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What Does It Take to Become a Journalist?

Journalist

Journalism is a broad and competitive field that demands a high level of dedication and commitment. While the accolades and pay are considerable for top tier journalists, the path to the top is steep and unforgiving.

For budding writers that know they have what it takes to reach the peak, the first step toward journalistic success is mapping out a clear path to the goal. 

Here are five processes you should undertake to become a reputable journalist.

1) Education

A degree in journalism is not strictly required in most countries to secure a job as a journalist. However, a bachelor’s degree in journalism or communications is highly recommended. Not only will the degree arm you with an understanding of important aspects of journalism (i.e., technical writing, sources analysis, bias, adherence to deadlines), but it will also show any publications you apply to that you’re serious about your career. 

Specialisation in a field like commerce is recommended, as it will allow you to write more technical pieces, like this article, which requires a developed understanding of finance and law.

2) Internship

Once your education is complete, an internship is an important steppingstone into your chosen field. Seek out magazine publishing houses, media companies or newsrooms where you can work alongside experienced journalists and editors to create quality content and learn best industry practices. 

Securing a coveted internship can be a challenge, so sell yourself like you would pitch an article, highlighting your ‘hook’. Your hook could be your ability to speech multiple languages or the fact that you majored in journalism. Focus on what will help you stand out from less qualified applicants. Accept that your pay will usually be minimal. What you’re losing out on financially, you are earning in experience. 

Make the most of your internship by showing initiative. Let your employer know that you’re eager to sink your teeth into whatever role you’re needed in. 

3) Networking

While you’re completing your internship, you can begin the all-important process of networking. Find out who the big players in your field are and try to get yourself on their radar. 

Utilise company events to build strong relationships and powerful alliances. Just as you would before a big job interview, do your research before approaching highfliers in your field. Know what subjects interest them and what you can offer. 

For example, if you’re attending an industry event with a big-time gossip column editor as a guest, brush up on your celeb news before you start trying to rub elbows. Your attention to detail will show that you’re serious about your career and know your stuff.

4) Portfolio Building

Writing a brilliant pitch is only half the battle. Like any artist, you need a strong portfolio to show an editor or publication what they can expect from your writing. Like a tailored resume or cover letter, your portfolio shouldn’t include every gig you’ve ever had, just those that are relevant to the publication you’re pitching to. 

Sites like Clippings.Me make it easier than ever to create a number of different portfolios for various niches. Other journalists, however, prefer the more traditional WordPress or even a well-formatted word document. Your medium is up to you. Just keep it clear and current.

5) Determination

Arguably the most important step of all is determination. Even if you finish your education, complete an internship, learn to network, and build a solid portfolio, there will be setbacks. Some editors will reject your work and rip it to shreds. Other publications will ignore your submissions entirely. 

Just like billionaire author J.K Rowling endured countless rejections before Harry Potter became a household name, so must you. With tenacity and determination, your skill will build, and you will improve with each correction and adjustment.

Becoming a journalist isn’t easy, but if you’re a dedicated and determined writer, you can start your journey today by following the five key processes listed above. 

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