What is Journalism?

Journalists are the great communicators of our society. They are essentially the eyes and ears for the general public, constantly conveying messages about the state of the fast-changing world around us. Journalists, including reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts, as professionals that “inform the public about news and events happening internationally, nationally, and locally.” To communicate information about the world around us regarding politics, economics, social issues, current events and popular culture, journalists use any mode of communication available to them including television, radio, websites and print work.

Unlike most traditional occupations, journalists almost never in the same setting for very long nor do adhere to a consistent work schedule. In order to consistently and precisely capture the ongoing occurrences of the human experience, journalist must jump from place to place and from story to story at any given moment, always chasing the next newsworthy event. Yet journalists are not merely informers, but must also act as writers, editors, investigators, educators, interviews, public speakers, and more. Also, because of the breadth of communication mediums and new communication technology, journalists must also learn how to use all forms of media outlets (i.e. newspapers, magazines, webcasts, radio, television) to reach mass populations.

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Right now is a unique period in journalism, as the ability to communicate on a global stage has enabled journalists to practice without the constraints of geographic boundaries. Thus, international journalism has become more wide-spread than ever. The Society of Professional Journalists defines international journalism as “any journalism that involves foreign journalists, that takes place overseas, or that deals with international affairs.” This particular cross-section of journalists can experience more challenges than their domestic counterparts because international journalism includes extensive long-term travel under possibly dangerous conditions. However, there are organizations dedicated to the awareness and protection for international journalists such as, The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.

Foreign correspondents bring America the news that might otherwise go unreported; from  the Syrian government’s violent oppostion to a popular uprising, to the food crisis in East Africa, to impending war in Iran, to the the Arab Spring and the resulting emersion of new governments in Egypt and Tunisia. International news organizations like CNN, BBC, Bloomberg News, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Associated Press, and the Washington Post, hire brave foreign correspondents to travel to some of the most turbulent regions of the world in order to call attention to turmoil that plagues our world, and affects us, if only indirectly, here at home in the US. It is people like Christiane Amanpour, Peter Cave, David Kirkpatrick, Megan Stack and other international journalists that dare to venture to the frontline of foreign conflicts to reveal the unsettling truths about conditions worldwide.

In order to effectively and accurately provide relevant information to the public, journalists must perform several key functions. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics outlines these core functions as:

  • Performing thorough research on subjects that are relevant to a given assignment
  • Conducting interviews with people to obtain pertinent opinions, analyses and information
  • Preparing concise written materials for various media outlets including radio, television, print and Internet
  • Checking assignments for errors in content, format and grammar
  • Establishing connections with contacts that can provide tips and insights into news stories
  • Clarifying the public’s understanding through careful analysis and interpretation of incoming information
  • Monitoring past and current news to discover possible updates

In 1997, the Project for Excellence in Journalism wanted to create a distinctive committee comprised of reporters, academics, editors, producers, and publishers to clarify the standards of journalism. In the following four years, the Committee of Concerned Journalists, as it came to be called, sought to unite journalists throughout the country by communicating through public forums and national surveys. The culmination of these efforts resulted in a Statement of Shared Purpose that encompassed nine definitive principals of journalism:

  • Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
  • Its first loyalty is to its citizens.
  • Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  • Its practitioner must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  • It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  • It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  • It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  • It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  • Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

 Journalist Degrees

The fundamental basis for all careers in journalism begins with education. Presently, the industry standard in journalism is a bachelor’s degree specifically in journalism or communication. However, students that pursue an advanced degree may become more marketable post-graduation. Also, students should select a journalism program through a state college or university that is recognized by an accrediting body like the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

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Once enrolled, journalism students begin their education by taking courses such as:

  • Introduction to journalism
  • Integrated media
  • Telecommunications
  • Strategic communication
  • Journalism ethics
  • Media law
  • News reporting

A college degree program is not solely about gaining classroom instruction. It is also an important time for students to get hands-on training by participating in an off-campus internship or doing extracurricular work on the school newspaper. Students that are interested in pursuing a career in international journalism should also look for study abroad opportunities. To maximize the academic experience, students should not hesitate to ask their program director about scholarships, fellowships, mentorships, jobs, area contacts, volunteer positions or any other ways to get involved in the journalism community.

Journalists looking for an upper hand in securing employment are encouraged to get involved in one or more internship positions. Those that complete internships through several different types of media organizations will be especially attractive to potential employers. Amassing work experience and displaying diversification in experience will also help employment endeavors. Showing a continuing interest in advanced education is likewise suggested. Even though most journalists hold a bachelor’s degree in communication or journalism, those that complete a master’s program from an accredited college or university will stand out from fellow applicants. Also, since job competition is significantly higher in larger cities, journalists may find more opportunities in smaller cities and towns.

Because the field of journalism is so broad, journalists typically chose an area or areas of specialization. While some journalists decide to specialize in a type of media (digital journalism, print journalism, broadcast journalism) others opt to specialize in a particular subject focus (business journalism, health care, sports journalism). Several colleges and universities offer students programs with concentrations in areas of specialization. Journalists that earn their degree pursuant to their intended specialization may prove more attractive to potential employers.

 Journalist Salaries

The average salary for journalists in the United States widely depends on factors such as level of education, years of experience, geographic location, industry of employment, and place of employment. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports as of May 2010, journalists earned an average annual salary of $36,000. Within this category, broadcast news analysts earned a notably higher average salary of $54,140 annually. Here, the top 10% earned $146,230 annually while the bottom 10% earned closer to $27,560 annually. In contrast, reporters and correspondents reportedly earned an average of $34,530 annually. The top 10% of these professionals earned an average salary of $75,230 annually while the bottom 10% earned $19,970 annually.

 Professional Associations

 All journalists are encouraged to join a professional association during their careers. Professional journalism associations exist to heighten professional standards and development while creating a strong community of colleagues to foster unity. In essence, these associations consist of like-minded professionals dedicated to the continued advancement of the journalism craft through education, research, training, and shared information. Journalists that have a membership in a professional association often gain access to benefits including:

  • Professional support system
  • Professional networking community
  • Research materials
  • Recent publications
  • Specialized training
  • Exclusive databases
  • Job postings
  • News sources
  • Tip sheets
  • Upcoming events
  • Information gathering techniques
  • Fellowship and scholarship opportunities

Some examples of major professional associations for journalists are: