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How to become a Journalist

journalist careers

What does a Journalist do?

Print journalists include reporters, sub-editors and feature writers who write news and feature articles for newspapers, magazines and periodicals.

Newspaper journalists work for local, regional or national newspapers, reporting on local or national events and subjects of topical interest. Magazine journalists work for business, professional, consumer or specialist consumer publications.

The work falls broadly into two areas:

  • gathering information by following up leads, attending meetings, events and case conferences, developing contacts, interviewing people both face-to-face and over the phone, generating ideas for stories and features and carrying out research. This is then submitted as written text (copy) for approval by the editorial team. This part of the work is carried out by reporters and staff writers
  • ensuring that the copy is suitable for publication. This is done by sub-editors and editors, who edit copy, decide on page design and layout and write headlines and picture captions.
On small publications the same journalists may be involved in both areas, and in all aspects. On larger publications roles will be more differentiated.

Journalists take shorthand notes or use equipment to record information, which they then write up in a format that conforms to a 'house style', reads well and is appropriate to the intended readership. They often work closely with photographers.

The work of newspaper and magazine journalists can be similar, but magazine journalists will often write more feature articles, spend time attending editorial meetings to decide what to include in the next issue, and work closely with designers and freelance writers. They research and write news and features suited to the publication's reader profile. Magazine journalists usually work to longer deadlines than newspaper journalists, who often need to respond very quickly to the latest breaking news.

For details of broadcast journalism, please see the Journalist: broadcast profile.

What's the working environment like working as a Journalist?

Journalists need to be flexible about their working hours, as following up stories and meeting deadlines often requires working long, irregular hours, including evenings, weekends and public holidays.

Journalists are generally based in open-plan offices which are hectic and noisy most of the time. Time will also be spent out of the office, chasing up stories. There is frequent travel – depending on the publication and type of job this could be fairly local or include overnight absence from home and overseas travel.

What does it take to become a Journalist?

To be a journalist you should :

  • have excellent writing skills, and awareness of the need for factual and legal accuracy
  • have good listening and questioning skills
  • have a good standard of spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • have an enquiring mind with good observational and research skills
  • be self confident and have the ability to put people at ease
  • have the ability to absorb information quickly
  • be determined and persistent
  • have keyboard and IT skills
  • be able to work under pressure and to tight deadlines
  • be interested in current affairs at all levels
  • be a good team worker
  • be tactful and diplomatic.

Journalist Career Opportunities

Competition for jobs is fierce in all areas of journalism, particularly on national newspapers and popular consumer magazines.

Newspaper journalists are likely to start their careers with local newspapers. After gaining experience in this way it may be possible to become a sub editor or feature writer, or to progress to a regional daily. There are relatively few openings on national newspapers, but approximately 30 per cent of journalists are freelance, and this type of work may improve your chances of finding a permanent job.

Local newspaper journalists may also move to magazines after gaining a few years' experience.

The magazine industry is mainly based in London and the South-east. Freelance work is common in this sector, and many journalists contribute work to a number of magazines.

With experience you may specialise in an area such as sport or fashion, and within larger newspapers and magazines there may be openings for senior positions such as sub-editor or news editor.

Some journalists work for news agencies, selling stories to all areas of the media. Those who speak a foreign language could become overseas correspondents.

After initial training and work on newspapers or magazines, some journalists move on to radio or television.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Journalist that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ)
Latton Bush Centre
Southern Way
CM18 7BL
Tel: 01279 430009

National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Headland House
308-312 Gray's Inn Road
Tel: 020 7278 7916

NUJ Training

Periodicals Publishers Association (PPA)
Queens House
28 Kingsway
Tel: 020 7404 4166

Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC)
18 Miller's Close
Nr Bourne
PE10 0TH
Tel: 01778 440025

The Newspaper Society
Bloomsbury House
74-77 Great Russell Street
Tel: 020 7636 7014

Association of British Science Writers
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queen's Gate
Tel: 0870 770 3361

European Medical Writers Association


Facts and Stats:

  • There are one million people in the sales profession, excluding retail sales

  • Half of all sales people are in business-to-business sales.

  • Until something is sold, nothing happens (think about it).
  • The sales process in company IT may take three years.

Courses to help you become a Journalist