Hack College Presents: How To Become A Journalist


If you’ve always dreamed of being a journalist, but are unnerved by the digital news revolution and what appears to be the death of print, this guide is specifically formulated to help you, the fledgling newshound, navigate the journalism industry and find your path.

Part I. The Industry of New Journalism

This field is tough and not for the faint-hearted, but it is ripe with possibility thanks to its rapid evolution. According to Ad Age, America had 117,100 Internet-media jobs in July 2012, compared to just 76,800 in December 2007. In order to succeed in journalism, you must first define your interests and then adapt your skills with the changing climate.

An Overview of Careers

  • Radio and Television Broadcasting: With the consolidation of news organizations and declines in viewership, jobs in broadcast journalism are expected to dip significantly in the next few years. Many universities offer students the opportunity to work on school radio and television programs. Getting involved at the collegiate level will help you determine whether or not you’re suited to be on the air.
  • News Writing and Editorial: If you have always dreamed of landing a newspaper reporting job, know this: many newspapers are laying off full-time employees, going completely online, or folding. This trade is swamped with both prospective and recently unemployed reporters, making it very difficult to find a full-time job with a secure future. Those interested in writing for magazines face even more uncertainty, as this field is also saturated and usually requires connections to get a foot in the door. As an alternative to traditional newspapers, online news agencies typically offer more freelance and long-term writing opportunities for skilled writers; an added bonus is that many of these web publications allow freelance journalists to write and submit work remotely. Fortunately, good writing skills are extremely transferable to other trades in the industry. If you don’t make it as a reporter, there is still hope.
  • Public Relations: Historically, serious journalists did not go the PR route. Ironically, as newspapers and magazines struggle to stay relevant, plenty of veteran reporters are moving to PR careers. If you are computer-savvy and have excellent communication skills, then you might be a strong candidate for a PR job. As the journalism landscape changes to include the social media and web tools, this field is significantly growing.

Salary and Career Outlook

Unfortunately, the job outlook for journalism is grim. You may have heard that the journalism industry is dying. It is true that many daily newspapers are going to weekly circulation, and plenty of publications are ditching print and putting it all online. The overall journalism field is expected to see a 6% decline in reporter, correspondent, and broadcast news analyst jobs between 2010 and 2020.

According to a survey by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, recent journalism graduates earn $33,000 on average, and experienced journalists earn an average of $58,000. Bottom line: do not get into journalism for money.

Part II. Top U.S. Journalism Programs

This country is fortunate to have some of the best journalism schools in the world. A four-year undergraduate education often comes with a hefty price-tag (regardless of one’s chosen major), and cost of tuition should be factored into the prospective student’s decision.

Indiana University School of Journalism

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications
  • Specialized Degrees: Students can choose from Design and Graphics, Digital and Interactive Media, and Enterprise Journalism, in addition to the basic areas of study.
  • Industry Perception: The school placed second the in the 2012 Hearst Journalism Awards Program Intercollegiate Writing Competition, and alumni include more than 30 Pulitzer Prize winners.
  • Annual Tuition and Fees: $10,034 for residents, $31,484 for non-residents
  • Financial Aid:  The university annually awards about $200,000 in scholarships, ranging from $500 to $8,000. Students are selected by a student-faculty committee to receive these awards.

Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Specialized Degrees: The school incorporates multimedia storytelling into its journalism degree program. The Integrated Marketing Communications program prepares students for careers in advertising, public relations, interactive marketing and corporate communications.
  • Industry Perception: The McCormick Tribune Center features multimedia supported classrooms and a professional-grade television studio. Plus, Northwestern is home to numerous media related organizations, allowing students to get valuable hands-on experience in school.
  • Annual Tuition and Fees: $29,251
  • Financial Aid: The Medill Scholarship Committee selects students for scholarships depending on merit, need, or donor intent. Students may also receive loans through the school and participate in the work study program.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism
  • and Mass Communications
  • Specialized Degrees: The school touts its cutting-edge curriculum, which includes an Applied Online Journalism class. Graduate students can earn online degrees in specializations like Social Media and Global Strategic Communication.
  • Industry Perception: Four working newsrooms, four radio stations, two television stations, 11 satellite ground stations, and an Interactive Media Lab allows for hands-on learning. The department’s Advisory Council is made up of 20 professional journalists who evaluate course curriculum and advise students.
  • Annual Tuition and Fees: $6,170 for residents, $28,448 for non-residents
  • Financial Aid: The school offers grants, loans, scholarships and a work study program.

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Specialized Degrees: Digital Media, Business Journalism
  • Industry Perception: The school claims to have one of the strongest digital media programs in the country, featuring their New Media Innovation Lab and Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship. Students can write for the Cronkite News Service; broadcast journalism majors may do a broadcast version of Cronkite News Service or work on Cronkite NewsWatch; and public relations students gain hands-on experience in the school-operated PR agency.
  • Annual Tuition and Fees: $9,722 for residents, $22,975 for non-residents
  • Financial Aid: The journalism school awards graduate assistantships to its top applicants each year. Selected students receive full tuition, health insurance, and an allowance of about $11,000 each academic year.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications
  • Specialized Degrees: Highly focused degree programs include Business Journalism, Sports Communication, Interdisciplinary Health Communication, and Digital Media. The school also offers a Certificate in Technology and Communication, earned entirely online.
  • Industry Perception: The award-winning student-run newspaper consistently receives high ranking on the Princeton Review’s annual list. According to ACEJMC, the school “has earned a reputation as one of the premier programs in journalism and mass communication.”
  • Annual Tuition and Fees: $7,694 for residents, $28,446 for non-residents
  • Financial Aid: The school awards scholarships to students in undergraduate and graduate programs each year based on merit and need.

University of Missouri at Columbia School of Journalism

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications
  • Specialized Degrees: Focuses include Emerging Media, Entrepreneurial Journalism, Multimedia Producing, Visual Editing and Management, and Strategic Communication to name just a few. For students who prefer a shorter commute, the school offers an online master’s degree program.
  • Industry Perception: Founded in 1879, this was the first journalism school in the country. The school is also known for its “Missouri Method,” which combines coursework with practical, real-world experience.
  • Annual Tuition and Fees: $9,272 for residents, $22,440 for non-residents
  • Financial Aid: Eligible students may receive grants, loans, and scholarships; they may also participate in the federal work study program.

Part III. Launching a Journalism Career

There are a few things to remember before you start hunting for your dream journalism job. They all revolve around one hard fact: the digital revolution has turned the world of traditional journalism on it’s head. As a result, it’s harder than ever to get good paid work as a journalist.

Nowadays, information is at everyone’s fingertips. Everyone has a degree and a blog. News companies hire journalists only as needed and they do so on a shoestring budget. So if you want to be a real-life modern-day journalist you need to be passionate and you need to be willing to work. Find a topic that people care about and own it. Learn that topic inside and out and teach yourself to identify what matters to readers and what doesn’t.

Today’s aspiring journalists have one important career building tool that earlier newsmakers could’ve only dreamed of: the web. The most important thing for any young writer is to focus on building a strong online portfolio. If you want to be the next Christiane Amanpour, don’t wait for that dazzling internship position, start self-publishing all those incisive investigative reports, interviews and editorials on your own. And once you start to get paid for pieces you’ve submitted online, be sure to negotiate the specifics of author tags and content ownership. If you want to build a brand as a writer, your work should be tagged with your name in the author line.

And remember, journalism is just like any other profession with a high barrier to entry — the industry rewards upstarts who put in their time working for peanuts. In Cronkite’s time and our own, experience is invaluable and industry connections will only help you go farther.

  • Jobs and Internships: Before journalism school existed, reporters learned the trade through apprenticeships. Classroom curricula cannot replace real world experience. Snagging as many internships as you can will help you apply your knowledge and make connections. Taking on freelance work as a college student is even smarter. This will help beef up your portfolio and resume. MediaBistro, JournalismJobs, and Indeed are all great places to start your search.
  • Cover Letter: This is the first thing the hiring manager will see, so make sure your grammar, punctuation, and language are all flawless. Keep it short, introduce yourself, explain why you are the best fit for the position, and make sure it’s free of typos. You should draft a different cover letter for each job application. If you need more guidance, the City University of New York has some good tips.
  • Résumé: A quality résumé will summarize your background and showcase your unique talents. It should be limited to one error-free page. Avoid career objectives and hobbies, as well as unnecessary embellishments. If you don’t have any related job experience, pick up some internships.
  • Portfolio: An online portfolio is absolutely necessary for competing in today’s job market. Your portfolio should include your resume, work samples, links to work published online, and contact information. If you have some basic web design skills, this is an excellent way to showcase them. If not, Pressfolios and Contently are just two of the available resources that allow you to create an online portfolio for free.

5 Tips From High-Caliber Journalists

  1. Say yes to everything (legal). Every job, however unpromising, gives you the chance to meet people, as does every press event. It’s all experience you can put in your CV and/or draw on later on. – Hilary Osborne, editor of TheGuardian’s money site.
  2. Good journalism is gathering raw information and crafting it into a form that conveys the facts to the audience in a way that is compelling, maybe even entertaining. This is regardless of subject matter or medium. Your job is to tell a story, communicate clearly and concisely. It should never be a chore for the audience to imbibe the information you’re trying to communicate, it should be a pleasure. – Sam Delaney, writer and broadcaster.
  3. For someone intent on a career at a newspaper or news magazine, there’s no reassurance to give. Those careers will be harder and harder to establish and jobs at journalism companies that come with health insurance and a pension will be scarce, to say the least. But journalism is changing, not dying, and for someone with an entrepreneurial bent, a sense of adventure and a sense of the value of journalism as a calling, there are still opportunities. – Jon Landman, Deputy Managing Editor of NYTimes.com.
  4. One of the great things about [journalism today] is you don’t have to wait for permission. You don’t have to wait for somebody to give you a job to start making something that you think would be good. – Ira Glass, host of This American Life.
  5. Our Web newsroom is closely integrated with the print newsroom, so I am looking for people who can flourish in both worlds and who I could see fitting into many different jobs at The Times. Among other things, producers are responsible for packaging the news online and for creating original multimedia. As a result, they need to have solid journalism credentials and strong technical skills. – Fiona Spruill, editor of the NYTimes.com Web newsroom.

Finding Your Beat

Succeeding in the journalism industry is difficult, but those willing to persevere through the rough patches and adapt to the expanding field will excel. Keep up with emerging technology, seek out your own assignments, and allow yourself some failures. This field is full of adventure; only thrill-seekers need apply.

As the skill-set demanded of newsmakers continues to shift dramatically, aspiring journalists will retain one big advantage over the old guard of journalism: they can learn new tricks. If you’re just starting out, don’t forget that you’re in a better position than anyone to identify the directions the industry is moving in and prepare yourself to meet tomorrow’s demand.