Journalism is a great career choice for inquisitive people who like telling stories and aren’t afraid of hard work. A career in journalism is demanding, fast-paced and exciting. It enables you to travel, meet new people and explore interesting affairs.
How to Become a Journalist (With Career & Job Interview Tips)
Posted by Phillip Jewell on
Journalism is still a highly important and respected profession. The task of communicating truths and informing people of news topics will always play a vital role in society.
As American reporter and political commentator Walter Lippmann brilliantly stated, ‘There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.’
Journalism at a Glance
Journalists may be reporting in the field in faraway lands, operating solely online or working from broadcasting studios.
In a nutshell, journalists tell stories. They produce news reports on anything, from politics and sports to Hollywood gossip and science.
How to Become a Journalist?
Here, we detail the step-by-step process to becoming a journalist. This guide is applicable to those pursuing journalism careers in multiple countries including the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
There is no written rule that states journalists must have a bachelor’s degree to enter the industry. In fact, you’re sure to come across many journalists who aren’t educated to degree level.
However, most journalists have obtained a bachelor’s degree.
Many employers prefer journalists to have a degree in a content-specific subject - for example, politics or science - rather than journalism itself. This enables journalists to specialise and utilise their subject knowledge to serve as an expert in their field.
Of course, a degree in journalism directly isn’t frowned upon by any means. It’s still a highly relevant degree that provides future journalists with a platform to excel in journalism. But when considering which degree to study, consider which area of journalism you would like to specialise in. It might be beneficial to obtain a degree in that sphere, rather than journalism itself.
Let’s take a look at the degrees of some of the most well-known journalists of today.
- Robert Fisk – Renowned British journalist, Robert Fisk, obtained a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Lancaster and a PhD in political science from Trinity College in Dublin.
- Oliver Holt – English sports journalist, Oliver Holt, studied newspaper journalism at the Cardiff School of Journalism.
- Christiane Amanpour – Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, obtained a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Rhode Island.
- Bob Woodward – Well-known American journalist Bob Woodward acquired a bachelor’s degree in history and English literature at Yale University.
As you can see, journalists tend to study various different degrees. Some study journalism directly while others study a content-specific subject.
Some journalism courses are focused on specific journalistic topics, such as sport or fashion, while other courses are focused on journalistic platforms, such as broadcasting.
When choosing your university course, consider which one interest you most. Do your research and try to choose a course that meets your career objectives.
2. Study a Post-Graduate Degree
For those who want to advance their careers in journalism or approach their first job with a stronger academic background, it’s a good idea to obtain a master’s degree from journalism school.
Many journalists claim that post-graduate courses gave them skills, knowledge and experiences that were vital in their career progression. Others claim post-grad study is not necessary.
Money is one of the key factors in the debate of whether or not to undertake a post-graduate journalism course. The cost of completing a master’s degree in journalism may not pay off for a long time.
Can you become a journalist without a post-graduate degree?
Yes, absolutely. On-the-job journalism experience is just as valuable – if not, more so – than post-graduate study.
Post-graduate study is not a requirement for all journalism jobs. However, post-graduate degrees can provide journalists with more options when it comes to finding a job.
3. Gain Hands-on Journalism Experience While You Study
While education is a vital aspect of journalists’ development, there is no replacement for hands-on experience. On-the-job experience is what enables journalists to put their knowledge into practice and improve their capabilities alongside seasoned experts.
As such, it’s important for journalists to undertake work experience when possible. This might involve commencing an internship at a local newspaper or starting an online blog.
Many media organisations offer internships, such as the Financial Times. Not only do such internships offer invaluable career experiences, but they also look fantastic on your CV.
How else can you gain journalism experience?
Other ways of gaining experience include writing for local newspapers, websites, magazines and school/university newspapers.
Approach local media companies and enquire about short-term positions. If you’re struggling to find journalism experience, engage with like-minded students and journalists at events that are promoted on journalism websites, such as the European Journalism Centre.
4. Apply for Jobs
Once you’ve completed your education and gained some practical experience, it’s time to start pursuing your first job in journalism.
Use job boards and scour online job listings to find a role that matches your ambitions.
It’s advisable to prepare a professional portfolio for job interviews and interactions with industry professionals. Your portfolio should include copies - digital and/or paper - of your journalism activities, such as recordings and writings.
Networking is also a key aspect of job-seeking in the journalism industry. Utilise professional networking platforms, such as LinkedIn, to build relationships with industry professionals and open the door to employment opportunities.
Don’t neglect real-life networking. Attend journalism events and get to know members of the community. Approach key decision-makers at these events in a professional manner and try to get your foot in the door.
Where is the best place to find journalism jobs?
Browse jobs on CV Nation’s website. We always have around 200,000 job postings for you to browse and apply for, including a wealth of journalism jobs.
When you’ve secured your first job, keep developing your professional capabilities. Working alongside professional, experienced journalists will help you to develop your skill set greatly, but don’t neglect further training opportunities as they arise.
5. Be ready to adapt
Journalism has experienced monumental change in recent years. This is largely because technology and digital media have significantly altered the ways in which news is delivered.
Journalists who commenced their careers 20 years ago have had to learn how to change their approach to story telling to include social media and other forms of digital media.
The industry will likely experience further change over the course of the coming years. The future of journalism today is uncertain.
Who really knows where the industry is headed?
What you can do is make sure you’re ready to adapt to the changing landscape and embrace it wholeheartedly.
Key Journalism Statistics
These journalism statistics provide insight into current trends in the journalism industry. This data may help you decide whether a career in journalism is for you.
Sources: Statists, Reuters Institute
Key Skills for Journalists
What are the most important skills for journalists? Which skills should journalists demonstrate at job interviews?
Here, we detail five of the most important skills for journalists in 2020.
1. Story Telling
This skill goes much deeper than writing a good article. It encompasses investigation, evaluation, research and interviewing. Brining all these skills together to present engaging stories that people love is arguably the most important skill for journalists.
How to demonstrate your story telling skills at job interviews?
Provide examples of times when you have delivered powerful stories, whether it be for your high school newspaper or major media companies during internships.
Convey how you brought your story to the page, demonstrating your investigations and research. Explain how you extracted the key information from your sources and identified potential avenues of enquiry.
When you present examples to the interviewer in this way, your qualities as an effective story teller will shine.
2. Work Ethic
Journalism can be a hard slog. It’s not easy to create news stories. A lot of time, effort and persistence is required to bring great writing to the page.
To cope with the stress involved with tight deadlines and a highly demanding industry, journalists must have a strong work ethic.
How to demonstrate your work ethic at job interviews?
When describing examples of your successes in journalism, explain how you went the extra mile to achieve objectives. Examples might involve committing your own personal time to stories or travelling far and wide to interview sources.
Articulating your commitment to the job in this way showcases a strong work ethic, which hiring managers love.
As we mentioned earlier in this guide, journalism is a constantly changing industry. The digital age brought about a multitude of changes to the industry, and further changes are expected in the future.
For this reason, journalists must be able to adapt to the changing landscape of their profession.
How to demonstrate your adaptability at job interviews?
A fantastic way of showing your adaptability at job interviews is to touch on times you have changed your ways of working to achieve positive outcomes.
For example, have you learned new journalism techniques or become familiar with new tools? Have you developed solutions to arising problems?
Identify times you have successfully adapted and articulate this in your job interview when asked behaviour-based interview questions.
4. Technical Proficiency
As journalism is constantly becoming more digitally-focused, it’s vital for journalists to be technically proficient.
What technical skills do journalists need?
Basic technical skills for journalists include proficiency with computers, email, social media, word processors and software packages.
More complex technical skills include coding, SEO, graphic design and videography.
How to demonstrate your technical skills at job interviews?
The ‘what do you like most about your job’ type questions provide one of the best opportunities to show off your tech skills.
When asked these types of questions, you have the chance to state that you’re eager to utilise your technical capabilities. You can then describe your technical skills, before going on to provide examples of times you have utilised them to achieve success.
Many people claim that journalism is fundamentally about truth. Enlightening people about global or local topics and bringing the truth to light is one of the most important aspects of the profession.
As such, integrity is a key trait for journalists.
Christopher Hitchens summed it up perfectly: ‘I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.’
How to demonstrate your integrity at job interviews?
Behaviour-based interview questions provide the perfect platform to show interviewers that you’re a journalist of integrity.
While answering these questions, touch on those times when you took responsibility, adhered to regulations or put the needs of others first.
Further Job Interview Tips for Journalists
- Make sure you are familiar with the company you’re applying to work for. If the interviewer gets the impression that you don’t know a great deal about what the company does, it will have a negative impact on the outcome of the interview.
If you’re applying to work at a newspaper, research some of their popular articles. If you’re applying for work at a radio station, listen to the content they’re putting out.
- Demonstrate soft skills through your actions and responses in the interview. For example, show off your attention-to-detail skills by pausing and taking time to consider your responses before responding to questions.
- Bring along your professional portfolio to showcase your work.
- Prepare questions that you would like to ask in advance. This shows that you understand the role and ensures you won’t get tongue-tied when offered the opportunity to ask questions.
- Use the STAR methodology to answer interview questions more effectively.
How To Use the STAR Methodology in Journalism Job Interviews?
The STAR technique is a great way of responding to behaviour-based job interview questions. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. When using this structured approach, candidates answer questions by following the STAR method - Situation, Task, Action, Result.
Here is an example:
Job Interview Question: ‘Describe a time you went the extra mile to achieve success?’
Answer: ‘While preparing an innovative piece for my school newspaper on the topic of the country’s carbon footprint, I was faced with a number of problems that put the completion of the article in jeopardy. One of the key problems I faced was an inability to communicate with key sources remotely.
To solve this problem, I travelled to over eight cities across the country. Although this cost me significant money, time and personal resources, I managed to meet with members of government in these cities and gain key information for the article.
Upon publication of the article, which challenged a lack of environmental awareness in the education sector of government, I was successful in contributing to pressuring key-decision makers. Subsequently, initiatives were implemented to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint and reduce the negative impact on the environment.’
Notice how this answer covers all four steps of the methodology in order – Situation, Task, Action, Result – to provide an effective answer to the question.
Before your job interview, identify a number of your key successes in journalism and use the STAR methodology to prepare answers that you can use.
While you can’t be sure what questions you will be asked in your job interviews, you can prepare a number of answers that showcase your successes and adapt them to the actual question you are asked.
We hope you've found the advice in this article helpful. If you would like a free review of your journalist CV by our professional CV writers, click here. For further career-related advice and guidance, check out the rest of our career blog.