What Does a Journalist Do?

broadcast journalists hold microphones in front of a business man conducting a press conference interview

If you have a passion for the written word and an interest in current events, you might consider pursuing a career in journalism. The job of a journalist is to uncover the truth and report it in an objective, neutral way to the public. Although journalist must always strive to report the facts objectively, their work can often be entertaining and inspiring, as well as informational. For those who enjoy research and writing, journalism can be a highly fulfilling career.

The Main Responsibilities of Journalists

It is common knowledge that journalists typically work for newspapers. However, they are also employed by magazines. Broadcast journalists work for TV and radio stations and many write primarily for a digital audience via online publications.

The specific job responsibilities will depend on the employer. In addition, many specialize in an area. 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 new story ideas, investigating them and pitching the stories 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

The job of a journalist usually requires more than simply 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, they will consider ways of providing context to enhance the understanding of the audience.

As a fictitious example, say 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.

The Journalism Code of Ethics

All responsible, ethical journalists 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:

  • 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 the distortion of 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:

  • Seek and report on the truth
  • Strive to minimize harm
  • Remain independent
  • Be both accountable and transparent

The Essential Skills of Accomplished Journalists

All need certain skills and characteristics to be successful in this field. This set of skills can be acquired through a journalism degree as well as on-the-job training. They include the following:

  • Communication
  • Digital literacy
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Persistence and determination
  • Shorthand notetaking
  • Research

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 the fact that not everyone will appreciate their research and reporting efforts. However, for professionals, reporting the truth is its own reward.

Academic Qualifications

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, many journalists major in English. However, it is possible to become a journalist with another type of “content-focused” degree, such as political science, foreign relations or even economics. This is particularly true if the individual plans to specialize in the area of their major. For example, an economics major might plan to specialize in financial reporting. In general, an English degree is always a safe bet for an aspiring journalist.

If you’re passionate about pursuing a career in journalism, you can earn your journalism degree online at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Arts in English with an Emphasis in Professional Writing degree program instills foundational knowledge and skills, enabling graduates to confidently pursue their career goals. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn more about joining our dynamic learning community.

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.

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