exciting than in today's global arena. Here's how to get started.

Journalism is more of a calling than a career choice.

While there are some very important aspects of being a journalist that can be taught, the majority of the skills needed to be a great journalist are fundamental components of personality.

You can learn to be a better writer, to have clearer diction, and to cultivate sources.

You cannot be taught curiosity, integrity, tenacity, resourcefulness, or the sheer joy of exploration.

Great writing is art. It requires creative talent and technical skills. Successful journliasts love words and the beauty of a well crafted story. 

Career Outlook

Tenacity is essential for reasons other than researching story ideas and following through on an assignment. Current projections indicate a nine percent decline in the number of job openings in the field of journalism through 2024.

The median income is about $38,000, although larger media markets pay top reporters far more. The decrease in jobs and the relatively low median income is primarily due to the reduction in print publications, the consolidation of major media outlets, and the explosion of free media on the Internet.

And yet, online media is also where the future of journalism is headed, and where it will flourish. Traditional media sources are being forced to become more adaptive and to utilize the newest technology in order to stay relevant and maintain their customer base. NPR streams coverage live on Facebook, the BBC tweets, and the Washington Post chats live with readers. It may not be easy to find a job, but talented, imaginative writers are always in demand.

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Choosing the Right School

Finding the right school is the first step in the process of establishing yourself in the field of journalism. With the job market shrinking and the salary associated with new positions in the field not as lucrative as other industries (unless you become a superstar), it’s important that new students avoid extravagant student debt as they pursue their degree. If you're going to be a researcher by trade, start by thoroughly researching potential universities. Serve your own best interests from the start.

This is even more important for low-income students who may need to cover much of their college tuition with grants. When data from the Department of Education was reviewed, California State University-Stanislaus had superior rates of graduation and affordability.

Many institutions offer respected journalism degrees that won’t leave students with an enormous debt load after graduation, but it might take some effort to find the one that's right for you.

Classes and Extracurricular Activities

The core curriculum of any program is well mapped out. Electives, on the other hand, are wide open. This is where you have the opportunity to set yourself apart from other aspiring journalists. There are two ways to choose electives, broad or narrow.

If you want to be well rounded and able to write about a broad range of topics, you will need to select a wide range of electives. Politics, economics, health, world government, and business are all commonly covered by journalists, and having a strong understanding of various subjects will be invaluable when researching, interviewing and reporting.

Another effective way to select electives is to choose a niche and focus on it exclusively. If you want to report on finance; focus on accounting, business, and economic electives. Work to become an authority in your chosen industry.

Get involved in any media opportunities offered by your university. Hands on experience with the newspaper, radio, or video stations will be invaluable. Your other extracurricular activities also need to reflect your academic approach. If you have decided to get a broad education, choose several different groups.

If you're focusing on a niche, be sure to become active in that field. It will help to establish a rapport with people working in your chosen field, discover industry resources, and build contacts that you may be able to use in your reporting while at school and as you establish your career.

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Importance of Internships

Internships are an important component to a well-rounded educational experience for a number of reasons. Internships offer real world experience media outlets want, help students build industry connections, and help students learn what type of market they enjoy most.

Internships also help students polish their professional personas, a task many graduates find difficult to master. Working as an intern lets prospective employers know you're able to cope with a variety of challenges, situations, and assignments.

While most students think of internships as something to do during summer break, many internships are offered throughout the year. Year-round internships can give you more opportunities to make valuable contacts and work in different environments while you're still in school.

Professional Associations

The importance of joining journalism organizations and associations cannot be overstated. Journalism is all about connections and knowledge, and professional associations provide both. The types of organizations are as varied as the subjects covered by journalists, and most journalists belong to more than one.

To begin you might want to choose an organization that has broad appeal such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Online News Association, or the Society of Professional Journalists. From there you may want to join more targeted associations that are related to your personal experience or niche. Most member organizations offer free or low-cost student fees. 

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Build an Audience

Why wait to write? The web offers millions of publishing opportunities. Apply for a byline on a few respected publications and start building an audience. Write about industry topics or about your journey to journalism. Be very careful with your choice of syntax, your style, grammar, and subject matter.

What you put on the web is forever, and your future career may depend on what you choose to show the public today. It is never too early to build and protect your reputation. 

While finding a great job in journalism may not look easy, don't be discouraged. When you make your college experience all about your career by networking, making contacts, and focusing work, school, and social life on building your credibility as a journalist, you can graduate with far more than classes on your resume. 

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