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What is the traditional path to becoming a journalist in this day and age?

journalism writing

I am a 15-year-old student at a tech school in Massachusetts looking to become a journalist, as stories are important to me, truth is a necessity to me, and writing is my passion.

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Margaret’s Answer

Write for your high school paper and your college newspaper. Take journalism courses in college, then get a job at a newspaper, even one in a small town. You'll learn on the job. Or you can go to a journalism school like NYU, Columbia, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, etc.

If you can, attend the annual conference of Investigative Reporters & Editors, which is usually held each June. It's an intense seminar and learning experience from the very best in the field. I believe you can "audit" the conference and/or get a scholarship to lower the cost. They also do various workshops around the country; you'll learn a ton.

Talk to a few journalists if you can. Ask about their paths and listen to their advice. Just email a few of your favorites. Sometimes they actually write back.

Margaret recommends the following next steps:

Write for your local paper, high school paper, and college newspaper
Take journalism courses in college and consider journalism school
Attend IRE (Investigative Reporters & Editors) conference or workshops
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Sara’s Answer

Hi, JB - Congratulations on identifying your passion and exploring advice on how to pursue it. Journalism plays a key role in educating the public on current events. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have on your peers, right in your own school. Explore every outlet you can to develop your writing skills now. Does your school publish a newspaper or literary journal? If so, join the staff. Get involved in the student society and help create information for student events. What about morning announcements? Find out who publishes those and explore possibilities to assist them.

Outside of school, write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Don’t give up. Keep sending your letters in until they begin to get published. Read the editorial page and see what others are writing about. Stay on top of current events and lend your opinion to the discussion in this forum.

At home, I encourage you to start a WordPress blog. They’re free and your words will appear online whenever you’re ready to publish them. Make it a habit to write at least one afternoon or evening a week. You’ll find your “voice” by doing so.

I followed my own advice and began writing a monthly column in my hometown newspaper years before achieving my journalism degree. It’s a passion you need to follow. There’s such a sense of gratification in doing so.

The opportunities are there. Don’t get discouraged. Even if you’re only writing for yourself right now, you’ll get better with everything you write.

Can’t wait to see your writing in print!! :)

Sara recommends the following next steps:

Write for school publications
Submit letters to the editor of your local paper
Begin writing a WordPress blog
Keep a journal with you to capture your thoughts when they hit you
Practice interviewing others
Thank you for the advice! J B.
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Dante’s Answer

You want to take a writing course or two to perfect your writing. Coursera, Skillshare, EdX, and Udemy have courses to assist in helping find those courses or a particular course to add to your knowledgebase.

You also want to engage with other writers through events in your city or joining a book club or writers group. Meetup can help you.

You can also start a YouTube channel to talk about how you feel about current events around the world from time to time.
I will, Thanks! J B.
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halee’s Answer

- Journalism as a profession is evolving
- Starting a blog, podcast, vlog and/or contributing to conversations on social media
- Exploring new media to discover what you’re passionate about
- Publishing more and amplifying it on your social channels
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Matt’s Answer

In a lot of respects, "tradition" still lives on in journalism. The principals are still the same -- facts, accuracy, double checking sources, good judgment, good writing, etc. You also want to go to college and get a degree in journalism, communications, telecommunications, or media. I'd personally recommend my alma mater, Indiana University. Some other notable schools off the top of my head are Northwestern, Syracuse, Missouri, Maryland, and Arizona State. That said, your experiences matter in this industry far more than the name on your diploma. So, wherever you go, get involved in as many journalism-related activities as you can. Get an internship. Join the school paper, TV station, or radio station. Don't rely on what you learn in the classroom alone. The best experience is "on the job" experience. It is worth noting that some people have made it to the industry without a college degree, but they are outliers.

Many traditions in journalism are dying and duties are changing. I've worked in TV news for eight years and I was applying for my first job during the rise of the "multi-media journalist" or the "multi-skilled journalist." Those titles are corporate speak for "you must know how to do everything." That means TV journalists joining the business today must be able to do the reporting, shoot the video, write the script, edit the video, go live if necessary, and then write a web story on top of it. The web story, by the way, is the most important part, because it will still be online for years to come. The internet is a public archive as much as it is a news vessel. I'll let my friends on the print side of things explain to you more about their duties, but I can tell you that the print journalists I encounter in the field are by themselves, doing the reporting, and shooting their own photos. Many of them shoot video of their interviews to put in their web stories too. If you're going into radio, you're probably going to have to run the board, do the reports, cut promos, write web stories, and more. The bottom line is, learn how to do EVERYTHING you can. You'll be more valuable that way.

At this point in your life, I'd suggest joining your high school newspaper, if you haven't already. If you don't have one, talk to your English teacher about starting one. Maybe your town has a newspaper. See if you can write for them or job shadow a reporter. Start a YouTube channel or a podcast or a newsletter focused on what's happening in your community. Even if your audience is small, you want to be able to show someone down the line that you've served your community. The more experience you can compile at a young age, the more valuable you're going to be.

And remember -- EVERYONE has a story to tell, whether they realize it's news or not. It's your job to find out what that story is and why it's important for other people to hear.
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John’s Answer

There no longer is one. But some constants remain: Get involved with journalism at your school. Seek an internship. Read, read, read. Write, write, write.
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halee’s Answer

- As with just about any job in this day and age there is no “one path” - I know, that’s a cop out answer. Generally, going to college for journalism is a great place to start, but you should also think about what topics interest you, what kind of journalism you want to go into and what “beat” (topic) you might want to cover. Broadcast journalism? Investigative journalism? Politics, science, breaking news, sustainability, business - the list goes on and on. If you’re interested in one particular area think about how you can become a subject matter expert in that area too - not just in journalism. Let’s say you want to cover breaking news in science for a publication like STAT. Consider minoring in biology or taking science classes.

- Google will be your best friend. Use it to find [free] online courses and websites that focus on journalism as a career. Soak up as much knowledge now. You can also use social networks like LinkedIn or Twitter to find journalists you admire. Study how they go about crafting stories and use this information to perfect your own style and storytelling. Many of these individuals have their own websites that you can learn from too.
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halee’s Answer

- Be involved in student media while in school, even if you aren’t a journalism major. Getting clips is the most important part.
- Journalism school - creates a lot of connections and job opportunities. Check the cost/ benefit of different programs (ie. tuition varies).
- If you’re a journalism major, double major or minor in something else so you have more of a niche/expertise (e.g. double major in economics if you want to be a business reporter)
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Matt’s Answer

J.B., you've gotten some good advice from others here. I spent 20+ years in journalism, and I would emphasize with them that useful practical experience is the best teacher. Create content -- whether for a news outlet, YouTube or your own blog -- and ask professionals for honest feedback. Most will be THRILLED to help. Also learn how to research, not just on that newfangled internet, but by talking with people and uncovering documents. You would be amazed at what open records requests will show you, and you have as much right to make those requests as anyone, for any reason or no reason at all. Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) could help you try that out. Good luck!
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