How To Become A JournalistFind postgraduate programs in JOURNALISM
Journalism is a fast-paced, competitive field, relying on flexibility and quick thinking. Journalists are expected to be at the cutting edge of the news – keeping themselves aware of the biggest stories of the moment, being willing to research at all hours of the day. These days there is a strong reliance on modern technology and the ability to find out the news literally as it happens. The rise of Twitter – for example – as a source of information means that deadlines are even tighter and journalists need to keep one step ahead.
In this article on How To Become A Journalist, we’ll look at all the skills you’ll need to succeed in the world of journalism, and how a postgraduate qualification could help to tip the odds of success in your favour. Although whatever route you take, be prepared to face hundreds of applicants for just one post!
Steps to becoming a journalist
It’s never too early to start
If you're reading this article and still choosing your A-Levels, try to choose some that will be relevant to your field. Want to go into Political Journalism? English, Politics, History and Media might well be a good combination for you. Or perhaps it’s Science Journalism – in which case, English, Physics, Chemistry and Media may be better.
Picking your degree
You don’t need a university degree to become a journalist – there are many current successful journalists who don’t have a university education – but it certainly helps. Not only will you gain valuable knowledge and skills, you’ll also have a chance to network with relevant people. The obvious degree choices are English or Journalism, but you shouldn’t limit yourself. Having an undergraduate degree in Politics, before taking a follow-up course in Journalism would certainly prepare you well! It’s worth looking at the website of the National Council of Training of Journalists , as they offer courses on how to become a journalist, as well as some career advice.
Studying journalism at postgraduate level will be beneficial to your career. If your initial degree is in Journalism, then a masters course can be a chance to specialise in a particular area of this, and if your masters is in another area, now is the time to swap over. Moving from your previous subject area – whether it’s Science, Music or something else – to a masters in Journalism can be intimidating, but it’s well worth it. A good postgraduate course in Journalism will teach you how to investigate issues, then how to build a story upon your findings and it should cover all forms of media – print, broadcast and digital.
Following the postgraduate route
If you decide that the best way for you to become a journalist is via postgraduate training then one of the first things you need to look at is what area and topic of journalism you want to study, as there are various different types and styles of postgraduate programs to choose from. If you opt for a general MA in Journalism, you will encounter a broad span of issues – from the social, to the political, to the corporate.
Potential to specialise
However, if you already have a particular area of interest in mind then you may wish to focus on this specifically in your postgrad course – some examples of courses could be:
- Investigative Journalism
- Newspaper Journalism
- Science Journalism
- Financial Journalism
- Web Journalism
Many of these courses will teach you about the legal issues that can arise in the world of journalism. From libel to copyright laws, you’ll need to negotiate your way around complex legal issues, and being able to show a basic understanding of these before you start work is really useful! Take a look at the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Practice for an idea of what you’ll be dealing with. Working through these as part of a postgraduate course can ensure you’re well prepared and that you have the chance to ask your tutors questions, rather than being lost when something happens at your job!
Work experience contacts
It’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere in the field of journalism once you have finished your postgrad course unless you get yourself some work experience along the way. Whilst you can start by trying to work for local newspapers, online-only sources or even in student journalism, ultimately internships and work-placements are the ideal things to aim for. Many universities will have relationships with certain industries or companies, so try to take advantage of this whilst studying. This is applicable to both undergraduate and postgraduate courses, but it’s especially important if you’re doing a conversion masters because you need to show you know your subject area. Some universities may have something known as ‘simulated work environments’ which give you the chance to build up skills in this department without the same risk of messing up at a real job!
Building up your skill-set
Undertaking a postgraduate course will also help you build up your general skills – such as learning to be more of a people person. To work in journalism, you’ll need to be able to get information out of people, do formal interviews and simply interact well with the rest of your team. A postgraduate course can offer you the perfect opportunity to work on these skills, as many of them have vocational aspects which will allow you to practice in an environment designed for learning.
Finally, another great thing about a postgraduate course in journalism is the networking opportunities it offers you. Networking is important for many careers, but for something like journalism where knowing the right people can get you information faster, or perhaps even exclusively, it is vital. During your masters degree you’ll not only meet the teaching staff, their contacts, and any businesses your university links to, but also you’ll spend time getting to know your fellow students. Just like you, these students are aiming to work in journalism, so when the course comes to an end they too should be useful contacts to have.
Outside of your studies
Once you have finished studying – or even while you are studying – it is also essential to build up your skills and experience so you can develop your journalism career.
It’s well worth having a blog on a relevant subject to your intended field of journalism – not only will it provide you with great practice, it will act as proof of your writing skill. You’ll need to perfect your spelling and grammar throughout your blog, though, because failing at this is an easy way to make yourself look bad!
Social media is so important these days. To be a successful and current journalist you’ll need to be active on Twitter, know your way around Youtube, and understand how creative commons works on flickr. We all know that nowadays modern press isn’t just printed, and you’ll be expected to be able to use the internet to your own advantage. Any good postgraduate course should cover more than the printed media, so when you’re looking into where to study, make sure they also teach about digital media – you don’t want to end up left behind! And make sure you keep up to date in any new sites or areas in social media in your spare time.
Applying for Jobs
Finally, when you’re ready, it is time to start applying for jobs! Journalism is a tough market to break into, so be prepared for a couple of rejections along the way. There are various simple ways to make sure you stand out from the rest, you should ensure you have great referees as well as an impressive CV and well-written cover letter. And all the while make sure you keep working on other relevant projects – whether it’s your blog, or perhaps a small-scale website – to ensure you build up a good portfolio. You should also be prepared to start with low pay, unsocial hours and work your way in, but you can be sure that once you have found your inroad you won’t regret it!