Career in journalism

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Lisa Smith is a news reporter for a newspaper in London. He writes on any subject that his editor thinks will interest the readers – anything from a traffic accident to a major criminal trial.

How do you find a news story?

The news editor tells me which stories he or she would like me to cover. I'm also encouraged to suggest ideas for stories. I would have to do thorough research before presenting my idea to the news editor, who decides whether I can go ahead and write the story. Many of these ideas come from the public ringing in with details, or companies and organisations sending details as press releases.

What happens when you cover a story?

For a breaking story (something which has only just happened), I go to the scene of the incident with a photographer. While the photographer takes pictures, I interview people face-to-face and find out as much about the story as possible. I take shorthand notes of interviews to make sure I don't forget anything.

How do you find more detailed information?

For other stories that are not so immediate I do some research first – reading newspapers and press cutting and checking the internet. It's useful to be on friendly terms with a lot of 'contacts' who have expertise in different areas. I might also interview people who were directly or indirectly affected by the incident. It's often more convenient to conduct these interviews by phone.

Do you spend a lot of time away from the office?

Yes. As well as going out to interview people face-to-face, I may have to go to court or a tribunal to report on a case. If I am sent to a breaking news story for example, a siege, or a press conference on a murder, I must get there as soon as possible.

What happens once you have written the story?

The news editors have a conference to decide on the order that stories will appear in the paper; the most important news stories are near the front. Then my story is passed to a team of sub-editors who check for spelling and grammar errors. They may alter some of the words to ensure that it is in the newspaper's usual style. They use desktop publishing programs to lay out the story and photographs as they will appear on the page.

How many stories do you cover in a day?

News is unpredictable, so it is hard to give an average, but it's hardly about two a day.

What qualities make a good journalist?

You must have good communication skills and be able to talk to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, both face-to-face and on the phone. Good spelling and grammar are essential. it can take a lot of perseverance to persuade some people to be interviewed so a thick skin is important. You should also react well to criticism.

Who do you like most about your career in journalism?

Writing for a living is very creative. I enjoy the variety and having the chance to meet lots of different people – that means the job is rarely boring. I also enjoy not being tied to the office.

Is there anything you dislike?

Yes, sometimes I have to deal with very emotive, stressful situations – such as speaking to people who have lost a loved one or been involved in a violent accident.

Lisa's route to her career in journalism

  • A levels
  • Wrote for the school magazine
  • BA degree in English and Philosophy
  • Worked on the university student newspaper for two years
  • Shorthand and typing courses
  • One year Masters course in Journalism studies
  • Present job

Lisa's journalism tips

  • Get as much work experience as you can. Write for your school, college or university paper and try to arrange your work experience with your local paper.
  • Read a magazine on a subject you are passionate about, send them ideas for features and ask for work experience.

Journalism related jobs

  • Broadcast journalist
  • Public relations officer
  • Technical author

Salary of a journalist

  • Trainee journalists on a local newspaper earn, on average, between £12,000 and £14,000.
  • Entrants to national newspapers with postgraduate qualifications earn between £17,000 and £21,000.
  • Experienced reporters can earn over £40,000, with a small number of writers on national papers earning in excess of £100,000.

Career in journalism

  • Although minimum entry requirements are 5 GCSEs (grade A-C) or equivalent (including English), more than two thirds of journalists have a degree and a large percentage of the remainder have at least two A levels, or equivalent.
  • Some trainees are recruited directly into the industry from school or university, mostly into local newspapers.
  • The most common route of entry for post A level students and graduates is a full-time vocational journalism training course at a college or university recognised by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). Degrees in journalism are offered at some universities.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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