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The Real Poop

Don’t do it. That's what your parents said when you told them you want to be a news reporter. That's what your friends said. That's what your favorite English teacher said. That's what the faculty advisor for your high school newspaper said.

If you're getting an overwhelmingly negative vibe about your chosen career from the nearest and dearest in your life, well, there's a reason. It doesn't matter that news reporting has a long and (mostly) illustrious history in this country. After all, reporters have broken Watergate, exposed the nature of President Clinton's extracurricular activities, and much more. But it doesn't matter that the field has played a central role in keeping individuals, companies, and governments accountable to the public. The unfortunate truth is that the news industry, as a source for quality news, anyway, is dying—or, arguably, may already be dead.

See, a while back, newspapers started posting all of their content online, freely available to anyone who wanted to see it. As a result, people cancelled their newspaper subscriptions and stopped tuning in to the evening news, because why pay for something when you can get it for free, anytime you want?

The advertising revenue that was the lifeblood of these media platforms dried up. Hotjobs, Monster, and others were killing them slowly by offering Internet listings at little to no cost. Which was even freer than subscribing for a daily or weekly paper. With their budgets decimated, newspapers started slicing people off their payrolls. Content-sharing agreements between media outlets whittled staff down even more, as did corporate mergers. All of a sudden, experienced news reporters were out on the streets, and journalism students found that their degrees weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.

But that isn't all. What people think of as "news" today isn’t the awe-inspiring investigative journalism of the past, the kind of journalism that changed lives and countries for the better. Instead, "news" today consists of conspiracy theories taken from Twitter, spoilers from last night's Game of Thrones episode, and corporate-sponsored content that tries to pass as objective reporting.

Are you having second thoughts about this career field yet? No? You aren't appalled by the idea that you probably won't be able to find a job as a news reporter once you leave college? You aren't terrified by the fact that, even if you get a reporting job, you'll have to work for beans and you'll have no job security at all?

Well, don't say you weren't warned.

If you are determined to pursue news reporting as a career, then you'll need a bachelor's degree in journalism from a top-tier journalism school. More importantly, you'll need experience in the news business. You'll acquire this by working for your high school newspaper, by working for course credit at your college newspaper or radio or TV station, and/or by interning in whatever news medium you plan on working in.

You'll have to be curious about the world around you, knowledgeable about a variety of subjects, creative, tenacious, and personable. Obviously, you have to be a magnificent communicator who can write in any style, for any audience, on just about any topic. You also must be a proven professional who abides by the tenets of journalistic ethics. For example, you'd never make up quotes or facts to make your stories more titillating.

Above all, as someone who's determined to make it in a profession that'll soon be as extinct as the dinosaurs, you must believe in the news: Your job—nay, your destiny—is to provide the public with unvarnished facts; you exist to keep the powers that be walking the straight and narrow; the world is a better place because news reporters like you dig up and dispense the truth. If you leave college and find yourself unemployed for years and years and years—and, hey, this is probably what’s going to happen to you—then you need to know what your options are. You could go to graduate school to acquire the credentials to teach, although academia is in as much trouble as journalism. You could go to law school, but the legal industry isn't thriving, either. You could get a job in corporate marketing, but that's probably against every ideal you hold dear. You could get a job with an online news site, but many of them espouse the kind of sensationalistic reporting that makes you shudder.

In the end though, it really wasn't a lack of intellectual appeal that killed the newspaper star. It was merely a matter of economics.

So, yeah, news reporting. Why do you want to do this job again?