Do you have a talent for writing and research? Do you want to be the next Rita Skeeter, Clark Kent, Bridget Jones or Paul Avery? Do you want to spend your professional life chasing after the next big scoop? If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, then you should find out what it takes to become a newspaper journalist!
Newspaper journalists, as the term suggests, are news professionals who gather information, conduct research and write news pieces about various topics, such as politics, economics, world events, crime, trade, sport, entertainment, culture, travel and so much more.
In addition to researching and reporting on actual events, newspaper journalists also work on articles and features which inform and influence public opinion. Newspaper journalists (a.k.a. reporters) are employed by local, regional and national newspapers.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be picking up daily assignments, allocated by your news desk or editor. Alternatively, you may be pitching your own story ideas for editorial approval.
Once you have been assigned a project, you’ll be conducting research, collecting information through interviews, press conferences and an existing network of contacts and informants, such as local police officers, company spokespersons, press officers and individuals from community groups.
Following this process, you’ll be fact-checking and corroborating the information which you’ve collected from third party sources. Then, you’ll be drafting news reports and articles within assigned deadlines and in accordance with in-house style guides.
You’ll then be editing the final copy, and may also be tasked with writing credits and by-lines for photographs and illustrations.
Finally, you may be required to carry out any other related activities assigned by the editor, such as writing follow-up articles or special features, and ascertaining feedback or reactions from quoted sources or public authorities.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for newspaper journalists in the early stages of their careers range between £15,000 and £20,000, while established journalists with a decent amount of experience tend to earn around £25,000 to £35,000 per annum.
Senior correspondents or managing editors with more than 10 years’ experience can earn salaries ranging between £50,000 and £90,000 a year.
Some smaller papers often prefer to work with freelance reporters (a.k.a. ‘stringers’) who are paid on an article-by-article basis.
There are no fixed work schedules. Instead, newspaper journalists work according to the paper’s publication schedules, which are spread out across a 24-hour period – early morning, mid-morning, afternoon, evening and late or midnight editions are common across most newspapers.
Travelling around tends to be a regular fixture, although the extent to which this is required will be dependent on the specific story you are covering.
Newspaper journalists often deal with intense competition from other newspapers and media professionals. They may also experience adverse and hostile receptions from certain individuals and groups, so they must be ready to deal with awkward or uncomfortable situations from time to time.
A degree is pretty much essential for entry into this profession. Many graduates tend to have a degree in disciplines such as English, history, politics, or other humanities subjects. However, a degree which is specifically related to journalism may give you an extra advantage over other candidates.
Many people without a journalism-specific degree opt to take a postgraduate course in journalism to enhance their skills and boost their chances of breaking into the industry. If you take this route, it’s certainly advisable to study a course which is accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).
This line of work is so competitive that it’s wise to get a solid amount of work experience under your belt before applying for jobs. You can gain experience through internships, vacation schemes or industrial training placements.
Alternatively, participation in school and university publications, such as student newspapers and magazines, can be a good idea.
Training & progression
Training programmes for new journalists are usually conducted over a period of 12-24 months, depending on the location and employer, usually culminating in the successful completion of NCTJ’s National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ).
Career progression is mainly dependent on individual performance. Many journalists gain experience with a regional paper first, before moving to larger publications.
Later in your career you might choose to specialise in certain areas or progress into a senior editor or features editor role.
Alternatively, you might choose to take up foreign assignments or move laterally into other news media, such as radio or television broadcasting.
The current onslaught of online and digital media means that it may be a good idea to focus your efforts on this area of news-based journalism. Indeed, becoming an online journalist may be a particularly lucrative alternative. You could even work in print and online journalism simultaneously to develop your skills in both areas.