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The Real Poop

Your heart is pounding as you look at the clock and see you have an hour to go before the deadline of your controversial ape-escaping-the-zoo story. Your eyes hurt from staring at the white document word processor for so long. Desk is messy. Coffee is in hand. The Buzz words of objectivity, creativity, news, and going-digital are swimming in your mind. Will you make it on the top ten most viewed stories on your company's news site? Will it be informative and entertaining for your readers? Will you get any sleep tonight after you finish this story and start working on that other one, which is a complete 180 the other way and is about the upcoming elections?

Shoot, your phone is ringing and it's an interviewee calling you back. Your coworker is typing loudly away at the cubicle next to you. You're annoyed. You're rushed. But somehow, you are exhilarated. There is typically a lot of grind and not much money in being a journalist, but there is also power in your words and a large influence in the platforms of newspapers, magazines, publications, radio, TV, and the web.

Types of journalists include columnists, photo journalists, editorial writers, editors, and visual journalists. Columnists, as their name implies, write regular columns in a series. Editorial writers write opinions on an issue. Editors prepare the final material for publication. Visual journalists, who are increasing in number, use data visuals to show information through unique graphs and pictures. They illustrate ideas rather than write them.

It's established that these people are journalists, but are bloggers journalists? If you want to enter the snake pit of a hot debate, ask the question of who is deemed a journalist. Anyone can arguably be called one these days with the dawn of the Internet, because anyone can produce content and put it on the web. It wasn't the mob that killed your neighborhood newspaper journalist who was writing about their stash of drugs—it was the Internet.

If reporters are journalists, then are bloggers journalists? Any blogger today, idiot or not, can claim to know something. The question matters because journalists are protected under certain laws while other people are not, and it would be good to know which category people fall under. In the case of blogger Crystal Cox, federal judge Marco Hernandez asserted that an "investigative blogger" was not entitled to the same legal protection as a journalist because she was not considered a journalist. Cox got into trouble by writing blogs that targeted companies she believed acted unethically. She was unwilling to reveal her sources who provided evidence exposing Pacific Northwest finance group's shady practices. She was not protected by a shield law, which are state laws in which only journalists are protected from having to reveal their sources. Judge Marco Hernandez' decision fired up a big ongoing debate.

The court cases that surround journalism can be sticky and ambiguous.

Being a journalist, whatever that looks like, probably means you'll follow the basic components of a story structure:

Old school reporters would be appalled at some of what constitutes journalism today, but tis the growing landscape that is continually being redefined.

How we define journalism matters in a world where print and traditional media are collapsing. Newspapers are making cuts at a historic pace. In the last three years, over 100,000 dailies made cuts to their newsroom staff (you didn't read that number wrong). Furthermore, over 52% of smaller newspapers let go of employees. Larger newspapers are not immune to the downsizing. The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times all made drastic reductions to their staff. The news is being taken over by bloggers and other types of media. Ask us what we read in the newspaper today, and our answer may be silence. Ask us what we saw on YouTube today, and we will more likely be able to give you an answer.

A couple of other things have changed about the journalism field. Actually, practically everything has changed. Journalists have found that they must adhere to the new trend toward short, 200-word stories. Try to describe the pros and cons of geoengineering in 200 words. Likewise, journalists must tell stories that appeal to a large audience so that their publication can raise advertising rates. Ted Koppel has said in the past that Nightline covered the O.J Simpson case in order to cover international stories, according to Mr. Media Training. If an editor has to pick between a story about a smoking bear and the war in Nigeria, which one do you think he is going to choose?

To understand how newspapers have changed, take a trip to your local library if it hasn't been closed due to budget cuts already. Compare a newspaper from ten years ago to a current issue. You may notice that there is less foreign, national, arts, and business news. Local or community news stories have taken over many newspapers. Even TV listings and crossword puzzles have shrunk in scale.

How does one become a journalist in a world catering more to digital media bloggers? There is room for both. Corporate media like magazines, newspapers, radio, television, and websites are still in need of professional journalists. Professional journalism is not what you read when you skim Perez Hilton’s blog. A professional journalist is someone who attended journalism school or has put in many years at a media conglomerate. In journalism school, you will learn the basics of American media history, the ins and outs of researching, how to report a news story, how to write a news story with a narrative arch or structure, and how to edit. If you earn your master's degree, you will focus on one field such as broadcast, digital, newspaper, or magazine.

If you decide to go into digital media, Shmoop will give you a little bit of a heads up. It is not enough just to know how to write. You will need some graphic design skills. Employers look for applicants who can fill two jobs instead of one. Oftentimes, journalists share some of the same duties as a graphic designer. You may learn software programs like Adobe Suite and Final Cut Pro.

It's also imperative to know your grammar. You don't want to be that journalist who draws laughs from other, more experienced writers. There are plenty of funny mess-ups from writers who spelled something wrong or placed a comma in the wrong place. We are reminded of the Eats, Shoots & Leaves grammar book joke:

"A panda walks into a cafe. The panda orders a sandwich, eats it, and then fires a gun into the air. On his way out, he tosses a badly punctuated wildlife manual at the confused bartender and directs him to the entry marked "Panda." Whereupon the bartender reads: "Panda. Large black-and-white bearlike mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

So why does someone become a journalist when the field is more competitive than ever before? Who likes the abuse?

The journalism field often attracts people who want to perform some sort of public service. These are the people risking their lives to tell stories from the front line. These are the underpaid workers who believe in truth and feel that society cannot adequately function without informed citizens. The journalism field also attracts creative people. These people want to structure a news story in a way that displays their point of view. Likewise, people become journalists because it can be a glamorous job. The people working over at Vogue aren't dodging bullets to write about this season’s fashion. Actually, maybe they are.

Regardless of why people get into journalism, they all contribute either a small or large piece to the puzzle of how we view our culture.