How to become a journalist

July 28, 2020 · 6 min read · By ASU Online
Do you enjoy reading about global affairs and newsworthy events? Are you interested in a writing career that involves research and investigation? Journalists collect and analyze facts about important topics and social trends relevant to the public.

How to become a journalist

Journalists use their communication expertise to inform, excite and inspire. Professionals in this field produce articles that appeal to a wide audience. This makes versatility a core part of what it takes to become a journalist. This profession plays a crucial role in the democratic process. Journalists speak truth to spotlight key issues that affect the lives of millions of people. They also write about popular subjects to entertain readers.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is getting to tell some of these stories that otherwise would not get told,” says Emma Greguska, reporter for ASU Now and ASU English graduate.

The popularity of online media and 24-hour news cycle has created a demand for experienced writers. These writers should be self-motivated and technologically savvy. Traditional mediums like newspapers, magazines, television and radio also offer many writing opportunities. Journalists use their language expertise and love of storytelling to create engaging content. They also track down reputable sources to add depth and authority to their articles. Journalists work with editorial staff to ensure materials uphold ethical and editorial standards. This profession requires exceptional reading and writing competencies and interpersonal dexterity. Journalists should also have a willingness to ask difficult questions.

This multidimensional occupation requires a varied skill set. Job candidates must have a combination of technical knowledge and professional experience. This helps applicants stand out from the competition. An online Bachelor of Arts in English can provide you with advanced writing expertise to become a journalist. You'll also gain hands-on learning experience in rhetoric, literacy, semantics and data-driven storytelling. These are crucial if you want stable employment or you wonder if journalism is a good career choice. Courses in sociolinguistics, public relations and technical editing also come in handy. With a BA in English, you can pursue a full-time role in many professional environments.

Stack of newspapers sitting on top of a laptop.
Stack of newspapers sitting on top of a laptop.

A typical day in the life of a journalist

Journalists perform a variety of tasks as part of their day-to-day responsibilities. These range from researching current events to composing written content under time constraints. Most professionals in this field receive specific assignments from their editors. Though, independent journalists are free to write on subjects that pique their interests. When journalists aren’t producing news articles, video and radio scripts or opinion pieces, they’re hunting down new sources, arranging interviews or attending events they plan to cover. These types of boots-on-the-ground activities are crucial to the production process. Journalists must maintain a high standard of factual accuracy. Are you wondering what it takes to become a journalist? If so, it’s important to consider the full range of responsibilities you may be accountable for, such as:

  • Developing relationships with authorities to get story leads and tips.
  • Interviewing subject matter experts, government officials and corporate contacts.
  • Investigating breaking news stories released by other media outlets.
  • Pitching content ideas to editors and production staff.
  • Researching assigned topics through primary and secondary sources.
  • Writing articles for newspapers, blogs, magazines or online outlets.

Editorial managers are often responsible for proofreading completed articles and scripts. But a journalist still needs to review their materials to remove grammatical issues. Self-reviewing also ensures the writing style is appropriate for the intended audience. This requires a strong foundation in language arts and reading comprehension. Journalists should also have a detailed-oriented approach to content creation. They must be able to interpret complex subjects. This helps them increase the public’s understanding of key issues. Key issues range from environmental hazards to political controversies. 

Journalist salary details and the journalism job market

The internet has been a disruptive force in journalism. Readers turn to online sources and social media to follow current events and stories. This has created new avenues for writers who want to work outside traditional media organizations. But there are still plenty of job opportunities within established institutions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are some business sectors with high levels of employment for journalists. These include newspaper publishers, radio and television broadcasters, motion picture companies and universities. Income expectations for professionals working in these areas tend to vary. The typical broadcast journalist salary was $64,820 in 2018, compared to $46,550 for writers in print-based publications, per BLS data.

Independent journalism usually offers less job security than full-time roles. It's hard to predict how well your stories will perform. It also takes significant time, effort and patience to grow an online audience. So, many unaffiliated journalists take on contract work to offset this potential instability. But journalists’ core skills are valuable to a range of companies in commercial and nonprofit industries. This often allows professionals to pivot their careers in new directions. Journalists may also find success in digital marketing, content development and copywriting.

What it takes to become a journalist

Besides writing and reading competencies, journalists have a range of core traits. These traits help them conduct thorough investigations and produce engaging content. This profession involves several responsibilities beyond research and storytelling. So, it's important to review qualities that support occupational success. These include:

  • Curiosity: The desire to learn about unfamiliar subjects is an essential tool for journalists. It helps them create new story ideas and stay engaged with their work. Professionals in this field are always seeking out new knowledge. Lifelong learning expands their perspective on global affairs and complex topics. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and to take chances with your writing,” says Greguska. “That’s how you’re going to grow and become a better writer.”
  • Persistence: Journalist job descriptions often include tracking down news tips and landing interviews. Yet, these descriptions rarely mention the difficulty of these tasks when sources are unwilling to speak on the record. Journalists cover sensitive events and collect facts that may be damaging to a public figure’s reputation. So, it requires significant tact and tenacity.
  • Active listening: Journalists use keen observation powers during the entire production process. They have to be observant when interviewing eyewitnesses or crafting well-sourced materials. Success in this field relies on your ability to remain attentive. This is especially true when sources are answering your questions or making statements.
  • Critical thinking: News stories aren’t always straightforward. This is why journalists must be able to analyze complex information. They must also check whether their understanding is accurate and factual. This often requires both objectivity and a willingness to reassess their own biases.

Learn more about your career as a journalist

The ASU Online Bachelor of Arts in English can help you improve your writing competencies. You'll also increase your knowledge of today’s editorial practices. The English program has courses on ethical sourcing and how to assemble newsworthy articles. You'll also have the opportunity to craft compelling narratives about significant events that may affect the public.

For those who want to learn what it takes to become a journalist, the BA in English offers supplementary areas of study. These include persuasive writing, rhetoric and grammar, technical editing and methods of inquiry. The program will help you prepare for a fast-paced career in a range of industries. In the competitive field of journalism, it’s important to assemble the right set of skills, knowledge and experience. That's why an undergraduate education is a valuable resource for your occupational success.

ASU Online – Online Bachelor of Arts in English
Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Reporters and Correspondents by O*Net Online
Journalist Salary by PayScale
What Are the Requirements Necessary to Become a Journalist? by Houston Chronicle
Becoming a Journalist by Society of Professional Journalists
Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018 by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

A journalist reaching out to a source for a story
A journalist reaching out to a source for a story.


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