In 2021, a harrowing story of immigrants crossing the treacherous Darien Gap went live in The California Sunday Magazine. Readers sat enthralled as reporter Nadja Drost relayed the experience of five days in the gap. The story was remarkable, showing how far migrants were willing to go just to cross the Columbia-Panama border for the first leg on a marathon journey to the United States.
Even more remarkable? Nadja Drost won a Pulitzer Prize while doing the work completely freelance.
The Internet has changed things for reporters. If you want to be a reporter, you don’t need a desk at The New York Times or The Washington Post anymore. You just need to know how to report the facts in a way that grabs people.
And whether you want to report from the Darien Gap or interview a celebrity, you can find opportunities—if you know how and where to look.
What Reporters Do
Wondering how to be a reporter? First, a key distinction: Reporters are not journalists, and vice versa. A journalist researches new stories in-depth, while a reporter relays facts to the public. A cable news anchor may report the news to you, while a journalist may be on the ground looking to find new facts themselves.
But that doesn’t mean reporters are limited to TV news anchor gigs, either. If you want to do a career pivot, you’ll simply have to know what kind of reporting suits your strengths.
A Simple Reporter Definition
A reporter is someone who finds and collects facts and then relays them to the public. What does a reporter do? They can count themselves good at their job if they find fresh facts, deliver them clearly, and disseminate information without personal bias.
Think of a reporter as a medium between the facts and the people. Your job, no matter how you do it, is to tell engaging stories as seamlessly and truthfully as possible.
Examples of Famous Reporters
- Walter Cronkite: Broadcast reporter. One of the most iconic figures in 20th-century television; he reported the death of President John F. Kennedy and covered the Apollo moon landings.
- Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: Investigative reporter team. The two key Washington Post players whose investigative reporting changed the Watergate scandal, eventually resulting in Richard Nixon’s resignation.
- Katie Couric: Broadcast reporter. Anchor at Today and CBS Evening News and one of the most recognizable faces in modern TV.
- Tim Russert: Political reporter. Hosted NBC’s Meet the Press and covered developments in Washington, D.C.
- Edward R. Murrow: Broadcast reporter. His program See It Now helped lead to the censure of Joseph McCarthy.
- Barbara Walters: News/entertainment reporter. A long-running career included The View, 20/20, and feature segments on the most fascinating people of the year.
How to Become a Reporter
Thanks to online reporting, the barrier to entry in reporting is lower than ever. That’s good news for aspiring reporters, but not so good news for news consumers, who might struggle to find sources they can trust.
To become a reporter, you’ll first have to demonstrate that people can trust your reporting. Combined with an education (see below), you’ll need a strong portfolio, just as you would if you were a freelance writer or graphic designer.
What Kind of Degree Do You Need?
There isn’t any “reporter training” boot camp you can find, but there’s plenty of education. A degree in Journalism is usually preferred, though there’s plenty you can do with a degree in Communications or English. The good news is that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reporters generally only need a bachelor’s degree before they start working in the field.
Where Do You Find Reporter Jobs?
Most modern-day job boards—FlexJobs, Indeed, LinkedIn—include reporter jobs just like any other type of job. Search for a reporter job description and you’ll probably find one or two within a few minutes.
You’ll want a fresh profile on each platform, a resume, and any samples of work you’ve done in the past. It wouldn’t hurt to write up a cover letter you can use as you send out your resumes, either.
You can also search on JournalismJobs.com, a board specifically for people looking to learn how to get a job as a reporter.
How to Get Your First Job as a Reporter
Like any other job, your goal is to be as qualified as you can before you send out that resume. But there are some specific steps in news reporting that may help:
- Apply for media internships: Specific experience with media companies will help you hone your reporting skills and forge new connections. This is especially important in news media, where you don’t always have access to broadcasting technology in an amateur environment.
- Hone your communication skills: Ever been on camera and expected to speak without “ums” and “ahs”? If not, now’s the time to work on your communication skills. Brush up on your writing and other key communication skills as soon as you can.
Average Salaries for Reporters in 2021
According to the BLS, the most recent data suggests a median reporter salary of $49,300 per year in the “Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts” field. The average reporter salary is just an overall “macro” number, however; keep in mind this can vary wildly depending on your position.
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Types of Reporters
How many types of reporters are there? As many as there are types of news. Here are some of the most common categories you’ll see:
How much do people need to know about sports? It’s expected to be an over $440 billion industry in 2021. Sports reporters cover all sorts of events, from the Super Bowl on down to local high school sports. Sports reporters also work for different types of media companies, from today’s paid digital content to local radio stations.
This is news reporting in one of its purest forms: You have the information and your job is to relay it to an audience. But it’s also a unique skill. Broadcast reporting requires knowledge of all sorts of details, including dealing with the realities of television production.
Often an online reporter, a travel reporter’s backyard is the world. Their job is to bring stories from that greater world into snippets that will resonate with local readers. The key to becoming a travel reporter is understanding that it’s more than traveling. It’s in finding stories abroad that will strike a chord with people. Ultimately, travel reporting can be a rich and rewarding way to live.
Travel reporters might also participate in gonzo journalism, a style of reporting in which the reporter is part of the story being told.
Everyone knows how much interest the music industry generates. All you have to do is watch the Grammys to see how many fans are fascinated by the latest trends. A music reporter might interview musicians or people in the industry, but music reporting can also include local events. Another key to music reporter jobs: finding the behind-the-scenes that may not have a celebrity in them but will nonetheless resonate with your audience.
What’s happening in Washington? In your state’s capital? In your county government? Political reporters are important because they can distill some of the most important goings-on in government for people who are otherwise too busy to keep tabs on public affairs. For local reporters, that might mean relaying the facts of a recent town meeting. For national political reporting, it can mean investigating stories that have the capacity to be major scandals.
A watchdog reporter functions as a consumer advocate in many cases—they do the research for consumers who are too busy. One example of a watchdog reporter is the local news reporter who checks up on local restaurants in search of health code violations. However, watchdog reporting can look for wrongdoings just about anywhere: schools, organizations, local police departments, and in the world of local crime.
With some overlap with music reporters, entertainment reporters are often interested in the people in the art world, particularly in movies and TV. You’ve seen entertainment reporters interact with celebrities promoting their most recent movies, for example. But entertainment reporting can also dig deeper into the industry, finding stories related to projects in production. If you have access to the red carpet, being an entertainment reporter is the way to go.
Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes was one of the most famous opinion reporters of all time, taking up a regular segment to discuss…well, pretty much whatever he wanted to discuss. Opinion reporters are becoming more and more popular these days, especially with blogs and podcasts doing so much to change the digital landscape.
What’s going on in the markets? On Wall Street? A financial reporter fixes their eye on the world of business to help bring the news to people who are too busy minding theirs. This can have a major impact on the headlines. We saw huge stories develop in the past few decades thanks to the financial reporting surrounding the Bernie Madoff scam, the collapse of Enron, the crashing of the Dot-Com Bubble, and the Great Recession.
A trade reporter is just what it sounds like: they focus on one industry to keep people abreast of the developments in their line of work. A trade reporter might not have the major scope of some of the other categories on this list, but trade reporting can do a lot to keep entire industries in the loop.
The basic premise of reporting is simple: If you can distill a story down to its basic facts and deliver them in an engaging way to your audience, you might have a promising career ahead of you.
But it’s important to find out where your natural fascination lies. The more curious you are about what you’re reporting, the more likely it is that that passion and interest will carry over into your work.
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