A Day in the life of a Journalist
There are many types of journalists, from the local beat newspaper reporter to the foreign correspondent, the magazine feature writer to the freelance book reviewer, and so on. It is difficult to pin down the daily routine of an average journalist. Journalists interview sources and review records to assemble, collect, and report information and explore the implications of the facts. Journalism informs, educates, chastises: Do not underestimate the power a journalist holds. Remember Watergate, when RobertWoodward and Carl Bernstein, two reporters working for The Washington Post, discovered and published information that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon? Professionals must be able to report quickly and accurately. More than 80 percent of our respondents listed time pressure as one of the most distinguishing features of this job. Journalists must maintain a point of view while remaining objective about their subjects, which can be difficult; around half our respondents said that their colleagues sometimes got too involved in the stories. Interpersonal skills, excellent writing skills, and a reporter’s instinct (the ability to accurately assess the significance of obscure and incomplete information) are essential to success. The uncertainty of the daily routine makes it difficult to incorporate family, hobbies, and any regularly scheduled plans; but those who detest the predictability of nine-to-five jobs are attracted to journalism because “no day is a carbon copy of the day before.” Long hours and chronic deadline pressure can be significantly negative factors. When an editor calls you in on a breaking story, you have to be prepared to drop everything; when you’re on deadline, you can get crazed trying to write a complicated story in half the time you need. This ball and chain to the offices leads many to resent, and eventually reject, the reporter’s life. Some journalists complain about being “under the thumb of Napoleonic editors who control your every word based on their own taste.” (Editors are sometimes Napoleonic, but more often, they are simply perfectionists.) Journalists who are protective of their prose rarely last in this profession, since articles are often edited for publication without their consultation. More than 40 million people read newspapers in the United States each day, and more than 50 million people read magazines each week. The opportunity for your writing to reach a large audience is tempting indeed, and many find the initial low pay, uncertain and occasionally dangerous conditions, and chaotic schedule a fair tradeoff to be allowed to do what they do. In fact, many seem drawn by the excitement and challenge of these very conditions.
Paying Your Dues
Most journalists hold a bachelor’s degree in journalism, communications, English, or political science. More than a few distinguished careers have begun at the school newspaper or at a neighborhood magazine or newspaper. Many journalists come to the profession later in life after gaining expertise and connections in other professions. Journalism jobs are highly competitive: Credentials and experience must be accompanied by gumption and hard work. Excellent writing skills are a must, as are computer word-processing skills. Bone up on proofreading skills before applying for any job. Foreign language skills may be necessary for those reporting on the international scene. Persistence, initiative, stamina, and the desire to tell real stories about real events are critical to the survival of the budding journalist. The best journalists have a knack for putting contemporary events into historical perspective.
Journalists who leave the profession often become editors, professors, researchers, and analysts. Many teach high school and run school papers; others take jobs in whatever industry they once covered as a reporter. Those who leave the field usually do so because of the uncertain lifestyle and the long hours.