So you want to be a journalist…
Welcome to the seventh installment of College Transitions’ “So you want to be a….” series. Designed to help career-minded high school students think intelligently about their postsecondary journeys, these blogs will look at the financial, academic, and personal factors one should consider when exploring various professions.
A changing field
In the period following Watergate, roughly half of the young people in the world decided to become investigative journalists in the hopes of becoming the next Woodward & Bernstein (perhaps a slight exaggeration). The glamorous appeal of sitting in a cubicle in the newsroom of a major metropolitan paper at 2 AM, sporting a short sleeve, white dress shirt and drinking cup after cup of Maxwell House, all while bringing down “the powers that be” was simply too much to resist.
Fast forward forty years, and the career of journalist is almost unrecognizable from its previous form. Pure print journalism has given way in favor of web-based reporting, independently-run blogs, podcasts, tweets, and the technologically-oriented like. The media is no longer an exclusive club controlled by a handful of newspaper publishers and the owners of the major broadcasting networks. The gatekeepers that used to stand guard and make entering this field and reaching an audience have been overrun by New Media advances. While many lament the fall of traditional journalism, the seismic shift of the last two decades has created a field where anyone with an area of expertise and a unique voice can find an audience—a development not without career advantages.
Journalism vs. Broadcast Journalism
The line between these two fields has faded faster than most newspapers circulation counts. Print reporters today are often asked to create video content to accompany articles, seek out media appearances to promote their publication, and snare as many Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus followers as they possibly can.
Of course, students who want to work exclusively in television news still typically major in broadcast journalism where they learn the ins and outs of the industry, both in front of and behind the camera. Some schools, Auburn University for example, offer a B.A. in journalism with the following areas of specialization:
Digital Technology Journalism
Health and Science Journalism
To accommodate an ever-changing industry, many institutions have gone in this direction. Boston College and The University of Missouri operate similarly, with a bevy of concentration options under the general umbrella of “journalism.”
Does going to a prestigious undergraduate school help?
Journalism is a field built on what you are able to produce. A state college grad who writes beautifully and knows how to tap sources and produce engaging content will never take a backseat to an Ivy Leaguer whose reporting is mediocre.
On the other hand, attending a school with an elite journalism school can help with landing an internship and networking if your aim is to work at a major newspaper, magazine, website, or television market. Schools with notable communications/journalism programs such as Syracuse, UNC, Northwestern, or Columbia can provide grads with huge alumni networking bases and therefore premier internship opportunities.
Gain experience in the field
The beauty of the journalism field is that opportunities to try-it-out in high school are abundant. Heck, even most middle schools publish a paper and air morning announcements. If you want to be a journalist, start today. There are countless opportunities to begin publishing work outside of your high school. Start a blog, freelance for a small local paper—whatever allows you to write, write, and write some more.
Think about a double major
It never hurts to carve out a niche area of expertise in the journalism field. For example, a background in an area like science, computer science, or economics can allow you to write on topics and for publications that many other young journalists simply wouldn’t have the ability to tackle. Those with a strong knowledge base in a given area may find better prospects than generalists.
This is a field where salaries are most commonly modest and, in rare instances, where notoriety is achieved, outrageously high. The average salary for someone in the radio, television, or print journalism field is around $37,000. For local news anchors and reporters in small markets around the United States salaries average in the mid-20s. Small market jobs constitute the majority of the positions in this field. However, those who rise to the top of the profession and get plucked up by a top 25 market can expect salaries in the low six-figures. Of course, for those who dare to dream, celebrity journalists are paid like NBA stars. The Matt Lauer’s and Diane Sawyers of the world take home more than 20 million per year.
Plan the financial end
Don’t plan on hitting that 20 million dollar mark right away. In fact, planning somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 per hour is a safer bet. Then, there is the matter of relocation…As a journalist you need to be willing to travel. Very rarely will someone begin their career in broadcast journalism in a major market. If you are a budding sports writer, get ready to cover the Billings Bighorns junior hockey team in Montana before you get a crack at the New York Rangers. From a financial standpoint, two things are important to plan for: the need to travel and the likelihood that you will not make much money early in your career. It goes without saying that taking out massive undergraduate loans could hinder your mobility and therefore stand in the way of essential early career opportunities.
To read previous installments of the “So you want to be a…” series, click the links below:
So you want to be a lawyer…
So you want to be a doctor…
So you want to be a teacher…
So you want to be an engineer…
So you want to be a software developer/engineer/programmer?
So you want to be a financial analyst…
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).