Do you have aspirations of becoming the next Ernest Hemingway?
Do you like being “in the know,” on a first-name basis with government leaders, high-profile developers, or personalities?
Do you like being sought by folks who want to tell their story, run for political office, or publicize their business?
Or do you want to earn a steady income doing what you love, writing?
Consider becoming a news reporter.
Local newspapers are a great place to build your portfolio quickly. You can also make it a stepping stone to magazines, free-lance writing, wire services, syndicates, public relations/advertsing, publishing or authorship.
The lifestyle of a news reporter is fun, yet demanding, often requiring long hours at government meetings, in courtrooms, or at the office making telephone calls and writing news stories. Dedication requires the reporter to represent his employer if he/she happens to be on the scene when news happens, no matter what the time.
A dedicated reporter also is expected to offer help during major news events like hurricanes or floods, even if they fall on his/her off days. A dedicated reporter can be caught reading their own, or a competing newspaper or magazine, even on their off time. They’ll frequently listen to one or more television broadcast.
They’re also likely to be avid readers, devouring books as a hobby. While news reporters have the reputation of being a bit pushy, sometimes obnoxiously pushy, some reporters would describe themselves as a bit shy.
The mild-mannered reporter who folks trust is likely to be first getting a hot news tip. Because even reporters can specialize, these shy types eventually can settle into a feature writing job about gardening, or write about local sports, without having to be very aggressive. It is the muckraker, an investigative reporter writing about government-related or business scandals, who likely will fall behind for lack of aggression. These scandals attract reporters from various media, making the job much more competitive.
So how do you actually get one of these coveted, glamourous reporting jobs?
We’ll take a look at several important steps.
Step One — Keep up with current events by reading your local newspaper and listening to broadcast news. Consider subscribing to a well respected newspaper like The New York Times or The Miami Herald. Read it faithfully, paying attention to how articles are crafted.
Step Two — Earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in journalism, mass communications or a related field. Get training/references in news writing. Be sure to take advantage of opportunities to write and edit your school newspaper. Train to work for online newspapers to broaden your base of opportunities. Learn how to use a computer. Learn how to use the Internet to look for a job and post writing samples.
Step Three — If you don’t already have one, buy a reliable car. Very likely you will be paid a gas stipend per mile, or a standard gas allotment.
Step Four — Be an intern. Seek opportunities to intern at a local news operation during the summer or school year. Take advantage of this time to learn as much as you can, make valuable contacts, build your portfolio, and get professional references.
Step Five — Consider becoming a news stringer as a part-time job while you’re in school. The small part-time assignment could bloom into a full-time job when you graduate.
Step Six — Go for your dream. Apply to the news magazines, wire services, or major metropolitan dailies. Don’t wait for them to run an ad in Editor and Publisher. The ad will bring piles of competition. Be willing to take an intern job and write obituaries or engagement and wedding notices, if necessary. Consider starting as a copy editor, but be sure to let them know you want to be a reporter so they can plan to give you the job when it becomes available.
Step Seven — If you fail to get hired at your dream news organization, or if you’re not sure where you want to work, check trade resources like US Newspaper List online and send letters of application, with resume, to a big batch of eligible employers. Offer samples of your work and references. Unfortunately, the proliferation of spam leaves you no guarantee e-mail will be opened.
Step Eight — Be sure to follow up, providing all requested information.
Step Nine — When an editor requests an interview, dress like a professional. Yes, even consider buying a suit, depending on the size and reputation of the news organization. (A suit probably is not necessary for small newspapers.) Even at larger newspaper offices, reporters typically wear casual, comfortable clothing, although suits and dressier clothing are required for some jobs. An interview is definitely time to pull out the suit at these newspapers. In any event, look professional and resist the temptation to wear your tattered jeans. They may not be allowed because you represent your employer where-ever you go on assignment.
Step Ten — Prepare for your interview by learning about the company beforehand. Plan to answer basic questions like why you would be an asset to their news staff and why you would like to work there. Be prepared to talk a little bit about yourself, but have questions to ask about the company and an editor’s expectations. Check into the area’s cost of living beforehand. Editors can and do negotiate on occasion, so you should know your salary requirements and politely let them know your needs. The salary on your first job may not be negotiable, however, so avoid appearing greedy.
Step Eleven — Repeat the application and interview process as necessary until you land the big one!
Once on the job, you may find yourself writing death or engagement notices, or covering police news. If you are assigned to cover suburban news, you may monitor local government, schools, police and courthouse events, take your own photographs and write features. It’s a great place to learn the ropes and find out what assignments you like best.
Consider joining the local press club or journalism society to make more contacts and establish yourself.
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