Journalism involves gathering, interpretation and presentation of news and other items of topical interest, involving some or all of the following tasks: conducting interviews, attending events, constructing reports and stories, undertaking special assignments and researching the background to stories. Journalists work to find and present that information as news to the audiences of newspapers, magazines, radio or television stations or via the Internet. Within these different media, there are specialist tasks for journalists. In large organisations, the journalists may specialise in only one task. In small organisations, each journalist may have to do many different tasks.
Here are some of the jobs journalists do:
Reporters or Broadcast journalists
Gather information and present it in a written or spoken form in news stories, feature articles or documentaries. Reporters may work on the staff of news organisations, but may also work freelance, writing stories for whoever pays them. General reporters cover all sorts of news stories, but some journalists specialise in certain areas such as reporting sport, politics or agriculture.
Take the stories written by reporters and put them into a form which suits the special needs of their particular newspaper, magazine, bulletin or web page. Sub-editors do not usually gather information themselves. Their job is to concentrate on how the story can best be presented to their audience. They are often called subs. The person in charge of them is called the chief sub-editor, usually shortened to chief sub.
Use photographs to tell the news. They either cover events with a reporter, taking photographs to illustrate the written story, or attend news events on their own, presenting both the pictures and a story or caption.
Usually the person who makes the final decision about what is included in the newspaper, magazine or news bulletins. He or she is responsible for all the content and all the journalists. Editors may have deputies and assistants to help them.
The news editor
The person in charge of the news journalists. In small organisations, the news editor may make all the decisions about what stories to cover and who will do the work. In larger organisations, the news editor may have a deputy, often called the chief of staff, whose special job is to assign reporters to the stories selected.
Work for newspapers and magazines, writing longer stories which usually give background to the news. In small organisations the reporters themselves will write feature articles. The person in charge of features is usually called the features editor. Larger radio or television stations may have specialist staff producing current affairs programs - the broadcasting equivalent of the feature article. The person in charge of producing a particular current affairs program is usually called the producer and the person in charge of all the programs in that series is called the executive producer or EP.
May be employed to produce personal commentary columns or reviews of things such as books, films, art or performances. They are usually selected for their knowledge about certain subjects or their ability to write well. Again, small organisations may use general reporters for some or all of these tasks.
Why become a journalist?
The competition to break in is fierce. There are mainly four main motives demonstrated by most:
- The desire to write
- The desire to be known
- The desire to influence for good
- The desire for knowledge
You will need a portfolio to showcase your work. This should ideally include several articles covering different topics and styles such as a feature, match report, hard news story with dates and publication details if you can.
What qualities and skills are required?
- An interest in life – interest in things around you, broad range of interests, wide range of knowledge
- Love of language – deep love of language, written and spoken and the ability to write quickly, clearly, succinctly, simply and passionately.
- An alert and ordered mind – accuracy is paramount – so ordering facts in your mind is essential.
- Determination & Tenacity– the ability to go out and find a story and hang on to it until you have it in full.
- A thick skin -You need to ask hard questions, with the risk of upsetting people.
- A suspicious mind – ability to recognise when people are not telling the truth.
- Friendliness – you need to be able to get on well with all sorts of people striking up an immediate rapport and be able to question them.
- Reliability – deadlines are essential in journalism and you need to be relied upon to deliver.
There is a range of postgraduate journalism courses that should improve your chances of entry, but there is strong competition for places at the best courses and you may need to apply early. A good course will normally be accredited by the NCTJ, BJTC, or the PTA, but some excellent courses (e.g. the MA at City University) are not accredited. Costs of courses vary from about £1,000, to over £8,000 for the best Master's courses.
Fast-track courses are short, intensive journalism courses lasting up to twenty weeks. These are very practical courses and you usually get the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism (the main requirement for most journalism jobs). Editors are most interested in the evidence of relevant practical, so valuable experience can be gained through taking an NCTJ course run by a local college. An MA will be more theoretical as you have to write a dissertation, however, many MAs include work experience.
- The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) www.nctj.com includes a list of accredited courses and general careers advice on its site.
- Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC) www.bjtc.org.uk the Broadcast Journalism Training Council's website contains information about careers and courses, bursaries and placements, with links to affiliated colleges.
- Periodicals Training Council (PTC) www.ppa.co.uk training for the magazine and business media industry
- Press Association Training https://www.pressassociation.com/Training/
There are very few formal company training schemes in journalism.