1

Learn the Basics of Journalism

Journalists assess, gather, create, and present news and information, and seek to communicate the who, what, when, where and how of a story. Journalism differs from other forms of communication, such as opinion pieces, tweets or emails, in that the intent of true journalism is to provide verified information; the facts and the truth behind the facts. 

Journalists typically use a computer, writing and editing software, such as Story Planet or Pearltrees, Animoto and Buffer, and must possess exceptional research and writing skills, a confident speaking voice (particularly necessary for broadcast journalism), the ability to meet deadlines, attention to detail and accuracy, as well as an unbiased understanding of what makes a good story. 

Most journalists will research, write, produce, and edit stories, either solo or as a team, and will have a complete understanding of every part of the production process.  But, competition is fierce, so most prospective journalists, unless deciding to freelance, will usually begin their career in a support position, or as an intern. 

2

Learn Methods, Techniques & Formal Concepts

Formal concepts in journalism are the roadmap for a story, and include a full understanding of yellow journalism, web blogging, watchdog journalism, soft news, video or broadcast journalism, transitivity, style guides, etc.  Coursework in a degree program may include English, rhetoric and writing, humanities and composition, social and behavioral sciences, and much more.  Coursework within a journalism program will differ from a communication program in that a journalism program typically examines a narrow approach to news and information, which is targeted toward a board audience, and a communications degree covers a broader range of disciplines and is often aimed toward a narrow audience.  However, like communicators, journalists must have a good understanding of written, verbal, and visual techniques to spread information.  

Journalism Methods 

Methods in journalism serve as the nucleus of a story, and include the who, when, what, where and how of a story. Journalists will avail themselves of research methods, interviewing, source development, and records requests, along with archival video digging and social media to substantiate a story.  However, not all sources are created equal, and a true journalist will authenticate a source through diligent and painstaking research.  Managing this process and applying critical thinking and organizational skills will ensure a successful outcome, equaling mass viewership/readership. 

Journalistic Techniques

Journalistic technique answers such questions as: Is the story necessary? Is the story relevant? Does the story answer a question or questions and fulfill the objectives of being informative and informational? It examines all aspects of a story, and may include elements like spoiler, stereotype, and target audience. Technique also examines the various tools necessary to frame a story, through the written word, visual or video cues, or broadcast, and involves using creative or technical writing skills, software, English language (or other languages), style guides, etc. 

3

Build a Strong Portfolio & Industry Connections

Today, more than ever before, competition for jobs in the field of journalism is extensive and scary. What is someone else writes better or has a better speaking voice? What if they have an education from a renowned institution?  What if they crush me?  All valid concerns.  But creating a stellar portfolio and networking with people in the industry are things you can do to make sure your resume is at the top of the stack, and you land the job.  

Whether online or in print, a strong portfolio is a necessary step in a journalists’ career.  As a writer or speaker, you may not feel a portfolio will help you get your foot in the door, but you’d be mistaken.  Besides having a great resume, a portfolio filled with examples of your writing or voice clips will show prospective employers that you can write in a variety of styles, or that you have a quality voice for broadcast journalism.  As you gain experience, either through an internship, volunteer-ship, writing for a school newspaper, your portfolio should be updated; highlighting only your best work.   

Acquiring industry connections and networking are also indispensable to your career.  This begins in college and continues throughout your career.  Even if you choose to work as a freelance journalist, maintaining old and generating new industry connections will ensure a constant stream of work.

Get to Know Our Experts

Allyson Jacob

  • Title:
    Content Editor
  • Company:
    Elevation DC
  • Where:
    Washington, DC
  • Experience:
    14 years in the industry
  • Understanding My Career Path

    • I graduated with a double major in English and French, with concentrations in literature in both subjects, and I was a few credits shy of a theater minor. So basically, I came out qualified to do nothing except write papers.
    • I worked in Barnes and Noble while cold-calling marketing and advertising agencies to find out what it would take to become a freelancer in their stable of writers. I eventually networked to someone who gave me the phone number of the editor of the alternative weekly press in the city. I pestered him for several weeks until he gave me a shot writing something that was probably buried in the back half of the paper.
    • I spent the next 4+ years freelancing for CityBeat (that alt weekly), another weekly in town, and a now-defunct website called Aroundcinci.com, where I covered theater and events. I was also part of the Cincinnati Enquirer (the city’s daily) inaugural editorial panel. I picked up some white paper work, some translation work and was just getting up to speed with some corporate clients when my husband’s job changed and we moved to Fairfax, VA.
    • Once in the DC area, I had no clue how to break into the freelance writing game, so I signed with an agency and edited curricula at an educational publisher for four years, among other, much less interesting projects.
    • A friend of a colleague from the editing gig found me on LinkedIn when ElevationDC was starting up and asked me if I would be interested in writing for the publication. I was happy to take the chance.
    • In addition to writing for ElevationDC for the past two years, I’ve have been trying to stretch my wings a bit. I’ve had pieces in the Northern Virginia magazine and on a couple of blogs. I’m also a playwright and I’ve been submitting manuscripts as I have time. Plus, I teach afterschool creative writing classes for girls. I am a freelancer in the truest sense of the word.

    Advice

    On whether or not she recommends a formal education

    First, ask yourself, is there anything else I would be happier doing? If you can answer this question with anything other than “journalism,” go do that thing. True journalists—true writers of any kind—do what they do because they love it and they can’t see themselves doing anything else.

    If you are going to go into journalism now, make sure you have plenty of digital skills to go along with your writing skills. If you can pick up coding and/or web design, you will be a lot more marketable when you come out looking for a job.

    Read

    Read anything you can get your hands on. Journalists are generalists—I never thought I would be covering tech and startup news, but here I am.

    Be honest

    Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. Every single person has a story to tell; every single person is an expert in something. You can’t be an expert in everything. Admit you don’t know, ask the question, and give the person the chance to tell a part of his or her story.

    Write – a lot

    Write for yourself, write emails to friends, write a blog, keep a journal…get used to thinking and composing through your fingers. Don’t write in text-speak. Write. The more you write, the easier it becomes to compose on the fly, on deadline.

    Use your network

    Tell people that you are looking for a job in journalism. You never know who might know someone who might know someone. Follow up on every lead you are given, no matter how unlikely it might seem. Check in on freelance job boards and do some freelance work to get clips and to get your name out there.

    Joe Mullich

  • Title:
    Freelance Writer
  • Company:
    Freelancer
  • Where:
    Sherman Oaks, CA
  • Experience:
    20 years in the industry
  • Understanding My Career Path

    • I studied journalism at the California State University Northridge, where I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism.
    • In my sophomore year, I received an internship at a local magazine, and began writing for them.
    • Upon graduation, I took a job at a public relations company, where I edited, took photos, and wrote for a number of labor union newspapers.
    • At the same time, I pitched magazines for freelance assignments, and wrote these in my off hours. I also continued to freelance for the magazine where I interned.
    • I took a job as a reporter at a weekly newspaper in Los Angeles, where I covered all types of subjects, from health to business to politics.
    • After four years there, I applied for and landed a job at Prevention, one of the nation’s top health magazines.
    • After a year, I left to start a freelance career. I built my client base by submitting my credentials to trade magazines, and asking them to give me assignments, figuring that would be a more solid base than pitching article ideas one by one.
    • I developed a weekly humor column that I self-syndicated to publications around the country, earning awards from the National Headliners, the National Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.
    • Over the years, I kept an eye on the type of subject matter that was most in demand, and developed specialties in technology, health, business, law, travel, and essays.
    • I continued to expand to new areas — writing not just long-form articles, but blogs and a variety of online material.

    Recommended Organizations

    • Meetup.com – find groups of local people who are interested in writing and journalism. If there isn’t such a group, start it. People who go to meetups are eager to share ideas and network.
    • LinkedIn.com – search for journalism and writing groups, and engage in discussions — it’s another great way to network with people around the world.
    • Society of Professional Journalists – this century-old organization has chapters around the country.

    Advice

    On whether or not he recommends a formal education

    I believe in lifelong learning. In retrospect, I would have studied another field than journalism, because I think being on the school newspaper and internships taught me about the nuts and bolts of journalism, and I wish I had spent my classroom time on another topic.

    Forget about what was

    Journalism as a field is changing quickly and dramatically. Be fleet-footed and anticipate where things are going, rather than where they’ve been. Become a journalist entrepreneur. Use the web to develop your own audience. Become your own brand.

    Use digital resources

    I think today there are tremendous avenues for developing a journalism career that didn’t exist when I started. Today, I would start by own blog/podcast etc. covering whatever subject matter interested me. I wouldn’t wait for magazines and newspapers to give me assignments, experience– create your own assignments to gain experience, credentials, and perhaps an audience/fan base that will make it unnecessary for you to find publications/newspapers to sell your material to.

    Get into brand journalism

    Another key change in journalism is the concept of brand journalism. Today, instead of supporting existing publications with avenues, many companies are starting their own publications. And in some cases, these publications are as well done and journalistic as “objective” magazines and newspapers — but there is less competition to get in them because lots of journalists don’t take the time to research the new journalism landscape.

    Jaime Netzer

  • Title:
    Editor
  • Company:
    TheZebra.com
  • Where:
    Austin, TX
  • Experience:
    8 years in the industry
  • Understanding My Career Path

    • At the University of Kansas, I went in undecided but quickly settled on the William Allen White School of Journalism. I entered into the news and information track, focusing on magazine feature writing. I loved how much my j-school classes challenged me.
    • I ended up as the editor-in-chief of Jayplay, our campus magazine. I absolutely loved the newsroom environment, and editing the work of my peers.
    • I also spent two weeks in Los Angeles as an editorial intern at Variety. In my second week there, an editor let me take a stab at writing a feature, and to his surprise as much as my own, was impressed with the finished product. That led to freelance work with the paper after the completion of the internship, which started me (unbeknownst to me!) down a path toward freelance feature writing as a career.
    • In another interesting stop on my career path, I decided to pursue an MFA in fiction writing at Texas State University. I’ve always wanted to write fiction as well as journalism, but getting that second degree actually also influenced my work in journalism. An editor who had seen my work before and after commented that my MFA had made my magazine feature writing more descriptive, more alive.
    • During my MFA, I started building up more and more freelance clients, and one publication tended to lead to the next. Before I knew it, I was making a full-time salary on freelance feature writing alone. It wasn’t always easy—I am extroverted and so had a hard time working from home, and tax season was always a nightmare—but the experience was invaluable.
    • One of my freelance assignments actually led to my current job. I was assigned a story on a tech company called The Zebra in Austin, and when I went in to interview, I really clicked with the cofounders, and remembered I had seen a job posting a few weeks prior. I emailed them just as soon as I turned the piece in, and a few weeks later, came on as a content editor and writer! I manage, edit, and write our blog, as well as our social media presence, and I facilitate public relations efforts as well.

    Advice

    On whether or not she recommends a formal education

    I would recommend a formal education in journalism—or at least, the pursuit of a good mentor. (A university happens to be a handy place to find them.) What I loved so much about going to J-school in Kansas was that I felt so close to my professors. In fact, I still keep in semi-regular touch with several of them, and I certainly feel I could ask them for their career advice at any given moment.

    Write, over and over again

    No matter how technology changes, good writing will always be an asset; writing simply and writing well is not as easy as it should feel to a reader.

    Learn to ask questions

    I think most importantly, why? Why do you feel like that? Why did this change come about? Why does this new statistic matter?

    Read

    Or otherwise consume, with a critical eye, everything you can get your hands on that you’d like to emulate. Want to be an investigative reporter? Seek that out. TV newscaster? Turn it on nightly. Watch and read actively, rather than passively.

    Find your niche

    It only takes one clip that someone recognizes to beget the next clip. The beauty of the way publishing is changing is that there are multitudinous opportunities for publication. Find somewhere in your niche, write something about which you really have something to say. Then pitch it. If you’ve never been published, go ahead and write the thing first, send it over whole. You can prove yourself that way. Later on, you can do it the other way around.

    Journalist Infographic