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How do I pursue a career in journalism?

I'm 17, going to be a senior this fall, and I've been passionate about the field of journalism and social justice since I was very young. While I love the field, I know they make little to no money, especially because I want to be an independent journalist that covers dangerous topics later in my career. Where should I start?

#Spring23

Thank you comment icon This is wonderful news. We need more people interested in this type of work - It will take: Long hours with few results MUCH research MUCH networking MUCH critical thinking. If you love puzzles asking questions playing trivia learning YOU are on the right track. If not, begin. Also, your career in education should focus on social justice, history, political science and journalism. The writing is the "easier" part - it is the dogged pursuit of the truth especially when it is not easy to hear. I see you as an independent, bold, confident person. Keep your passion alive. Read every day- find a role model, work on a political campaign or for a social service agency, learn, know what you will be reporting about. Begin now. And all the best. Joanne Joanne Williams

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Ryan’s Answer

Hi Isabella,

Disclaimer: I'm not, nor have I been a journalist, however, my partner was for ~8 years or so. As others have noted, going to university and taking courses in the subjects you're interested in is a good start - especially if the university has a well regarded Journalism department (e.g., Northwestern, Syracuse, Mizzou), though this is of course not a requirement.

From there so much of journalism is actually going out and doing it: work for the student newspaper or intern for different publications. It's incredibly valuable to have that experience and the subsequent connections. In general, that experience will help you improve your writing, get better at talking to/interviewing all types of people, and understanding how to decide what to cover. Journalism is a relatively small, tight knit community so working with folks in the industry is super helpful for landing a job after school.
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Nik’s Answer

I would agree with the recommendation on pursuing an education in the fields that you are interested in.

I would also add that you should start writing as soon as possible, if you haven't already so that you can build up your journalism portfolio. Write for your school paper. If you don't have a school paper, start one. Write for your local paper. As you do this, you'll come to a greater appreciation of the craft and start to build relationships with people who can mentor you.

Also, get involved with organizations in your area who are working to promote social justice.
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Thomas’s Answer

Major in Social Justice and Journalism. Simple as that. Start looking at the best schools for those topics and decide about tuition, and distance from home and things. Then start applying- focus mainly on the college essays- that's how they are going to know for sure if they want you at their institution (I know, that sounds harsh but that's just how applying to college is). After applying, there's nothing you really can do except for wait to see if you've been accepted and (maybe if you're excited) do some learning and studying on your own to learn about what you're going into.

Also, I really feel the need to say this: there's money in everything. You just need to do the work- so it's better to enjoy your job and build up to making a solid career than going to a dead end 9-5 that you hate. There's the easy route where you do the degree everyone wants you to do then get a 6 figure something job that you hate and work most your life away so you can have a "comfortable" retirement. PLEASE don't do that. Put everything you have into your dream- you only have one life so you better do everything you want to do- you might regret it if you don't.
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Brian P. D.’s Answer

There is no right or wrong way to become a journalist. Some reporters and editors start by submitting articles to a local newspaper or interning at a tv station. Others begin by writing for online publications or starting their own news website or blog. Whatever gets you reporting on the topics you think are important is a great way to start.

What all journalists share is a passion for investigating the world and sharing what they find. To that end, I recommend a few things:

Read/Watch/Listen a lot: Reading, watching and listening to news, whether print or tv or radio or other online sources, will help you learn how to build a news report. There are specific elements that need to go into every story, regardless of the medium. Studying how professionals operate is a great way to learn the craft of journalism. Look at a lot of different news organizations and individual journalists, the more the better, to study how good stories are structured and what techniques are used to catch the eyes and ears of the audience. But you also can learn from stories that were not done well, which will teach you what to avoid. Use a critical eye and try to take lessons from every news report.

Write a lot: While studying the work of others, you also need to produce your own in order to practice and get better. No matter what kind of platform you want to use, nearly every story involves writing, from print articles to television and audio scripts. The only way to get better at writing is to write. Go out into your community and write articles about what you find. They can be about events such as concerts or speeches or sports or art gallery openings. Or look for trends: what books or shows or social issues have people at your school talking, what are the political debates and economic concerns impacting people in your community. These articles can be any length and if you can get them published that’s great, but they still have value even if you only write them for yourself or family and friends. Write them to make yourself aware of your surroundings, which is one of the core elements of journalism, and simply to practice writing.

Join a group: Journalism is a collective enterprise. Even independent, freelance journalists go through publishers, editors and other collaborators, unless they are strictly self-publishing. When you start, being part of a group can help immensely. Whether that is a school newspaper or a local publication where you can work part-time or a writing group of some kind, joining others to help with your efforts will only make you better. You will gain advice from more experienced people, as well as other perspectives and fresh ideas from people around you. Not to mention, those other people can catch the mistakes you have overlooked (it happens to all of us.)

As for the money, some journalists earn a very good living and others get by on much less, but journalism ultimately is a means to help others enrich their lives and not a way for you to make riches. If your goal is a huge paycheck, you should probably find a different career. But if you want an extremely interesting way to help make the world a better place, and frequently have a lot of fun doing it, then journalism is a great career option. Good luck.
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Bethany’s Answer

Hi, Isabella!

I am so glad to hear you want to pursue Journalism as a career path! It is such a broad field with a lot to offer, and it is very beneficial to learn how to write professionally. If you are passionate about current events and if you consider yourself to be a "news junkie," then journalism is definitely the right field for you. I worked as a journalist for my college newspaper, mostly covering arts/entertainment and human-interest stories. Find topics that interest you, and start writing about them. As long as you are interested in the topic, you'll never run out of things to write about.

Below are some helpful tips that will get you started in your career as a journalist:

Bethany recommends the following next steps:

1. Networking - The digital age has allowed us to be more connected than ever before, so we have the ability to reach out to people who share a similar interest. Building professional connections is a great way to find people who will help you get started in your career, and provide you with real-life insight on your preferred career path. Platforms like LinkedIn are great for professional networking, as well as staying in touch with professors after graduating college.
2. Keep Writing - The best way to perfect your craft is to keep doing it! You will only be great at something if you continue to practice diligently! Find a publication, whether print or online, that you could write for, or create your own blog. Blogging allows you to have more freedom to write about topics that interest you.
3. Be Open to Criticism - As a journalist, your work will always be scrutinized by the general public. There will always be people who don't like what you've written, especially if you are covering a very controversial/political topic. Always remember that everyone has their own opinions, but your job is to report the facts. Don't let the opinions of others influence how/what you write about, and don't let their comments bring you down. Remember, your work will also have to be filtered through an editor, who will most likely offer suggestions on how to improve your writing. Don't take these suggestions as criticisms against you, rather look at is as your editor trying to help you be the best news reporter you can be. They want your story to gain traction just as much as you do, so heed to their advice.
4. Remain Unbiased - It is hard to do this in our current political climate, but staying unbiased is super important as a journalist. You should never let your own opinion influence how you write about an issue. Your job is to collect the facts and present the facts as accurately as possible. Inserting your own opinion makes your writing less believable and creates public distrust.
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