In broad terms, journalists are writers that find and present information in many areas of life. In a more “traditional” sense, journalists are writers that find and research information to be presented to the public through mediums like newspapers, magazines, radio, television stations or the internet. In many ways, journalism is the backbone of the media industry. Therefore, many media jobs require some aspect of journalistic experience.
Journalism is a broad career with many opportunities. Within different areas of media (television, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc.), there are specialized tasks for journalists. Depending on the size of an organization, a journalist may work one or many of these tasks:
Reporters are directly involved in the gathering of information. They conduct interviews, find sources, and pull together all the information needed to write a well-rounded news story. Reporters also present the information in a written or spoken form in news stories, documentaries, or feature articles. General reporters cover all kinds of news stories, but some may specialize in certain areas such as sports, politics, or lifestyle. Some reporters may work on staff for large news organizations, or as freelance writers, writing stories for whomever is paying them.
Sub-editors take stories written by reporters and put them into a form that suits the special needs of their particular newspaper, magazine, or website. Sub-editors do not gather the information themselves but rather they concentrate on how existing stories can be better tailored to match a specific audience.
Photojournalists use photography as a way of reporting the news. They may cover events with a reporter, taking photographs to represent a written story or attend news events on their own, doing both jobs. A photojournalist is like a reporter that must make decisions instantly in order to capture important events at the time they take place. They must carry photographic equipment and be able to make snap decisions. This may mean they are exposed to some obstacles like physical danger, crowds, or harsh weather.
The editor is the one in charge of deciding what goes in a newspaper, magazine, or news bulletin. He or she is responsible for the content that is to be written by the journalists and makes all final decisions.
The news editor is the person in charge of all news journalists. They make all the decisions about what stories to cover and who will do the work. In large news organizations, the news editor may have a deputy, often referred to as the chief of staff, whose job is to assign reporters to selected stories.
Feature writers write longer stories, which give more background to a news story. This type of writing involves a lot more in-depth research to give readers a lengthy and informative article.
Journalists must have a desire to find and write stories that are important to the people. There is a great deal of power that comes with being a journalist, as they decide and create what it is the public should see or read about. Journalists can be seen as “watchdogs” for the ordinary man or woman.
People trust journalists with facts, whether they are being given or received. This trust must be honored. One should never use journalism for selfish needs, but rather for improving the life of other people. Journalists must have a passion for the truth and exposing that truth to the people. But desire alone will not make a successful journalist.
On the technical side, a journalist needs to have excellent research skills and an ability to generate information and good content. They must be able to ask the right questions and understand situations quickly in order to produce coherent stories.
Like any writer, journalists should have a passion for language and all the ways it can be used. It's not just about the facts, but also about the way they are presented. Journalists need to have excellent writing and grammatical skills, and must always aim for accuracy. The best way of ensuring accuracy is to have a system for keeping track of facts, perhaps in a notebook. This way, when events are taking place, a journalist has a quick way to gather the information that he or she will use later.
To gather this information, journalists need to have determination (though sometimes perceived as aggressiveness) to ask all the appropriate and necessary questions until all the facts have been addressed. This may mean asking the hard questions that could upset people. It may be painful but there is respect to gain in the end. There is a simple rule: be polite but persistent.
Depending on the type of article being written, a journalist works anywhere they are able to, in order to produce that story. There are two parts to creating a story. The first is being out on the field gathering the facts. Journalists need to find sources, attend functions and big events, and interview people. Anywhere that the news is happening, there's usually a journalist (or several) on site. Journalists have to know where to look for a story, as sometimes it is necessary to do some sleuth work when digging up information.
The second part is the writing. If a journalist works for a large news organization, he or she may have an office (or desk) to work at in order to meet strict and short deadlines. Freelance writers can work from home or anywhere that they are able to produce well-written work.