So, you want to be a journalist?

Being a writer can mean many things – You can write fiction, you can be a poet, you can run a blog or you can work for a newspaper as a journalist. I do a mix of all four, but my full-time job is as the editor-in-chief of Highline’s Thunderword. Many writers choose to work as journalists to pay the bills while they work on their novels or plays or poems. But being a journalist is  A LOT OF WORK.

To be a good journalist, you only really need four things: style, hard work, people skills and time.

Style is important. I don’t mean having a way with words that jazzes up your pieces; no, I mean AP Style. AP Style is the style of writing all major newspaper publications, although some papers may adopt their own style with small things.

So

For example, when you write “14%”, the correct style is “14 percent”. You can buy a style book at Barnes and Noble for less than $15. A style book is a journalist’s bible.

Another important thing to have is a good work ethic.

I work an average of 40 hours a week in a part-time position. I run the entire newsroom and, more often than not, that means I write stories that I assigned to someone else. Most of the work you do for an article happens out of the newsroom and, trust me, Netflix looks a lot better than doing research. Being a journalist is a lot of work; and no one is going to do that work for you.

That’s why working hard is so important.

To be a good journalist, always have a least two pens. If one runs out of ink, you need to have a back-up. Carry your notebook everywhere, even into the bathroom. You never know when a story is about to happen. Keep a planner. You will never be able to remember all of your interviews, meetings and deadlines. Pitch ideas to your editors! Editors are not here to hand-hold you and give you stories. You need to know your newspaper well enough to be able to know what could run. Also, pitching ideas are going to impress your editors. It will make them trust you more, even if they turn down your pitch. Stay late to help edit pages. Hell, help them make pages! If you want to be a journalist, you’re going to have to work hard. It’s the name of the game, my darlings.

Next, you need to be able to talk to people. You need to be able to talk to people on the phone, especially.

Getting interviews is 90 percent (see what I did there?) of the job. People aren’t going to want to give you an interview if you don’t 1.) Know their name and their title and 2.) ask politely. Here’s an example of talking on the phone:

“Hello, is this Dr. Alberts? Hi, I am a reporter for The Thunderword and I’m currently working on an article about your free clinic. I have a few questions I was hoping you could answer. When is a time you could meet with me?”

BAM! You’re polite. You don’t waste his time and you’re informed. Guess who just got an interview with Dr. Alberts? Psst…it’s you.

Lastly, being a good journalist means you need time.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and a newspaper isn’t put together in a day. It takes times to write a story, like it took me time to write this article for you.Don’t get frustrated with yourself, though; sometimes time can get out of your hands.

So, now, go FORTH! You are ready to be a journalist.

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About the Author

Sam McCullough
Sam McCullough is a self-published writer living in the Seattle area.

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