Becoming a Journalist: College and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a journalist. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in the journalism field.

Should I Become a Journalist?

Journalists gather information about newsworthy happenings and report on those events for radio or television stations, newspapers, and magazines, as well as on the Internet. In addition to writing and editing skills, today's journalists may be required to tailor their news reporting to digital media using visual, written, and verbal methods to tell their stories. Since so many news organizations have both mobile and online presences, journalists are often required to ensure their articles include up-to-the-minute reports on the latest story developments, making this a potentially stressful and competitive profession.

Given the ever-increasing global accessibility of information, many aspiring journalists have also turned to independent reporting methods. Moreover, today's journalists look for ways to express their creative chops and write about topics that they're personally interested in. Some agencies, such as the Guardian, allow journalists or even regular citizens to submit articles in their opinion section.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field(s) Journalism, communications, or a related field
Experience Minimum 1-2 years of experience
Key Skills Writing, communication, visual communication, social perceptiveness, problem-solving skills; proficiency with video and picture editing software, web site design and editing software, digital cameras and video equipment
Salary (2014) $36,000 (median salary for reporters and correspondents)

Sources: job postings (August 2012), O*Net OnLine, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Start Writing in High School

Students who want to be journalists should select coursework that offers training in writing, photography, videography, multimedia, and computers. Aspiring journalists should also participate in school publications like the yearbook or newspaper. Developing journalism-related skills may improve their likelihood of being accepting into an undergraduate journalism degree program after graduation.

Step 2: Obtain a Degree

Today's journalists are expected to do more than write news stories, and journalism degree programs have embraced the digital and multimedia character of news reporting utilized by today's media. Most employers prefer their journalists to have a bachelor's degree in communication, broadcasting, or journalism-related fields. Courses offered generally cover topics like writing and editing, communication, visual journalism, reporting, law, and ethics.

Success Tip

  • Develop a broad skill set. Journalists are often required to design the entire news story for print or broadcast and for inclusion on mobile devices, social media, and web sites. In order to prepare for this job's requirements, students should be sure to take courses in visual reporting, web site design, and social media formats.

Step 3: Build a Portfolio

Employers may request applicants to submit clips of their work along with a resume and job application. Journalism degree programs can offer students the opportunity to populate their portfolio with samples of articles they have written or produced. The portfolio contains samples of the journalists' best work, showcasing their news and visual storytelling skills, as well as a proficiency in the technology used to publish news articles.

Step 4: Gain Experience

Most employers prefer applicants who have experience in the media used by the news organization. Certain aspects of all media are merging into the digital online format, with many television and radio stations and newspapers all having web sites that display the latest developments in their online and mobile news reports. Some news reporting publications are strictly online.

As a result, much of a journalist's job experience may be interchangeable between reporting formats. Students can obtain experience by working on school publications and serving internships as part of their graduation requirements. They can also write on a freelance basis for newspapers, magazines, and web sites, earning a contract fee and gaining valuable experience at the same time.

Success Tip:

  • Hone your multimedia skills. By gaining experience with the multiple methods of news reporting, a young journalist can advance their career and increase their marketability to employers. Some schools, such as University of Chicago, have 'career advancement' programs built into their education system, which allow students to gain real-life experience in a multitude of mediums through workshops, one-on-one advising, and internships. Such opportunities will allow an aspiring journalist to develop a repertoire of skills and a strong level of comfort on different reporting platforms.
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