The Real Poop
Your heart is pounding as you look at the clock and see you have an hour to go before the deadline for your controversial ape-escaping-the-zoo story. Your eyes hurt from staring at your computer screen all night.
Your desk is a mess—papers are lying everywhere, pens are scattered about—and you're on coffee number three (or four?) in the past two hours. The buzz words objectivity, creativity, news, and going viral are swimming in your mind.
Will you make the top ten most viewed stories on your company's news site? Will your story be informative and entertaining for your readers? Will you get any sleep before you start your next assignment?
This is just a small sampling of the mind rush that is being a journalist in the 21st century.
The definition of a journalist's job has significantly expanded in the digital age. Types of journalists include columnists, photo journalists, editorial writers, editors, and visual journalists. Taken together, these news junkies make an average of $35,600 per year talking about everything from Congress to earthquakes to at least two of the Kardashians (source).
The traditional journalists of the news media continue to represent the vast majority of recognized journalists. Columnists write regular columns (shocking, we know) in a series. Editorial writers publish opinions on various issues. Editors prepare the final material for publication, making sure the precise intended message is being expressed in the story.
Visual journalists, who are increasing in number thanks to the interwebs, use data visuals to display information via unique graphs and pictures (source). Have you heard the cliché "a picture is worth a thousand words"? That's basically what the visual journalist is banking on.
What about bloggers? Do they count as journalists? If you want to enter the snake pit of a hot debate (in media circles anyway), ask who is and isn't a journalist. In the age of the internet, arguably anyone can use that title these days, because anyone can produce content and put it on the web.
Meanwhile, newspapers are cutting staff at a historic pace. And even larger newspapers aren't immune to the downsizing; the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times have all made drastic reductions to their staff.
The news is being taken over by bloggers and other types of media. These days it seems like the majority of people would rather tune in to a two-minute news snippet from YouTube than sit down and read a newspaper.
The biggest factor that separates professional journalists from the social media masses is training and education. Getting a degree is one of the best ways to get a job with an organization like the New York Times, Huffington Post, or Fox News—outlets considered part of the greater corporate (sponsored) media.
In journalism school, you'll 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 arc or structure, and how to edit. If you earn your master's degree, you'll focus on one field, such as broadcast, digital, newspaper, or magazine reporting.
In comparison to these safe(r) jobs, going into digital media isn't really such a sure bet. For all you budding Hunter S. Thompsons out there, it isn't enough just to know how to write. You'll need connections, you'll need programming abilities, and you'll definitely need some graphic design skills. Otherwise everything will end up looking like someone's grandmother figured out how to use Wikipedia.
It's also imperative to know your grammar. You don't want to be that journalist who draws laughs from your readers because you don't know when to use their, there, or they're. That's not the kind of attention you want. Trust us: when people have an opening to criticize your work, they're totally going to take it.
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 of war zones; those who feel that society can't adequately function without informed citizens. These folks believe in the importance of journalism as a guiding principle, and they get down and dirty to keep everyone informed.
The journalism field also attracts creative types. Some people want to structure a news story in a way that best engages their audience. Like all content-producing jobs, there's a certain style element involved in the production—the people working over at Vogue aren't dodging bullets to write about this season's lineup, they're just interested in contributing to the discussion of creativity in high fashion.
Regardless of the reasons people get into journalism, all journalists contribute a piece to the cultural puzzle when they start writing about the happenings of the world. If you want to help put that puzzle together, read on to see where you might fit in.