Becoming a Journalist (Important Steps)

Direct Knowlege Contributor Taylor Bauer
  • By Taylor Bauer, Technical Writer & Digital Marketing Expert
  • Taylor is a writer and SEO manager with a B.S. in Political Communication from Illinois State University. He also received his M.S. in Communications from Illinois State. His background comes from journalism, working at an NPR member station for three years before transitioning to blogging and search engine marketing. He lives in Illinois with his wife and two Toy Australian Sheppards.

A journalist is an individual who promptly collects and reports information about the news and current events. Many people aim to become a journalist one day, and envision soaring to great heights in the profession, traversing exotic locales to cover some stories, or even winning the Pulitzer Prize. These things are real to journalists, but it takes a while before reaching that level of achievement. There are several potential steps one should consider taking to become a quality journalist.

Becoming a journalist is a process that requires training as well as education. The process is essential to continue providing society with access to free and objective information. While many who work on becoming a journalist started in small towns, local journalism is vastly essential to communities all over the country. To become a journalist, an individual must work hard to learn the proper way to report news, events, and information.

Being a journalist is highly competitive, though still very rewarding. Forming the backbone of the media industry, it is a critical part of any well-functioning democracy. It calls for essential skills that are needed to achieve success. Of course, the ability to write well is central to the profession. If this isn’t an inherent quality of yours, don’t fret; this skill, as well as others, can be gained through education, training, and experience. You need to identify which areas you need to improve and take the required steps to get where you want to be. In this article, we detail some steps you can follow to help you become a journalist.

Complete a Formal Education Relevant to Becoming a Journalist

Attending a school is extremely helpful for expanding knowledge and getting a better understanding of different topics. It helps you look around to see different perspectives that are necessary for one to be a great journalist. A solid academic background is an excellent investment in your journalism career. Have a look at the courses offered by an institution carefully to ensure they share the communications and journalism interests you have.

Education expectations may vary from job to job, but typically a new-hire needs at least a bachelor’s degree. A successful journalist without any formal training in the area is practically unheard of since competition in the field is increasing at a significant rate. Therefore, to increase the chances of getting employed, acquiring a degree in the field or other related areas is necessary.

Further, try to reach for a well-known journalism school. You should request information from various journalism schools you are considering. This step can take place by speaking to the school representatives to ensure you identify the institution offering what you need.

Identify Your Niche

You may want to identify your specific area of interest before attending a school. This choice can help you pick a school tailored to that interest. However, you might also choose a school with a variety of available specializations. This choice can allow you to explore your options through the first couple of years before deciding on which to focus.

After deciding what your most significant interest is, attend foundation journalism courses but also ensure you are attending the classes in your area of specialization. If your interest is to become a news anchor, for instance, you may not have to visit the same courses as an individual pursuing investigative journalism.

You should work to master the skills in your specialized area to the best of your abilities. Carry out extensive reading, ranging from magazines to books, and even attending related events. Involve yourself in all activities that keep you up to date. Passion towards your goal is a necessity.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Following that, practice writing as much as possible. You can write in your spare time, or even as a side job writing pieces for friends or other people as a sort of freelancer. This training will help you improve your technical skills as well as develop your style. It can also lead to building a portfolio of pieces that can present to future employers. At first, it may be useful to get others to help check the quality of your work. For instance, find a proofreader to confirm your grammar is correct. Or perhaps even just a friend to tell you if your work is captivating and enjoyable.

At times taking writing, a class is the only way to improve your writing. Even renowned writers still take courses and workshops to gain new skills. You might choose to attend a school, have an online course, or join an organization. Take a class that matches your area of specialization or just a general writing class. These classes will help you gather a lot of necessary skills. You can also sharpen your skills through extensive reading of newspapers, magazines, books, virtually everything you come across, read it. Observing how others write can give you ideas and tips on how to improve your writing.

Develop the Confidence That You Can Be a Journalist

Confidence is an outstanding quality to have both in-person and in your writing. Know what you want to say and say it with confidence. Use robust and explicit language, know your facts, and use those facts to back up what you say. When presenting yourself in person, approach others, and establish relationships that are useful to you.

Always act in a manner to suggest you know your worth, avoiding allowing others to take advantage of you.
However, avoid being overly confident. Still take the advice of others, building on constructive criticism to improve yourself and your skills. Confidence ultimately comes from knowing that you have strong foundations and skills that you have grown from your experiences.

Gaining Professional Experience as a Journalist

Apart from practicing on your own time, practicing writing in the professional sphere is a crucial step in becoming a journalist. This experience can start with small personal projects like blogs and freelance work, or even small tasks for friends and families. Starting a blog will help you put your journalistic abilities into practice. In the blog, you can share your voice and other skills, promote your expertise, and increase chances of getting hired or meeting potential clients to buy your content.

Be active on social media, build clean and robust social media pages across the available platforms. Regularly post meaningful content. Share links of your content with potential employers, always being careful of what you write on the pages. All of this can take place before or after an internship or other employment. Some of it may even lead to a full-time job. Bloggers and Youtubers can make substantial salaries these days, and freelance jobs can help you meet potential long-term employers.

Secure an Internship

Most learning institutions have newsletters, newspapers, yearly books, and even media stations that offer internship opportunities. Grab these opportunities and practice what you learned in class. The experience is critical when seeking employment.

Both unpaid and paid internships are frequently available for upcoming journalists. If you are not experiencing financial constraints, the unpaid internship is still a great way to go and gather the experience needed with the least competition. The paid internships are very competitive, but you will enjoy the payment from what you love.

With an internship, you might not be at liberty to pick the area in which you work. It might not be what you like to do, but by doing a good job, you are more likely to secure better opportunities in the future. Use the experience and any writing you do during the internship to build your portfolio.

Build Interpersonal Relationships

Forming a relationship with the people you meet is a critical step in becoming a journalist of high rapport. The people you encounter eventually constitute the sources of your information. Be friendly and seek out to meet new people, listen to their opinions, and they might well give you an idea for a good story. The higher the connection with people, the easier it gets to source information.

Establish a close relationship with your teachers, mentors, and fellow students; you never know when they could be of use to you, either through a job or even a story. Gather more networks through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Always be willing to engage the people you come across in coffee shops.

Create networks with fellow journalists to learn the skills they possess and seek to know about any available opportunities. You need not limit yourself to your classroom; reach out to the most successful journalist you can and learn from them. Networking is possible through digital means such as emails or through getting in touch personally.

Once you contact your idol journalist, be bold and tell them you are a developing journalist who is inspired by their work. Tell them how much you get inspired by their work and seek to learn from them. Be precise and let your idol know the purpose as to why you emailed them. Don’t just do it for fun! Get inspired to reach the level of success they have achieved.

Be Independent of Your Subjects and Sources

Establishing a rapport with your sources or the people you write about is necessary, but it is critical to ensure the relationship does not influence your work in unhealthy ways. For instance, if you have a friend working as a police officer, then they can help you professionally source investigative information. But any favoritism or non-professional benefits such as bribes are prohibited.

Ensure you maintain a professional relationship with your sources. In case you get too personal, they are likely to be biassed towards you. It is especially critical not to take or give any payments to or from your sources as a means of encouraging a specific behavior. If you do, you are likely to lose your independence through manipulation by those in that corporation.

Be Realistic in the Journey of Becoming a Journalist

Recognize from the start that the steps to becoming a journalist can be long and winding. You likely won’t strike gold immediately and will need to keep working hard for an extended period. You can start small in local community publications, newspapers, and magazines. Just try to ensure your work is published. Further, you can create online platforms such as a blog or a website to extend your networks. Make sound systems anywhere you work, gaining trust within the web as you go.

Significant Qualities for Becoming a Journalist

One step to becoming a journalist or professional of any kind is to improve personal qualities. Self-improvement helps us manage our work as well as our own lives better. In journalism, the following are particularly essential character traits to focus on improving:

Impartiality

A journalist should generally not take sides on a given story, but rather report on all sides equally. A great journalist lets the readers decide on their own by giving them a full version of the story. As a journalist, you should not make any attempt to influence the reader’s mind.

Be timely

Your article in a story has to be ready on time. Journalists always have a prompt turn-around time to clear their assignments with quick deadlines. News has to report as soon as it happens; therefore, to meet the reader’s expectation, you have to be fast and accurate in your work.

Stay Up to Date

Stay tuned to the news and current events to maintain relevancy in all your writings. Watch and read on politics, pop culture, current activity, anything relevant to a journalistic standpoint, staying open-minded to current trends.

Be factual and accurate

In journalism, it is worth checking and re-checking the facts at hand. Also, be sure to check on smaller details like naming and spelling. Always ensure you verify your sources to ensure that the information you report is reliable and holds up to scrutiny. If possible, still do a confirmation of the data. If the data comes from another source, independently confirm the facts.

Final Thoughts on the Steps of Becoming a Journalist

Each of the above steps can help you become a quality journalist, although there is no single way to achieve this goal. Ultimately it is up to you how to achieve your goals, and you may very well take the path less traveled. Through practice, you will perfect the necessary skills. Keep assessing your performance and improving areas that will help you progress in the direction you want to go.

Conclusion

Becoming a journalist is a rewarding process for those that follow through the journey. While humble beginnings may deter some, a dedication to the craft helps reach professional and personal goals. While several students look to move into digital media reporting, plenty of TV jobs, radio positions, and newspaper jobs exist today. With several options for employment, the profession continues to grow and attract new students.

Where do journalists look to find inspiration in their studies? 

Why do journalists require such a dedicated process of studying the craft and working in the field?

How might one become a journalist in the age of digital media and reporting?