Do you enjoy investigating stories and reporting your findings? If so, a career in journalism might be the right option for you. There are many different career opportunities that you can pursue after earning a professional writing degree, from writing for newspapers to presenting your stories on television. However, it is important to know what else to expect if you want to begin the process of how to become a journalist.
In This Article:
- What Does a Journalist Do?
- What Does It Take To Be a Journalist?
- First Steps To Becoming a Journalist
What Does a Journalist Do?
The first step toward becoming a journalist is to know the answer to the question, What does a journalist do? It is common knowledge that journalists typically work for newspapers. However, they are also employed by magazines. There are also broadcast journalists, who work for TV and radio stations, and many others write primarily for a digital audience via online publications.
The specific job responsibilities will depend on the employer. In addition, many journalists specialize in an area of interest. For example, a local newspaper may hire a sports journalist to cover the local high school and college sports beat. Others might specialize in politics or lifestyle pieces. Lastly, some focus on an industry and may work for a publication that narrowly focuses on that industry.
This job can vary considerably depending on the industry the journalist writes for and their assigned beat. However, the main responsibilities can include any of the following:
- Developing and investigating new story ideas, and pitching them to the editor
- Tracking down and interviewing sources to acquire facts, opinions, analysis and usable quotes
- Fact-checking information acquired from interviewees or handing over this task to a professional fact-checker
- Writing articles for publication or writing scripts to be read on air
So, what does it take to be a journalist? The job of a journalist usually requires more than interviewing one or two sources to acquire a certain perspective for an article. It necessitates evaluating a topic from multiple perspectives to provide a comprehensive overview. In addition, while developing a story, journalists will consider ways of providing context to enhance the audience’s understanding.
As a fictitious example, suppose that Joan is researching a story about traffic safety. Her first source states that traffic fatalities in the region reached 350 last year. Joan would then need to do additional research to determine if that figure is greater than in previous years. Joan would also interview sources who could provide insights as to the reasons for an increasing or declining trend. This provides context that fully explores the story.
What Does It Take To Be a Journalist?
All journalists need certain skills and characteristics to be successful in this field. This set of skills can be acquired through a professional writing or other relevant degree as well as on-the-job training. They include the following:1
- Digital literacy
- Logical reasoning
- Persistence and determination
- Investigative reporting
In addition, it is helpful for journalism professionals to cultivate a thick skin. Sometimes, an article may touch a nerve among the audience, and journalists must be prepared to accept that not everyone will appreciate their research and reporting efforts. However, reporting the truth is its own reward.
All responsible, ethical journalists must abide by a professional code of ethics. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is the professional organization that has established this code of ethics. This code recognizes that the accurate, fair and unencumbered reporting of the truth is essential in a free democracy. To that end, the SPJ urges its members to abide by a set of ethical standards. A few of them are as follows:2
- Verify all information, using original sources when possible
- Prioritize accuracy, being sure to provide context to prevent misrepresentation
- Identify sources whenever possible but grant anonymity to sources who face possible harm and have otherwise unattainable information
- Contact the subjects of articles to allow them to respond to any allegations
- Strive to provide a voice to the marginalized and to diverse populations
- Avoid distorting the facts or their context
In addition, the SPJ code states that journalists have a special responsibility to serve as government watchdogs. It is their duty to ensure that the public has access to information about public affairs. In other words, they owe a duty to the public to expose acts of wrongdoing and corruption. Above all, the SPJ states that journalists should adhere to these principles:2
- Seek and report on the truth
- Strive to minimize harm
- Remain independent
- Be both accountable and transparent
First Steps To Becoming a Journalist
Now that you know the answer to What does it take to be a journalist, you may find it helpful to know the steps to take for this career path.
It is generally necessary to hold a bachelor’s degree in order to become a journalist. However, the term “journalism degree” might refer to many different degree programs. For example, some journalists major in English. However, it is possible to become a journalist with another type of degree, such as broadcasting, public relations and advertising, or even media arts.3 This is particularly true if you plan to specialize your major. In general, an English or communications degree is a great option for an aspiring journalist.
Start To Build Your Journalism Skills in High School
It is never too early to start taking steps toward becoming a journalist. If you are still in high school, look for courses that can help you get a good start. You will likely have to take English and social studies courses while in high school. These can help you build a great foundation in journalism skills.
If you have the option, try to take additional language arts electives to enhance your skills. Find out whether your school has a newspaper, blog or any other form of news reporting that you can participate in. This type of experience can provide invaluable insight that will help you on your path toward becoming a journalist.
Practice Writing Whenever You Can
Working for your school’s newspaper is an excellent way to practice your writing skills and learn about diverse types of content. If your school does not have a paper, or if you are not able to write for it, then it is important to look for other opportunities to improve your writing skills and build your portfolio. You can look for writing prompts online for inspiration. You might also consider starting your own blog.
You can even seek out submission opportunities to gain professional writing experience. The more experience you have with writing different types of content, the more prepared you can be to take on writing and journalism courses in college.
Get a Bachelor’s Degree
After high school, earning a bachelor’s degree is the next step to becoming a journalist. Various degree programs can help you gain the skills you need. Many students choose language and communications degree programs that have a strong emphasis on writing. These programs can help you improve your writing, research and reporting skills.
Look for Networking Opportunities
During your time in college, you will want to take advantage of any networking opportunities that may come your way. This is beneficial for meeting professionals in the journalism field and building relationships that can help you meet your professional goals. You can try to reach out to local journalists to see whether you can interview them or if they are interested in sharing any tips with you. Connections are vital to finding career opportunities in journalism.
Land a Journalism Internship
Journalism internships can give you work experience in the industry as well as sharpened communication skills that can help get you closer to becoming a journalist. Look for internship opportunities with:4
- Local news stations
- Other media outlets, such as social media
As a journalism intern, you may be responsible for developing and fact-checking stories. These opportunities can also help you build relationships that can lead to job opportunities.
Apply for Journalism Jobs
Internships can help you learn about different types of journalism, which will allow you to determine what types of jobs you want to pursue. You will need to decide whether you want to get a job in print media, online journalism or broadcast journalism. After that, you can start looking for career opportunities. When applying to job openings, list your education, internships and any other relevant experience.
If you’re eager to become a journalist, consider enrolling at Grand Canyon University. Our Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing for New Media degree program is designed to prepare students for a career in many fields, including journalism. You can learn more about becoming a journalist through the College of Humanities and Social Sciences by completing the form on this page.
1 Indeed Career Guide. (2023, January 26). Journalist Skills: Definition and Examples. Retrieved on May 15, 2023.
2 SPJ. (2014, September 6). SPJ Code of Ethics. Society of Professional Journalists. Retrieved May 2, 2023.
3 College Consensus. (n.d.). 10 Best Degrees for Journalism. Retrieved on May 15, 2023.
4 WayUp Experts. (n.d.). Types of Internships for Journalism Majors. Retrieved on May 15, 2023.
Approved by the assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on June 6, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.