By Aaron Stewart '09
In the introduction to Donald L. Ferguson’s book Opportunities in Journalism Careers, he describes a situation in which an 18-year-old expresses interest in journalism to columnist James Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick’s reply—“Don’t be a newspaper man if you possibly could help it” (1). Ferguson went on to say that journalists “seem to suffer more stress on the job than do those in many other occupations” (2). Journalism is definitely for a special kind of person, one who doesn’t mind frustration and headaches. Deadlines are constantly hovering over their heads, they often work long hours past their work days to meet them and the beginning journalists rarely gets paid well enough for it. To top it off, if you like being popular, feel free to visit the other job descriptions—reporters are not very well-liked by the public. However, many journalists don’t do it for the money or the fame—they do it for the adrenaline rush that comes with the big story. They do it to see their name in print and to inform the world about what’s going on that day.
If none of this scares you, then read on. Journalists typically fall into 3 categories: newspaper reporter, broadcast reporter and magazine reporter. Though each has nearly the same work environments, they also have skills that are unique to the job.
Jan Goldberg puts the newspaper reporter’s job simply in Careers in Journalism: gathering facts and reporting them to the public (19). There’s obviously more that goes into each, but it’s always a good idea to keep those two points in mind when writing a story. The reporter is usually out on the town, collecting data, interviewing people, taking notes, organizing it all into some sort of sense on their laptop (usually while driving to a new story), and turning it in—and when that’s done, there’s usually another story or two that day for them to cover. Again, it can be very stressful, but as Ferguson said after interviewing many journalists, “When there’s a big story and you’re matching wits against the deadline, that’s great. It’s hard to believe somebody is actually paying us to do this” (2).
Yes, about pay. Ferguson also says that in the past, “journalists almost had to take an oath of poverty” (4). Though that’s not really true today, the beginning journalist is still going to struggle earning enough to live by. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the lowest 10% of reporters earn less than $19,000/yr; however, it doesn’t take long to raise that wage. Within a couple of years, the newspaper reporter will reach an average payment of around $31,000/yr.
If you thought broadcasting was simply sitting in front of a camera and reading off a teleprompter, you thought wrong. According to Goldberg, “the newsroom is often a flurry of activity, especially when events are breaking” (65). Though bigger news station may have their employees involved in more specialized areas of the business, smaller stations often require the reporter to cover a wider range of jobs, including rushing to the scene, collecting details, taking notes and performing interviews. In fact, the only real difference between broadcast reporting and newspaper reporting is that, instead of submitting your work for print, you are standing in front of a camera (live) and telling your audience what you’ve put together. This can create more pressure, since you are now responsible for reporting the news accurately on the spot and in person. This is counteracted, however, by the thrill of rushing to a fresh news scene and being there as the events are unfolding. It can also have an element of danger, if you’re reporting in the middle of severe weather or war grounds, which can also be very thrilling. If you like the added adrenaline rush, broadcast reporting is a great choice.
The trouble with newspaper and broadcast reporting is that, due to the pressure of meeting deadlines, stories are rarely detailed—not so with magazines. According to Goldberg, “Magazines give us the luxury to explore all the subjects that are most important to us… at precisely the moment we wish to do so” (39). There are so many different topics that magazines cover that it won’t be hard finding one you like; while deadlines may still be stressful, you will still be working on stories that you care about. Due to this, Ferguson says that “freelance writers are common in the magazine and newsletter business” (65). This is a good option for those who don’t want the pressure of deadlines—just submit your piece when you’re finished with it; however, don’t expect freelance writing to put food on your table—there’s no guarantee that the magazine will accept it and, even if they do, you might not earn a lot of money from it. In the end, if you like the atmosphere of journalistic writing while choosing subjects you’re interested in, magazine reporting is for you.
Fortunately, “so much goes into a newspaper that people with all types of talents can find a place there” (Ferguson 42). Apart from writing stories, there are jobs for monitoring the website, designing the layout for the newspaper—even drawing cartoons. Do you know about the political cartoons featured in the “Editorial” sections? Though the beginning artist won’t make quite as much, according to Goldberg, “A Guild staff artist receives between $800-1200 a week” (23)!
However, even though these jobs seem different, Ferguson says that “successful journalists do share one trait. All of them can write” (35). Whether you are an artist, a designer, a broadcast reporter or a journalist on the field, the one thing you will definitely need is a thorough knowledge of writing correctly.
Aside from job skills, you also need to be able to handle high levels of stress. Though the job can be exhilarating to a journalist, deadlines and lack of sleep will take its toll—and it will be a daily strain. Also, you have to be willing to write the shorter pieces. As Ferguson says, “Journalism isn’t for you if you have to be a superstar” (5). Every part of the paper is equally important, whether you’re writing the front page war headline or the 2-paragraph report on high-school sports in the middle of the “Sports” page.
Courses at Heidelberg
One point that Ferguson wanted to stress is: “If you want to be a journalist, go to college” (75). The journalism world is very competitive, and they are going to take a college graduate over a high-school graduate. If Journalism sounds like the path for you, there are many options at Heidelberg to get you there. Obviously, taking the Journalism course is extremely beneficial as, besides the writing aspect, it introduces you to the overall world of journalism. If you plan on taking a broadcast route in journalism, many of the Communications courses available on campus can also be a great help.
Also, since writing is one of the most important aspects of journalism, many of Heidelberg’s English courses are critical in the long run, especially Linguistics and Creative Writing. It wouldn’t hurt to take a couple of Computer-Science courses, either, as the Internet is becoming very popular in the reporting fields. The English department also hosts “Computer-Mediated Communication,” which will introduce you to building web-sites and advertising, as well.
There’s more to college than just classes, though. It’s also important that you write for the school newspaper, The Kilikilik. Most employers want to see that you have had experience in the field and, if you don’t have clippings to show them, they’re less likely to hire you. Also, it might be a good idea to become involved with the school’s radio and video broadcast team; that way, even if broadcasting isn’t where you want to go right now, you can always have the experience under your belt if you ever find that you need it.
- Ferguson, Donald L. and Jim Patten. Opportunities in Journalism Careers. VGM Career Books: Illinois, 2001.
- Goldberg, Jan. Careers in Journalism. NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc: Illinois, 2000.
http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos088.htm - the website for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here, you will find all the information you need on any jobs you’re interested in. (government site)
http://www.mediajobmarket.com/jobs/index.jsp - allows you to post resumes and search for jobs in the media field. It also offers tips on how to dress for the interview, how to improve your public speaking, and even news in the industry. (Hosted by Nielsen Business Media)
http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/index.shtml - a general site that gives you job resources in the area of journalism. It also gives news on various aspects of the journalism field, including photography and media law. (Run and managed by Paul Linford and Tamlyn Jones)
http://journalistopia.com/ - offers a vast amount of information in the media field, including job resources, reading material, blogs, and news reports separated into categories. If you need it, you’ll find it here. (Hosted by Danny Sanchez)