Political Columnist: Job Description and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a political columnist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and recommended skills to find out if this is the career for you.

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There are no set education requirements for political columnists, but it's recommended that these writers earn a bachelor's degree in journalism, English, or political science. While there is no specific program for political columnists, a combination of writing skills and in-depth knowledge of the political process is imperative to succeed as a political columnist.

Essential Information

A political columnist specializes in writing editorial articles that focus on government, the political process, electoral campaigns and candidates. A political columnist's well-reasoned arguments and insightful observations help shape debate on important public issues. Like with all journalistic careers, political columnists are increasingly turning to blogs and other online publications. Most of these writers have earned a bachelor's degree.

Required Education A bachelor's degree in journalism, English, or political science is typically expected
Other Requirements Deep knowledge of political processes
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -8% (for all reporters and correspondents)
Median Salary (2015)* $36,360 (for all reporters and correspondents)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Political Columnist

Political columnists write for individual newspapers, magazines and websites. A columnist may be directly employed by a news organization or work as a freelance writer. Columnists who work as freelancers may attempt to find work on their own, or they may be represented by a syndicate, which markets their articles to media companies. Unlike journalists, who write objective accounts of news events, columnists approach their subjects with a particular point of view. The columns are written to influence decision-makers and the general public and to advance a public policy agenda.

A political columnist must have expert knowledge about the subject matter. Prior to composing the column, the author does extensive research, including face-to-face or phone interviews with sources. The columnist must keep up to date with current events and have a keen understanding of historical trends and how the American system of government functions. The political columnist's goal is to consistently craft readable and thought-provoking prose on a regular basis.

Requirements of a Political Columnist

There is no specific degree or professional certification required to become a political columnist. A bachelor's degree in English, communications or journalism is recommended for anyone who aspires to a career in journalism. Some colleges and universities with accredited degree programs in journalism offer courses in column and opinion writing. Some political columnists have degrees in political science, sociology, history or economics.

A distinguished career in journalism, with expertise in writing about politics and government, is one career path for becoming a political columnist, but news organizations may also appoint recognized political experts who have a background in campaign management or elective office or political scientists who have taught on college campuses.

Many political columnists treat politics as not only a professional interest, but a passion. They immerse themselves totally in the mechanics of campaigning and governing, and use their knowledge to craft thoughtful opinion pieces. A political columnist must be an outstanding writer able to produce flawless copy that is both informative and provocative.

Political columnists must be proficient in the use of computer software programs. Because political columnists must travel to report on political campaigns and the activities of public figures, much of their work is written and transmitted to editors via electronic mail.

Because of dramatic changes in the news industry, such as print mergers and the proliferation of media websites, a columnist must be flexible in assessing career opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects an overall decline in employment of 8% for all reporters and correspondents from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The best opportunities for advancement as a political columnist exist at smaller print organizations and at new online magazines.

Political columnists produce articles for newspapers, magazines and websites. They present an assessment of political events or policy from their perspective. Columnists are not intended to present a neutral analysis, but rather to influence public perception of political issues, politicians, and policies.

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