Journalist How to become, career path, income potential

What is a journalist?

Journalists are responsible for collecting, evaluating, creating, editing, and presenting news and information. They keep the public informed on a wide variety of news, events, issues, and people in the news. These professionals may write or report on information or do both. The stories they write about or present cover everything from current events, social issues, politics, sports, and entertainment. They may cover local, state, national, or international news.

Journalists often do a lot of research and investigation and may conduct interviews when developing and writing stories to ensure that they have all the information. They carefully fact-check the information they are presenting. They spend time networking and building relationships with sources, stakeholders in the stories they write, and the community. Their goal is to report the news accurately, objectively, and without bias. 

Journalists cover stories in many different areas and work for newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and the Internet. Their duties can be varied as they may anchor a newscast, conduct on-the-spot reporting in the field, edit stories, take photos, or write and/or produce content for television, radio, newspapers, magazines, film, books, or social media platforms.

Qualifications and eligibility

Journalists must have exceptional verbal and written communication skills and be good storytellers. Words are the backbone of what they do, and they need to know how to use words to create a compelling story. They need to have excellent interpersonal skills as they conduct interviews with a wide range of people of different ages and backgrounds. Sometimes, extracting info can be hard, so journalists must be able to pull out the information they’re looking for regardless of whom they’re talking to. 

Journalists should have a good handle on the different ways in which information is presented to the public. This includes print, video, television, and social media platforms.

Other essential skills a journalist should have included the ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines, solid research skills, the ability to work independently, a creative mind, good judgment, strong analytical and organizational skills, and they need to be accurate and have strong attention to detail.

Although not required, many journalists have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, communications, English, or a related field. Without a degree, candidates should have some training in journalism, whether by taking classes or on the job. For those who are heard or seen on radio or television, an ability to speak well and clearly and comfort with the medium is required.

Work environment

The work environment for a journalist can vary greatly depending on their type of journalism. Some journalists spend most of their time in an office setting, writing and researching stories, editing, and producing. Others may often be in the field, collecting information, reporting on stories, and following leads. Anchors spend part of their work day on air, either giving radio or television newscasts.

The work can be stressful and demanding. Journalists often work under tight deadlines. Travel may be a big part of the job for some. They may travel locally, nationally, or internationally to cover a story. Some may travel to dangerous locations, such as war correspondents or those reporting on-site at hurricanes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters.

They also may have to report from remote locations with very few accommodations. Some individuals work from home at least part of the time, and many work flexible hours. They may work for a newspaper, magazine, television, radio station, or other media outlet. Some individuals are freelance, creating and reporting stories on a contractual basis.

Typical work hours

Most journalists work full-time, but the hours can vary depending on the work. Overtime is frequent to meet strict deadlines. These professionals may work early in the morning or late at night. They may have to work weekends and holidays as well. A story could break at any time, and a journalist may be called into action to cover it, which could require immediate travel. They can be away from home for days or even weeks at a time.    

Types of journalists

Journalism covers a broad range of ways to cover and report the news. You can find fashion journalists, celebrity journalists, investigative journalists, sports journalists, environmental journalists, business/finance journalists, and many more. Different types of journalists exist within each of these different types of categories, such as sports journalists being further defined as baseball, football, or soccer journalists. They may be writers, editors, reporters, or presenters. Some of the common types include:

Reporter

Reporters gather information from multiple sources and present it in either a written or spoken format in news stories, newspaper or magazine articles, books, or documentaries. A reporter may work for a news organization or they may do freelance work. A reporter typically focuses on one aspect of the news such as sports, politics, or entertainment. Local reporters may cover many different aspects of the news.

Broadcast journalist

A broadcast journalist reports information to the public via radio or television. These professionals may be news anchors or report sports, weather, traffic, food, health, entertainment, and more. 

Sub-editor

A sub-editor molds the stories written by reporters into a format that fits the newspaper, magazine, newscast, or web page. They may line edit, check for accuracy, and proofread stories to ensure they are ready for print or television. They need to be aware of their audience and how to present a story that best fits that audience. 

Photojournalist

A photojournalist uses photographs to tell the news. Many of these individuals work with reporters, adding photographs and video to the story being reported. Others present pictures and the written story themselves. 

Investigative journalist

An investigative journalist researches a topic to expose evidence of wrongdoing, corruption, or many other things. They conduct in-depth research and use various sources and tactics to collect information. They present evidence to support their findings. 

Editor

The editor typically makes the final decision about which news stories will be included in a newspaper, magazine, or newscast. He or she is responsible for all the content and all the journalists. Editors generally have deputies and assistants to help them.

Watchdog journalist

Watchdog journalists uncover wrongdoing as investigative journalists do, but they are more focused on the impact of their reporting on society. They typically look at large corporations and political campaigns to ensure that companies and candidates adhere to rules, regulations, and laws.

News editor

A news editor performs the same function as an editor, but they are only in charge of news journalists, making the decisions about what stories to cover and who will cover them.

Feature writer

Feature writers work for newspapers and magazines, writing longer stories about news events. In smaller organizations, reporters may write feature articles. 

Specialist writer

A specialist writer writes reviews and commentary on books, films, art, or theater. They typically focus on one type of media, such as books, but in smaller companies, a specialist writer may cover stories for different print or visual media. 

Columnist

A columnist writes a continuing set of articles for newspapers and magazines, or other print or online publications. They typically have a section of the newspaper or magazine reserved for their “column” daily, weekly, or monthly. They offer their point of view on any number of things, including sports, entertainment, and politics.  

Article writer

Article writers typically write short pieces, usually for print media. They may cover food, travel, health, or many other topics. They may work for an organization, newspaper, or magazine, or they may write freelance articles and sell them to print media. 

Online journalist

An online journalist writes articles on websites, digital newspapers, blogs, and social media. 

Income potential

The earning potential for a journalist can vary greatly depending on geographic location, education, experience, and area of research.  

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for news analysts, reporters, and journalists was $48,370 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $120,590. The top industries for news analysts, reporters, and journalists were:
    • Other information services – $73,180
    • Radio and television broadcasting – $49,720
    • Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers – $38,210
  • The average journalist’s salary in the United States was $64,070 as of August 2022.
  • The 5 states with the highest average pay were:
    • Washington – $46,516
    • Maryland – $45,168
    • New York – $44,509
    • Virginia – $44,211
    • Colorado – $43,465  
  • The bottom 3 states were:
    • Illinois – $32,802
    • Georgia – $31,258
    • Louisiana – $30,671
  • The top-paying cities were:
    • New York, NY – $69,629
    • Washington, DC – $69,514
    • Chicago, IL – $65,193
    • San Diego, CA – $64,457
    • Atlanta, GA – $63,164 

Position trends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a decline of 9% in employment for news analysts, reporters, and journalists from 2021 to 2031. About 4,900 openings are projected each year over the decade. A decline in radio, newspaper, and television advertising revenue is expected to impact the long-term demand for these workers. As news organizations continue to consolidate and share resources, staff, and content with other media outlets, demand for journalists is expected to drop.

Career path

There are many options available for aspiring journalists. Your career path will depend on your interests, skills, and opportunities. As this professional, you can focus on becoming a writer, announcer, public relations manager, reporter, broadcast news analyst, editor, or many more.

Some become event planners, publicists, advertising sales agents, authors, or market research analysts. You can work for a newspaper, magazine, radio station, or television station. You can also work for yourself as a freelance journalist. The are many choices. 

Some common career paths for journalists include:

Associate editor

Associate editors typically work for magazines where they pitch ideas and work closely with photo and art teams to develop eye-catching layouts. They may write and edit stories for the magazine or assign these jobs to others.  

Page designer

Page designers are employed by newspapers and magazines. They use their creativity to design esthetically pleasing and functional layouts for newspapers or magazines. They may edit content as part of the layout design process.  

Communications associate

Communications associates promote content and marketing projects. They may handle different communication platforms, such as email and social media. They help create and communicate engaging marketing strategies and track the success of marketing campaigns. 

Professor of journalism

A professor of journalism works in a college or university journalism department teaching future journalists. 

Technical writer

Technical writers write the text for manuals, instructional guides, textbooks, and other published works. They may write highly technical material or make the subject materials accessible to a specific audience, such as middle school or high school textbooks. 

Author or writer

A journalist can utilize his or her creativity and writing skills to write a wide array of fiction or non-fiction books. They can write blog entries or articles for magazines. 

Producer

Producers oversee the financing for a project, whether that is a newscast, television show, or film.  

Director

A director oversees the artistic and creative aspects of a project. They may direct a team or work for themselves as documentary filmmakers. Journalists can use their imagination, vision, and storytelling ability as directors.

Steps to becoming a journalist

1. Prepare in high school

High school is a great place to start honing your writing skills, which every journalist needs. Take language arts, humanities, social studies, and other related classes. Write for the school newspaper, yearbook, or magazine. Volunteer at a local newspaper, television station, or radio station. Work on your creative writing. Join a writing group online or in person. All these things can help prepare you for a career as a journalist.

2. Get your bachelor’s degree

Although a degree isn’t technically required, most employers prefer that applicants have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, mass communications, English, or a similar field. Courses such as public speaking or speech can be very helpful. Some of the top journalism schools in the country include:

3. Volunteer while in school

Many colleges and universities have local television and radio stations and newspapers where you can volunteer. Also, join journalism clubs.

4. Take advantage of internships

Many colleges and universities include internships where you can gain valuable hands-on experience in a professional newsroom. An internship is also a great way to make contacts in the industry that can help you obtain a job after graduation. 

5. Take online courses to improve your skills

Enhance your knowledge of the field of Journalism with these top online classes:

6. Find an entry-level position

Gaining real-world experience is important. Get your foot in the door with an entry-level job. Even if you want to work in broadcast journalism, take a job as an assistant writer for a newspaper if you have the opportunity. That experience will help you to transition into the type of journalism you want to work in.  

7. Join professional organizations

A professional organization is great for finding job opportunities and online resources. You’ll also find networking opportunities and be able to build relationships with others in the industry. Some of the top organizations are:

Tips for becoming a journalist

If you are planning to become a journalist, there are a few things that can give you the edge you need. Here are some tips:

  • Work for your high school newspaper and start developing your writing skills. Take creative writing and public speaking classes in high school if they are offered. 
  • Get a degree in journalism, mass communications, English, or a related field. Find opportunities to volunteer, work as an intern, or work part-time at a local television, radio station, or newspaper while in college. 
  • Work at the university news station or newspaper. This will gain you valuable experience.
  • Write often to hone your writing skills across several subject areas. Start a blog writing about news, sports, entertainment, or other topics in your area. Learn how to interview people by practicing on those in your area.  
  • Practice your presentation skills whenever you can. Join school public speaking clubs or debate teams.    
  • Think about what type of journalist you want to be. Are you interested in reporting on sports in the field? Do you want to go into investigative journalism? Find out which type of journalism best fits your interests and your career plans. 
  • Network with reporters, writers, editors, and other journalists. Build relationships in your area that will help you later on when looking for a job. Ask them for advice and listen to what they have to say. 
  • Keep a portfolio of articles you’ve written and interviews you’ve conducted. These can be valuable to prospective employers or publications you’d like to write for.

Journalist interview questions to expect

  1. Are you comfortable working in high-pressure situations under tight deadlines?
  2. What would be the dream story you would want to cover?
  3. How do you remain neutral when reporting on a controversial issue?
  4. How do you balance ethics and controversy? Which is more important to the story?
  5. Explain your best written piece. Why was it impactful to the readers?

Journalist FAQs