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Do you have a knack for telling a captivating story? Journalism is an opportunity-rich field with a ton of variety in the type of work you can do. Whether you’re into sports, entertainment, finance, or one of the other subsets of journalist work, pursuing a career in journalism could provide the perfect creative outlet—and be an excellent career pivot for those with the right talents. Stories are everywhere, but it takes special skills in order to find and share those stories with the public in a compelling way. Here’s what to know about pursuing a career as a journalist, including a look at journalist education requirements and 13 types of journalist jobs that may provide you with a path to success.
First: what is the role of a journalist?
Journalists are storytellers who specialize in newsworthy information across a broad range of topics and industries. Their job is not just to find stories that matter but to research them thoroughly and then report on them in a way that is unbiased and based on fact. This sets them apart from more general copywriters, many of whom share stories with the express purpose of promoting a certain brand or idea.
Many journalist opportunities include writing, but there’s actually quite a bit of diversity in the field. Other roles within the wider category of journalism include reporters, editors, fact checkers, and photo and video journalists. There are also various types of writing-focused journalists, such as editorial writers, feature writers, opinion writers, and columnists.
From local beat reporters to international correspondents, journalists serve an essential role in society and are fundamental to ensuring that people know what is going on around them and around the world. And if it’s a career that appeals to you, you’ll find that there are endless stories just waiting to be told.
Here’s a quick journalist job description if you’re wondering how to define this career in the simplest terms possible:
A journalist is an individual who gathers information and then shares that information with the public. Together, journalists make up the press, an industry that is dedicated to providing people with relevant news through print, digital, and broadcast media channels.
Research how to be a journalist, and you’re likely to come across a multitude of suggestions. That’s because there are various paths you can take to finding journalist work, including pursuing opportunities through an established media company or going out on your own as a freelancer.
Journalism is skills-based and requires keen researching and storytelling abilities. It is also driven in many ways by experience, with the best journalists being those who have proven themselves over time as opposed to just those with the fanciest degrees. If you’re interested in how to be a journalist, you’ll want to think in terms of both journalist training and means of gaining useful experience. That may start in a formal classroom, but it doesn’t have to.
Journalist Degree and Education Requirements
A journalism degree can be helpful for breaking into the field, but it’s not always a necessity. While many journalists do begin their training in journalism school (often referred to as “J school”), many others get degrees in different writing-heavy fields, such as history or communications. Likewise, an aspiring journalist may choose to get a degree that is related to the type of journalism that they want to do—think finance or music.
Whichever way you go, having first a high school diploma and then an associate’s or bachelor’s degree can be an important step in starting your journalist career. A master’s degree isn’t usually a requirement for journalism jobs, though it could be helpful if you’re confident in what you want to specialize in and want to be sure you know as much as possible before getting started.
Gaining Journalist Experience
Beyond a formal education, becoming a journalist requires other means of gaining experience. This is typically done through internships, which provide would-be journalists with real-world practice and an opportunity to begin building a network within the industry.
It is possible to get a journalism internship without a journalism degree. Head to job boards to look for internships and other entry-level journalism positions that can help you start establishing yourself in the field.
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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 5,400 job openings for journalists every year. If you want to snag one of them, you’ll need two major things: a portfolio of your work and a connection or two. Both of these essentials can be gained through those aforementioned internships and entry-level positions.
You can search for journalism jobs online and apply to work at an existing media outlet. You can also go solo as a freelance journalist and find jobs by pitching stories to different publications. Whichever way you go, help increase your chances by specializing in a niche and building a strong social media presence based around that specialty.
Where Do Journalists Work?
Journalists work at news media outlets, or they may work independently as freelancers. Publications within news media include:
- Print and online newspapers
- Print and online magazines
- News websites
- Television stations
- Radio stations
Between 2008 and 2020, journalist jobs at newspaper publishers declined pretty sharply, while opportunities in internet-based publishing and broadcasting grew at a steady rate. Newspapers and broadcast television still make up the bulk of journalist hiring outlets, but online journalism jobs are a great place to look as well.
Average Journalist Salary
Let’s talk journalist pay. The median journalist salary in 2020 was $49,300 per year, or $23.70 per hour. This is higher than the median average pay for all jobs, which in 2020 came out to $41,950.
Within the world of broadcast, print, and online journalism, there exists an assortment of specialties and subspecialties. Finding your niche is crucial to building a sustainable career in the industry, so take a look through the following types of journalism jobs to see what piques your interest. Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are many other beats that you can pursue based on your interests and expertise.
1. Gonzo Journalist
A gonzo journalist puts themselves at the center of the story, rather than serving as an objective observer. Gonzo journalism presents a first-person narrative that is still heavily based in fact and is personified in the journalistic work of well-known writers like Hunter S. Thompson and David Foster Wallace. (For a great example of gonzo journalism, check out Wallace’s 1996 Harper’s magazine piece “Shipping Out.” You can find a PDF copy here.)
2. Investigative Journalist
Investigative journalism is the in-depth exploration of topics, cultures, and scandals, involving rigorous—and sometimes years’ long—reporting on a single story. An investigative journalist does their own fact-finding instead of relying on the works of others. And in many cases, their work exposes purposefully hidden narratives—often of those in power. An example of an investigative journalist is Ronan Farrow, who in 2018 won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Harvey Weinstein.
3. Sports Journalist
A sports journalist reports on everything related to sports, including athletes, games, competitions, fans, and athletic associations. Some sports journalists maintain a broad focus, while others cover just a certain team or sporting event. And while we may associate sports journalism with modern media platforms like ESPN, this specialty has a long past that goes all the way back to the 1800s.
4. Broadcast Journalist
If writing isn’t your journalistic medium of choice, then you may be interested in broadcast journalism. A broadcast journalist tells news stories through graphics and/or oral narratives; usually through a television or radio station. News anchors and podcasters are both a type of broadcast journalist, though the exact topics that they cover within this specialty reach far and wide.
5. Travel Journalist
Become a travel journalist and explore exciting places and cultures for a living. Travel journalism goes beyond mere descriptions in order to share stories that are unique, powerful, and, for many readers, otherwise unknowable. Don’t be fooled by the glamour aspect, though—being a travel journalist is tough work and includes the same thoroughness of reporting as any other type of journalism job.
6. Music Journalist
Music journalism is one of the most competitive types of journalism to break into, with limited music journalist jobs available at major publications. (Though you can certainly gain a following as a freelance music journalist if you work hard at it.) Those who specialize in music journalism cover all topics related to the music industry, from artists and albums to concerts and culture. Perks of the job may include all-access passes to coveted music events, as well as a chance to interview some major music stars.
7. Political Journalist
A political journalist covers all things politics. Depending on the publication, that may mean anything from local school board races to federal elections, with extensive reporting on candidates and policy. A political science degree is a good place to start if you want to get into political journalism, but it isn’t a must-have.
8. Video Journalist
A video journalist uses original video footage to tell a story. And because video journalism is a visual form of storytelling, it involves additional skills beyond general research and narration, including filming and sound recording. These skills are necessary in order to be considered for video journalist jobs, making a relevant media degree and film-specific experience quite important.
9. Watchdog Journalist
Watchdog journalism is for the investigative reporter who wants to focus on revealing the truth behind people in power and power structures. As a watchdog journalist, your role is to keep the public informed and to hold those in power accountable—a tall ask that highlights the importance of thoroughness and fact checking in the field.
10. Entertainment Journalist
Entertainment journalism is the reporting of pop culture for print, digital, and broadcast media. Topics include celebrities, film and TV, and industry awards. You may see entertainment journalism referred to as infotainment or soft news, which means that it’s not considered as hard-hitting as, say, financial or political reporting. Being an entertainment journalist can be a lot of fun, though, and there’s plenty of interest in the work.
11. Opinion Journalist
Opinion journalism is reporting devoid of objectivity. Instead of fact-based pieces, an opinion journalist writes columns based on subjective material and personal opinion (and doesn’t try to bill it as anything but). The New York Times opinion section is perhaps the most well-known place to find opinion journalism, but many other publications run opinion columns as well, often sparking widespread dialogue among readers in response.
12. Financial Journalist
A financial journalist covers topics related to financial markets, trends, and advice. Because it’s quite technical, financial journalism usually requires quite a bit of knowledge, such as that gained from a finance degree or experience in a finance job. Financial journalism is part of the larger specialty of business journalism and is usually intended for a specific readership, such as investors or general consumers.
13. Trade Journalist
Trade journalism is another sub-specialty of business journalism. A trade journalist reports on the business world as a whole and frequently within a niche (for example: restaurants and hospitality, aviation, or agriculture). Some trade journalists are more jacks-of-all-trade though and cover broader topics inherent to the business world.
Journalism is a creative career that many are driven to out of a passion for the work. It can be incredibly fulfilling, but it can also be competitive, stressful, and even dangerous. Before you start to pursue journalist training or seek out journalism jobs, you’ll want to be sure that you have both the skills and the desire to move forward. It’s not an easy job—nor is it one that everyone can do—but for the right person with the right talents, it can be a wonderful fit.
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