Your Guide To Becoming A Journalist
Journalism as an industry is now easier to get into than ever. With the world as it is, it’s never been more important for those who seek to share stories to do so in a truthful and informative manner. Journalistic freedom is suffering in the current global and political landscape. The need for impartial news has never been more vital and journalists are at the forefront of reporting to help preserve honest media.
With a rise in people looking for a career in journalism, the industry has never been more competitive. While becoming a professional journalist may seem difficult, it is far from impossible!
Whether you are looking to write within a certain specialism or writing for your dream publication, you will need to build your reputation as a journalist to find an opportunity for yourself. In this article, we want to provide some practical tips for you to begin your journey as a journalist, the current state of the industry as well as the day to day responsibilities you can expect from a role in journalism.
Understand Your Skills
Journalism can be an inherently stressful job so understanding the skills required is essential to finding a role that you are well suited for. The skills and experience required will always differ from role to role, however, your typical day-to-day responsibilities will include:
- Finding new ideas and approaches for your stories
- Carrying out or transcribing interviews that you conduct
- Chasing up leads that you have sourced or that have been given to you, industry networking as well as attending press conferences or media days
- Planning and composing new content to submit to your editor
- Consulting with other writers on their stories, helping them with their publications
Different roles will entail different requirements especially if you are looking at specializing within a particular sector. Journalism as an industry varies massively between different jobs so it’s important to understand the different skill sets required. For example, a tabloid journalist would require a different set of skills than a photojournalist.
Regardless of what type of role you’re looking at specializing in, there is one quality that is essential to everyone. Resilience is vital since you will most likely be trying to find work with smaller publications that are looking to work with freelancers. Understanding that you will be working from the ground up is vital.
Understand What A Journalist Does
Understanding what a journalist does may seem like a moot point to raise. Everyone knows that journalism is just writing articles, right? This is the general consensus however it is far from the truth. There are aspects of the job that most wouldn’t even recognize as a trait that’s specific to journalism. A lot of people would assume that journalists are independent but in general, working as part of a team is a huge part of the role. Whether that’s helping other writers with their publications or receiving guidance on your own, teamwork is vital.
This ties into another aspect of the job. Journalism is an industry based on relationships. A lot of the time, you’ll be working with colleagues, contacts, and leads that will push you further in your career. Knowing people will always be a positive no matter how you look at it, as long as you maintain a good relationship with those that can help you. Whether that’s finding information from a credible source to being introduced to the right people for an opportunity, maintaining a good relationship with your classmates, colleagues, bosses, sources, and subjects will make you better at your job.
Another thing you will have to consider is that freelancing is often something people have to resort to, since permanent positions are becoming harder to come by. Established publications are revered so the competition will be high, and you have to be content with the fact that your job sustainability will be directly affected by your skill level, proactivity, and the network you have around you.
Another aspect to consider is work schedules are very fluid. Journalism is known for its long grueling hours since deadlines are constant however this does work to people’s advantage depending on how they like to work.
These points mentioned above may all seem like a negative, however, there are always less desirable aspects when it comes to any job. Journalism gets a lot of flack however it still manages to stay popular since it provides people with an empowering experience where they can make a difference to the circles they find themselves in.
Understand The Risks
Acknowledging the risks of journalism is something all budding journalists should understand since the repercussions of brash or rushed decisions can land you in hard situations. Writers of all specialties are open to a unique set of risks. American journalist Yashar Ali’s was served with a court case issued from Fox News host Eric Bolling seeking $50 million in damages.
This may seem like an extreme example, however, journalists in all facets of the industry will be pressing the boundaries regardless of their specialisms. Even accidentally reporting incorrect information can leave you vulnerable to a liability claim.
Not all freelancers are as fortunate as Yashar Ali, as the claim played out in his favor as legal backing allowed him to stick to his story.
Since legal claims can be a part and parcel of the trade, what can independent writers do to protect themselves? Specialist writing indemnity insurance may be one of the best options. Whilst it’s unlikely that a local news journalist will be running into situations as Yashar Ali did, it’s always good to be prepared and protected.
Other risks with the job can include a lot of stress since managing a consistent schedule of paid work can be difficult if you aren’t used to it. You may also have to worry about running out of work if you are freelancing for long periods as opportunities may run dry.
Pay may also be something to consider if you’re thinking of taking a placement since you’ll be entering the industry at a low level. This is common however especially if you aren’t fortunate enough to know someone who already works for a publication.
These risks may be taken as a huge negative however it’s important to note that these are all based on worst-case scenarios. Risks will differ from job to job so it’s important to keep these in mind but not let them dictate your choices.
Create A Portfolio
Now that some of the less desirable aspects have been considered, we can cover some of the steps to take to be proactive in finding opportunities. Creating a portfolio is vital to show your range of work and what you’re capable of to potential employers. You’ll need more than qualifications to stand out from the crowd.
You should consider including all of your published work, or pieces that you’re currently working on that are suitable for the publication you’re trying to win work from. Even blogs you’ve started can qualify for presentable work since any written median is worth showing. Think about any written work that is worth presenting.
Having a presence is hugely important since you want to be seen as proactive within the industry even if you aren’t currently working for anyone. If you are taking your first steps into journalism, think about starting your own blog, page, or social media account. This is a great starting point if you’ve not already set up some form of an online presence.
Create A Network
As we’ve mentioned previously, journalism is an industry that is based on relationships. Relationships are often built within networks no matter how big or small they are. If you are looking at expanding your reach and building upon your network, think about your presence online and who you can connect with. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are great platforms for not only sharing your content but connecting others that you can build a rapport.
You can also consider local events like business networking as these can always lead to interesting leads that you can follow up. Meeting people in the industry is a great way to start building relationships as you never know what could come from just speaking to others. Another bonus is that stories can manifest from seemingly benign situations so networking is a great opportunity.
Another way you could build relationships is by outreaching to writers, journalists, and contributors that you follow and ask them for advice. Flattery won’t go amiss in this industry and people will always be receptive to those that they help to influence and inspire. Social media is a great way to connect to people of this caliber as you have the ability to start a conversation with someone with nothing more than a direct message.
Make It Before You Relocate
The last thing you should consider when it comes to a career in journalism is relocating. Whilst it may seem beneficial for those that don’t live in a huge city like London or New York, you have to realize that relocating won’t give you opportunities on its own. Think about how you’re set up and the opportunities you already have since a location change in itself won’t give you a better chance at winning work from revered publications.
The nature of journalism means that contributing to publications can be done remotely. If you let your work speak for itself rather than focusing on other aspects of the industry, you may place yourself in a better position than you would be by relocating just on the chance of getting better work.
If you do spot genuine opportunities in a larger city then you could compromise and travel to those cities when the opportunities arise. This way, you’re only taking shots on chances that are likely to result in work.