Rules to help you become a journalist

July 21, 2016
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Many people who desire to write professionally usually look toward journalism as a way to launch a respectable writing career. They envision themselves going to exotic locales to cover stories or winning a Pulitzer prize. While these things do happen to journalists, it takes a long time to build credibility before any news organization will send you on any interesting assignments.

I became a journalist purely by accident. Unlike others who seek out journalism as a career, I wanted to be a creative writer. I envisioned myself writing books of fiction and entertaining the masses. My parents talked me into going to college and earning a degree in journalism. They told me I should have “something” to fall back on, in case I couldn’t make a living writing fiction. Five years and 100 rejections later, I realized my parents were right. Fortunately, my degree in journalism helped me support myself so that I didn’t have to go back home after I graduated college.

I had no idea what a journalist did until I got my first job at a local paper when I was still in school. I was hired as a stringer and had to report on meetings. It was boring, but it paid for extras. Someone said that I was a journalist and I realized that I was actually working in a field for which I was studying.

A journalist is someone who reports on timely events. Timing is everything to a journalist. Whether you write for a periodical or a newspaper, you need to make sure that your articles are timely. Your purpose is to keep the public as up to date as possible about news and events that may affect them. This is the basic concept of being a journalist.

Since I became a journalist, I have made many mistakes. I’ve broken the rules a few times, but learned lessons from each rule that I broke. It has taken me six years since I first started getting paid for my writing as a journalist, but in that time, I have become a good journalist. While my assignments are not exotic and I have yet to win that Pulitzer prize, I make a decent living and do something that I really enjoy.

If you are thinking about becoming a journalist, you have to remember that the following rules apply:

1. Impartiality.

You should report on all sides of a story, not just take one side, even if it appears that one side is right or wrong. A good journalist gets all sides of the story, prints it and then lets the reader decide, based upon the article. A good journalist does not make up the reader’s mind for them.

2. Timeliness.

Your stories have to be timely. You do not have a compelling story about something that happened 20 years ago unless it can relate to what is happening now. Journalism is in the now — the immediate present. You have to relate even historic pieces to what is happening right now.

3. Facts.

There is an old saying in journalism that still is used in the field today that states “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Check and re-check your facts. Be sure that you double check on names and spelling.

If you remember these three rules, your career in journalism will be successful. If you break the rules — don’t worry. I’ve broken all of them and I’m still standing. Just don’t do it again. Some people like to learn in a trial by ordeal. I am one of them. But if you consistently break the golden rules of journalism, your career will suffer.

As a journalist, it is your job to reveal information to the public. This should be impartial, timely and truthful. To get into the computer system of the first journalism job that I had, the password was “truth.” You have to write the truth of what you see and hear and let the public form an opinion. You need always to quote sources when you are writing a journalism piece, and you should not attribute anything to your own knowledge. You should write articles from a third person point of view and from the outside looking in.

As you continue in your career, you will find your “voice” through your written words. Do not be surprised if your editor rewrites your first articles. Another rule is not to fall in love with your own work. Do not feel hurt if an editor does not like a phrase in your article, or he makes some changes. Editors must do their jobs. You will soon get to know the editors and they will soon get to know your writing style.

A journalist usually gets a job as a news reporter. Both news reporting and journalism are interchangeable careers. While many people think of journalists as writing on top stories all over the world, the education that you need to become a newspaper reporter and a magazine writer is the same—a degree in journalism. Anyone who writes an impartial article, be it news or feature stories, is practicing journalism. If you choose to have a career in journalism, you will most likely get many different assignments in your career. The basic rules of journalism apply to everything that you write.

Many people feel that newspaper reporters only report the news and give more credit to journalists as they investigate the news—this is not true. Most newspaper reporters do a fair share of investigation into their stories, or otherwise should. Journalists who report on crimes and court actions are usually editors who have done their fair share of investigating in their stories. You will quickly learn as a budding journalist that the more you look into a story, the better the story will be. Sometimes you have time to do this, other times you are working on a tight deadline.

You should be able to work on a tight deadline as a journalist. Not only is this important if you are writing news stories, but it is also great training for any writer. The more you write, the more concise your work will become and the better quality you can churn out in record time.

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