Becoming a Journalist: A Career in Journalism

Establishing a career in journalism begins with studying the profession in college, along with professional experience prior to entering the workforce.

Most employers hiring college graduates, regardless of the profession, seek individuals who have education relevant to the position for which they are applying. Applicants who have some experience working as an intern are even more desirable.

However, landing that first job is even more challenging for journalists. While college graduates who have studied engineering or accounting can provide references, potential employers are seeking more from journalists. In short, journalism is a profession that demands job seekers are able to provide samples of their work so interviewers can determine their qualifications.

Accumulating samples of work comes through securing internships with newspapers during college. But before that occurs, students first have to establish themselves. Students who do not take their studies seriously have little chance of being offered internships by major newspapers.

As with any other discipline, earning respect as a journalism student begins with serious study. It is not enough to score well on examinations given in journalism classes. Students also have to demonstrate they know how to produce well-written “mock” stories that are included in the final grade for most journalism classes.

Students who excel in journalism classes not only create sample stories they can present to newspapers when seeking internships, they also earn the respect of their instructors. These instructors can subsequently be used as references in seeking internships, in addition to full-time professional jobs. Most journalism instructors are former journalists who can recognize and vouch for students who possess the right talents to succeed in the profession.

Journalism students can also prepare themselves in other ways:

Studying newspapers. Just as someone can’t learn about a profession until they have actually worked in it, students can learn only so little about writing styles through college textbooks. Students who really want to learn about journalism would do well to read newspapers consistently from cover to cover to analyze the styles of different writers. In addition, students who hope to work in specialty areas of journalism such as entertainment, sports, commentary, etc. should focus on what makes for quality articles in these sections of newspapers.

Accompany reporters. Observing reporters as they cover government meetings, press conferences, or go about checking their daily beats is another way journalism students can learn about the profession. It is one thing for a student to read journalist’s stories. Accompanying them to events, along with observing what questions they ask and then reading how they summarize it provides students with knowledge of how journalists work.

Interview reporters about their jobs. If reporters are not able to allow students to accompany them when covering stories, and even if they are, students can learn a lot by asking them about their profession. Questions students should consider asking journalists include, but are not limited to:

  1. What advice would they offer to journalism students?
  2. What did they not learn in college that they wish they had?
  3. What is the most challenging aspect of their job?
  4. What brings them the greatest satisfaction? What brings them the greatest frustration?

Journalism students who prove they are serious and ambitious by following the suggestions mentioned above are ideal candidates for internships with newspapers. Internships can provide students with samples of their work when seeking employment after college. And successful internships may also lead to full-time employment with newspapers where students have interned.

Another consideration for journalism students is that while desired, clips do not necessarily have to come from daily newspapers. Students can show themselves to be talented reporters through work that has run in the college paper, weeklies, and other publications. Presenting this places job seekers ahead of applicants who have nothing to show.

Diversity is also important. Prospective journalists who can demonstrate they have covered stories in different areas such as news, business, entertainment, sports, etc. qualify themselves for more positions with a newspaper, as opposed to someone who has only covered news. Editors are more likely to hire someone who has a variety of clips because it proves they are qualified to cover different subjects. Thus, journalism graduates who have never covered sports, but have written numerous articles on news, business, religion, etc. might still be considered as a sports writer because their experience indicates they most likely can write about any subject.

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