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How to Become a journalist

Journalism is a fast-paced and exciting career that is perfect for those who have inquisitive
minds and excellent communication skills. The individual interested in journalism must
also value truth above all else, possess excellent deductive skills and be willing to take the
time that is needed to make this career succeed. The person who has these qualities should
consider moving on to a formal journalism education at a college or university. Some
classes will be similar for all journalism majors. However, there will be some classes that
the individual will have to choose based on his particular interests. For example, some may
choose to get into television or radio journalism. Others will prefer to work with print, such
as newspapers and magazines. A growing type of journalism these days is the Internet,
which is where increasing numbers of people are turning to have their information needs
met. The individual will also have to decide what he will wish to write about or report on
before he looks for a job. Examples include sports, fashion and current events journalism.
One of the best ways to get hands-on experience is by participating in an internship. This
internship should be with the type of media that the individual is pursuing. He may be able
to work at a radio or television station for several months, or he may be able to find an
assistant position with a newspaper. An internship lends credibility to his resume. It should
always be remembered that most journalists begin with small jobs before working their
way to their main career goals.

Starting in high school

As with any career path, you should start as soon as possible, although one’s career
ambitions have usually only begun to take shape during the high school years, or they may
not have been formulated at all. Most high school classes offer classes in journalism at all
four grade levels. The students who take such classes write articles for the high school
newspaper and yearbook.

At each successive level the students learn more challenging skills and are given more
complex assignments. In most schools, Journalism II teaches how to take photographs of
students in a wide range of settings, from classrooms to sports to clubs, as well as how to
edit those photographs and the stories with which they go, the use of Adobe PhotoShop
and InDesign, and running a small business for the benefit of one’s community. Naturally a
student must complete one level before moving on to the next one.
(It should be mentioned, in passing, that in 1988 the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier that the First Amendment to the Constitution does not protect
school newspapers against censorship.)

In addition to your formal studies, you should learn as much as you can by studying your
community. Talk with those who work on your local newspaper and other publications and
ask them what tips they can give you on preparing an article for publication.

Moving on to college

Most colleges also offer courses in journalism. The descriptions below are of the classes offered
at Hillsdale College, in the town of the same name in southwestern Michigan. This private
institution has long been renowned for the quality of its education and is therefore an excellent
model for what should be taught in college.

• Introduction to Journalism. Lasts for two semesters; focuses on journalistic writing
and an ethical free press; teaches basic grammar and punctuation rules, editorial
writing and typography. These two courses count towards a minor in journalism.

• Major Figures in Journalism.This course is devoted to the work of major journalists
in history and the impact that they have had.

• History of Journalism from Gutenberg to the Muckrakers. Historical figures covered
include John Milton, Jonathan Swift, Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass and
Mark Twain. Special attention is given to the early years of the Republic and the Civil

• History of Journalism in the 20th and 21st centuries. The rise of the radio and TV
and of the Internet are covered here, as are such figures as Ernest Hemingway and
George Orwell.

• Editing. How to edit the work of both oneself and one’s peers, with clarity and
accuracy being brought into consideration.

• Political Journalism. Writing about public figures, elections and the like.

• Sports Writing. Students learn how to cover both campus games and major national
ones like the Super Bowl.

• Issues and Themes in Journalism. Ethics and freedom of the press are studied.

• Internship in Journalism. This involves students gaining practical experience by
working in radio stations, a media website or some other journalistic enterprise.

• Collegian. This is the college newspaper. Students gain hands-on experience
working thereon.

• Special Topics in Journalism.

• Advanced Writing. For those who really want to improve their writing skills.

Hillsdale also offers the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism, which is
devoted to “the restoration of ethical, high-minded journalism standards, and to the
reformation of our cultural, political and social practices.”

Where to find work

As mentioned above, the range of work in the field of journalism is enormous. Journalists
can work on newspapers, magazines, newsletters, radio stations and now on websites.

The range of subjects on which a journalist can write are just as varied; some are general
writers, while others specialize in writing on a specific topic, such as sports, political
events, military campaigns (Matthew Brady was one of the foremost in this area) or
developments involving major figures in the entertainment world. When applying for a
journalism job, be sure to have a portfolio of your work with you.