Being a journalist is a wonderful career. I have been one ever since I was 15 years old. That’s when I first started writing for my local town newspaper during high school. But being a journalist is also a job that can lead to burnout. You’re seeing history unfold, which can be fascinating yet stressful. Here are a few key things to know about how to become a journalist if you’re interested in the profession.
You need to be OK with not having a set routine in your day to day life. This point is important because some people really like setting plans and knowing what their days will be like in advance. As a journalist, you’ll have to be extremely flexible and be able to adapt to a constantly changing schedule. Your story may change, you may have to hop on a plane last minute, you might need to run across town. It can be thrilling, and many people like having a job that is always different, but it’s good to know beforehand.
Keep in mind, this isn’t a reality for all journalists. You can find a steady 9-5 job too, but many positions in journalism are odd hours, weekends and holidays. Each position and opportunity will have its pros and cons.
Fully understanding the information you report and making sure it is accurate is one of the most important parts of the job. There will be times you’re frustrated you can’t find the information, or you may need to be patient when looking for it. You may need to ask the same question multiple times or feel a bit silly when asking something you think you should already know. But go into every story like it’s new. You may even let your source know you plan to ask questions that you think you already know the answer to, but that you want to do your due diligence reporting the information.
Also, advice for written work – if someone edits your piece and hands it back to you, try reading it from the bottom to the top. This will help you double-check for mistakes the editor could have made too. When it comes to videos I recommend rewatching it multiple times before you finish it.
be on time
Meeting deadlines is a big part of journalism. You can practice this in advance either in school or on your own time. Set deadlines for yourself and make sure you meet those goals.
Missing a deadline and delivering inaccurate information are two of the worst things you can do as a journalist.
know the story
Don’t just fact check your work, make sure others can digest the information. Try telling the story in a sentence. Then trying telling it to a friend in a sentence or a few sentences. Do they get the idea. Does it cover the who, what, when, where, why, how? Can you explain why you’re telling this story right now? Always try to have a peg (an element of timeliness, why is it relevant).
Something else to consider here is people. Do you have everyone the piece needs to give it perspective, balance and a full understanding of the facts at hand.
Would you read or watch your story?
read and watch the news
Create habits to stay informed. Knowing the news and staying on top of things is essential. Good timing can be everything when it comes to a story. If you get a scoop or an exclusive story, you’ll want to be careful to protect your information before you publish or air it.
Also follow what stories get covered by different outlets along with how they’re covered. I have experience working for a number of media companies which has helped me in my career. Often, my students (I teach at USC) ask me things about the workplace and my usual answer is: It depends where you work. Then I give them different examples from my personal experience.
Finding a good mentor can be very helpful in this career. Having someone to guide you or to bounce your ideas off is great. Perhaps it’s a former teacher or someone you meet in the workplace. If you don’t have one now, that’s OK. Just keep an eye out as you meet people in the media world.
When you do start working and gaining experience, don’t be afraid to ask questions. As a young intern I asked where the term “broll” comes from and no one I was with at that moment could answer. Although I felt silly for the question at first, I was glad I asked because it goes to show even though people use terms often, they sometimes overlook things that you may find worth knowing.
stay on top of tech and social media
Try to stay on top of the latest platforms and technology. Newsrooms are always using new tools to engage their audience. If you understand these tools and know how to use them, it could be a big advantage for you when it comes to securing a job.
Network as much as you can
Meeting people is key to not only getting jobs and working in the media world, but to also telling your stories! The more connections you make, the more stories you’ll have to tell.
And be open to meeting new people. I’ve gotten some of my best stories just from chatting with someone at a yoga retreat or on an airplane.
Master these things and you will be gaining the skills you need. If you have other questions on how to become a journalist then comment below or find me on social media!