SNN Newsroom

Career Advice :

What does it take to be a Journalist?
(Provided by the Canadian Newspaper Association)

The newsroom is the glamour end of a newspaper, the place where a newspaper's best face is made up each day. It's where you'll find beat reporters, copy editors, columnists, editorial writers, editorial cartoonists, critics, photographers, artists, page designers, librarians, clerks, and editors assembling, distilling and disseminating all the news the reader needs or wants to know.

Persons considering journalism careers should first answer the basic question: Why are you interested in journalism? Most admission requirements to journalism schools require applicants to write a short essay on why they want to pursue a career in journalism.

So, start by interviewing yourself. Do you like to write? Are you curious about everything? Do you read newspapers and magazines regularly? Do you wonder why things happen? Are you interested in news, history, geography, politics, sports?

A journalist must be well-rounded and knowledgeable in the arts, humanities, sciences, business, and the law.

 Journalist's skills and traits
Be personally interesting; don't be boring
Be able to tell stories well
Be curious; be open to seeing, hearing and knowing what is going on around you
Be persistent, quick, accurate, and able to give a balanced view of the story
Have a social conscience, a world view; believe in the importance of an informed public
Be computer literate
Be iconoclastic, be radical in your thinking, avoid being entrenched in middle-of-the-road thinking
Be someone who cares about people; a nice person
Be a visual thinker--understand the importance of pictures and graphics to telling the story
Have a well-rounded educational background, backed by liberal arts courses; know media law like libel and contempt of court

Specialize, either in college or in business, and then practise journalism

Be well-organized; show calmness in the face of pressure

Be well read, a trivial buff

Reporters: Today's reporter is expected to be conversant--and to make his or her readers conversant-- with such matters as curriculum quality, budgets, provincial grants, personal investment, taxes, life skills, relationships, health, diseases, sports, culture, and national unity, and world affairs. It is not enough to report the results of a meeting. A reporter must help readers understand what the story will mean to them.

Copy Editors. Besides reporters, there is another breed of journalists who prefer the anonymity of being a copy editor--a behind-the-scenes person, often working the overnight shift as news stories are prepared for the morning edition.

There is a serious need for top-quality copy editors. Their role is to put news copy in acceptable form for publication by correcting spelling, grammar and punctuation; checking story angles, names, dates, places and other facts; looking for potentially libellous comment; and writing clear, concise, and informative headlines for stories. In many cases, copy editors also lay out pages on modern pagination terminals and are responsible for editing photos and other news judgments. It's a rewarding (pays a bit more than reporters on many newspapers) and is normally the launching pad toward a career in newspaper management. Some have begun their careers as
reporters; some have graduated right from university onto the copy desk.

Photojournalists. Another key news function is photojournalism, a profession unto itself with no single path to admission and success.

Some evolve into photography by showing an interest while studying journalism; some seek out educational institutions that offer photojournalism training; others are self-taught but have demonstrated an innate ability for great news, sports and feature photography; still others combine successfully both photography and writing skills, something that is very important on smaller newspapers.

Artists, designers, graphics: Behind the visual appearance of newspapers today are artists and page designers who take basic text and present it in eye-catching packages. Most use common desktop publishing pagination and graphics software found on the market today.

A skilled infographics journalist can take routine statistical information and, by using a PC, turn it into a high-impact infographic that tells the reader in a flash what is happening to, for example, bank interest rates, pork and beef prices, or newsprint sales.

Librarian. An often-forgotten but invaluable adjunct of the newsroom is the library, more often called an electronic resource database in today's lexicon. It is also a place where dictionaries, atlases, back issues, reference volumes, official reports, etc., are filed. No one can do a complete, knowledgeable job in journalism without an effective library. Larger newspapers have librarians, and they are all familiar with modern electronic storage and retrieval systems.

Getting started
More than 30 post-secondary schools offer journalism training--some in universities, others in community colleges. Some place an emphasis on academic courses, others on practical training; some prepare graduates for work on large dailies, others tend to feed smaller dailies and community newspapers; some provide degrees, others present diplomas.

You can choose among four-year, three-year, and two-year programs. Or, those already with a degree in another discipline may want to choose a post-graduate journalism program of a year or two to gain practical journalism skills.

Getting into a journalism program is not an easy matter. High school scores should be very high, as should your aptitude to journalism. It helps to have had some journalism experience while in high school, perhaps on a school newspaper, perhaps as an intern at a community newspaper.

And while you are studying journalism in college or university, it is advantageous to seek part-time work in journalism, primarily to build up a dossier of clippings and samples of your work to bring with you to your job interviews.

Some prominent newspaper people have been able to forego journalism education. They have earned a degree in a discipline like business administration, law, or political science and gone right into journalism.

Others have started in a non-journalism position at a newspaper and moved into a reporter or copy editing function later in their careers. Others have begun their careers in small town weeklies right out of high school and have moved up the ladder.


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