University & Degrees

Journalism fundamentals

6 mins
February 9, 2022
With technology that connects us to millions of people worldwide right at our fingertips, what does it really mean to be a journalist today? This article is going to try to answer that very question.

What is journalism?

At its core, journalism is the art of gathering information and presenting it to an audience; this could mean researching and writing articles for newspapers or magazines or websites, taking pictures that tell a story, or presenting content on the radio or television. You can see how the invention of social media platforms like Twitter has muddied the water! 

What are the different types of journalism?

As a journalist, your aim could be to investigate serious crimes or political corruption, amplify the voices of a marginalised community, or simplify complex political issues so that your audience can understand them. You could specialise in different news areas such as sports, current affairs or fashion journalism, or share your own thoughts and experiences as an opinion columnist.

Is journalism hard?

Articles written by journalists enable the general public to understand complex and relevant issues so they can make decisions that affect their lives - for example, who to vote for in the next election. Along with this ability to inform and educate the public comes great responsibility. A journalist's words have the potential to shape the way a topic or person is viewed and understood by their audience. As a result, journalists operate according to a set of ethics and standards - for example, journalists should usually aim to be impartial (unbiased) and report the truth as accurately as possible (rather than their opinion on it).

What does a journalist do?

Beyond fact-checking, interviewing and proofreading, a journalist is expected to have their finger on the pulse, always ready to write the next story. They'll have in-depth conversations with an editor about what stories are needed, whether it's shedding light on a current event or providing an unusual view/deep dive into a niche subject. This could involve staying on top of political, financial, technological and social developments or researching celebrity and human interest stories. 

Finding the best material for a story could mean attending a press conference, conducting a phone interview, reaching out to professional contacts, or hunting down the people that are experts. A journalists main task is to relay information accurately and provoke thought.

Some typical tasks journalists may include: 

  • Researching, writing and proofreading articles
  • Verifying stories
  • Interviewing sources
  • Liaising with other creative members of their team (e.g. photographers or videographers)
  • Attending events or news conferences
  • Staying up to date on current events 

How to become a journalist

For those interested in journalism, the good news is that you have a fairly flexible road ahead of you. The bad news is that because there are so many different types of journalism at different publications, it can be difficult to know what makes a good starting point.

Do you need a degree to be a journalist?

Common routes into journalism include completing an undergraduate degree in journalism or an undergraduate degree in a different subject followed by a postgraduate journalism qualification. If you wanted to pursue a particular type of journalism like current affairs, then an undergraduate degree in a subject like politics or economics would also stand you in good stead. 

Either way, make sure that the course you choose is accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) if you want to work for a UK-based news organisation. There are under-grad and post-grad degrees available in different areas within journalism, e.g. newspaper journalism, broadcast journalism and magazine journalism. Alternatively, if university isn't quite right for you, then you can still enter the field of journalism as there are journalism apprenticeships available for school leavers who want to work for newspapers or broadcast companies.

Can you get into journalism without a degree?

Another route is… just start! Try interning for publications you like the look of, start your own blog and build up a portfolio of work - ask people for their feedback and learn and grow from there. You might end up doing a couple of unpaid or low paying internships, but this experience will end up being invaluable to future employers! 

Some of the potential benefits of working as a journalist include the chance to travel, opportunities to meet and interview interesting people, and the fact that you'll continue to learn throughout your career. 

What are the core values of journalism?

The core values, also often referred to as the ethical principles of journalism, act as a set of guidelines to ensure that journalists do not mislead or harm people with their content. It is generally accepted that there are five core values of journalism:

  • Truth and accuracy: journalists should strive to ensure that their work is as accurate as possible, double-checking their facts and making it clear when they have not been able to fully verify a source.
  • Independence: journalists should not let their political beliefs or financial situations impact the content they produce - for example, they should not change the facts of a story under any circumstance. 
  • Fairness and impartiality: where possible, journalists should attempt to tell both sides of a story and to make sure they include contextual information.
  • Humanity: journalists should be aware of the impact their words can have on people and try to minimise any damage they cause. 
  • Accountability: journalists should be open to feedback and be willing and able to correct any errors they make. 

How much do journalists make? 

Many journalists are freelance, which means that their salary varies depending on how many projects they take on and what those projects pay. Permanently employed journalists earnings can vary significantly depending on a range of factors:

  • Location (journalists in London will usually make more than in smaller cities or towns). 
  • Type of journalism of practice (investigative and current affairs journalists tend to make more than sports or fashion journalists).
  • Type of employer (employers vary, a digital publication or international publication will typically pay more than a regional publication. There might also be share options and bonuses to consider).
  • Experience, reputation and relationships (journalists that have excellent working relationships have a leg up. If they can cultivate great sources and stick to with solicitors will usually be referred more work)

Having said all that, the salary of a journalist in the UK ranges from £17,000 - £40,000, with the average salary being around £23,000. 

Want to get journalism work experience?

Now that you know more about what's needed and how to get there - are you interested in becoming a journalist? For a taste of the action, why don't you try our journalism virtual work experience programme to see if you've got what it takes!

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