Reporters and correspondents play an important role in society. They gather information and prepare stories that inform us about local, State, national, and international events; present differing points of view on current issues; and monitor the actions of public officials and others who exercise power. In covering a story, they may do background research, review public records, and interview a variety of people. As a rule, reporters take notes or use a tape recorder while collecting facts and write their stories upon returning to the office. In order to meet deadlines, however, many now use small, easy-to-carry, lightweight computers to enter the story, which is then sent by phone modem to rewriters, who write or transcribe the stories for them.
Reporters in radio and television broadcasting often report "live" from the scene of a newsworthy event, where they have to compose their story on the spot. Later, they may do commentary for a film report in the studio and appear on camera to introduce the story.
Large newspaper and radio and television stations frequently assign reporters to investigate specific locations or "beats," such as police stations or the courts, on a regular basis to gather news originating in these places. General assignment reporters write up local news as assigned, such as a story about a school board meeting or an obituary of a community leader. Many newspaper, magazine, and wire service reporters with a background or interest in a particular subject analyze and interpret the news in specialized fields such as medicine, politics, foreign affairs, sports, fashion, art, theater, consumer affairs, travel, finance, social events, science, education, career, labor, and religion. Critics review restaurants and movies as well as literary, artistic, and musical works and live performances, while editorial writers present viewpoints on topics of public interest.
Newspapers, magazines, wire services, and radio and television networks frequently station reporters, known as correspondents, in large cities as well as in other countries to prepare stories on major news events occurring in these locations. Reporters on small newspapers cover all aspects of local news, and also may take photographs, write headlines, lay out pages, edit wire service copy, and write editorials. On some small weeklies, they also may solicit advertisements, sell subscriptions, and perform general office work.
The work of reporters and correspondents is usually hectic. They are under pressure to meet deadlines and many work under trying conditions. In the office, for example, they often must content with loud conversation and the confusion of people constantly on the go. When reporting from the scene, radio and television reporters may be distracted by curious onlookers, police, or other emergency workers. Some assignments covering wars, political uprisings, fires, floods, and other events may be dangerous.
Working hours vary by type of employer. Reporters working for morning papers usually work from late afternoon until midnight. Those on afternoon or evening papers generally work from early morning until early or midafternoon. Radio and television reporters generally are assigned to a day or evening shift so that the news can be covered whenever it happens. Although magazine reporters often can schedule their work during the day, all reporters may have to change their work hours to meet a deadline or to update an earlier report because of late-breaking developments. Their work may demand long hours, irregular schedules, and some travel. Foreign correspondents often work late at night to send news to their papers in time for printing deadlines.
Reporters and correspondents held about 72,000 jobs in 1990. Nearly 7 of every 10 worked for newspapers, either large city daily papers or daily or weekly papers in suburban communities and small towns. Almost 2 in 10 worked in radio and television broadcasting and for magazines and wire services.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most editors prefer college graduates who have a degree in journalism, which includes training in the liberal arts along with professional training in journalism. A few prefer applicants who have a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and a master's degree in journalism. High school courses in English, journalism, social studies, and typing provide a good foundation. But some large city newspapers prefer a subject-matter specialty helpful to specific beats such as economics, political science, finance, or career. That subject-matter specialty may be one degree with a second degree in journalism. In 1990, the vast majority of journalism graduates who landed jobs on newspapers, magazines, or with news wire services prepared specifically for news work by majoring in news-editorial journalism.
Bachelor's degree programs in journalism are available in over 300 colleges. About three-fourths of the courses in a typical undergraduate journalism curriculum are in liberal arts, with the remainder required journalism courses. These journalism courses include introductory mass media, basic reporting and copy editing, history of journalism, and press law and ethics. In addition, students planning a career in broadcasting take courses in radio and television newscasting and production. Other journalism courses are selected in the student's specific area of interest.
Over 350 community and junior colleges offer journalism courses or programs. Credit earned at some of these schools may be transferable to 4-year college programs in journalism. Some junior colleges also offer programs especially designed to prepare the student directly for employment as a general assignment reporter. However, such graduates find it increasingly difficult to compete with graduates of 4-year programs. The Armed Forces also provide some training in journalism.
A master's degree in journalism was offered by over 100 schools in 1990; about 20 schools offered the Ph.D. degree. Some graduate programs are intended primarily as preparation for news careers, while others concentrate on preparing journalism teachers, researchers and theorists, and advertising and public relations workers.
Liberal arts courses useful to persons preparing for a reporting career include English courses with an emphasis on writing, sociology, political science, economics, history, psychology, computer science, career, and speech. The ability to read and speak a foreign language also is desirable. Those who aspire to reporting in a specialized field--science or finance, for example--should concentrate on coursework in those subject areas.
Typing skill is essential because reporters type their own news stories. Virtually all reporters now use computerized word processing equipment to write and edit stories, so jobseekers should be familiar with this type of equipment. The ability to take shorthand also is useful. Often, a knowledge of news photography is valuable.
The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and individual newspapers and magazines as well as many radio and TV news organizations offer summer internships that provide college students with an opportunity to perform a variety of basic reporting or editing duties. Experience acquired through such internships helps immeasurably in job placement after graduation. In addition, more than 3,000 journalism scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships were awarded to college journalism students by universities, newspapers, foundations, and professional organizations in 1990.
News reporting involves a great deal of responsibility, because what a reporter writes frequently influences the opinion of the reading public. Reporters should be dedicated to serving the public's need for accurate and impartial news. Although reporters work as part of a team, they have an opportunity for self-expression. The ability to present facts and opinions clearly and succinctly is essential for success in this field. Accuracy and objectivity are equally important, because, among other reasons, untrue or libelous statements can lead to costly lawsuits.
Important personal characteristics include a "nose for news," curiosity, persistence, initiative, poise, resourcefulness, an accurate memory, and the physical stamina and emotional stability to deal with pressing deadlines, irregular hours, and sometimes dangerous assignments. Being at ease on camera or in front of a microphone is essential for broadcast reporters. Because some assignments lead reporters to unfamiliar places, they must be able to adapt to strange surroundings and feel at ease with a variety of people.
Some who compete for full-time reporter jobs find it is helpful to have had experience as a "stringer"--a part-time reporter who covers the news in a particular area of the community and is paid on the basis of the stories printed. High school and college newspapers and church or community newsletters also provide writing and editing experience that may be helpful in getting a job.
Most beginners start with small publications as general assignment reporters or copy editors. A few outstanding journalism graduates are hired by large city papers and national magazines, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Large employers generally require several years of reporting experience.
Beginning reporters are assigned duties such as reporting on civic and club meetings, summarizing speeches, writing obituaries, interviewing important visitors to the community, and covering police court proceedings. As they gain experience, they may report more important events, cover an assigned "beat," or specialize in a particular field.
Reporters may advance to reporting for larger papers or press services. However, competition for such positions is keen, and news executives receive many applications from highly qualified reporters every year. Some experienced reporters become columnists, correspondents, editorial writers, editors, or top executives; these positions represent the top of the field, and competition for them is extremely keen. Other reporters transfer to related fields such as public relations or preparing copy for radio and television news programs.
Employment of reporters and correspondents is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. This growth will come about primarily because of an anticipated increase in the number of smalltown and suburban daily and weekly newspapers. For the most part, little or no increase is expected in the number of big city dailies, although some of them may increase the size of their reporting staffs. Magazines and radio and television broadcasting should continue to provide a significant number of jobs, but major news magazines and large radio and television stations primarily seek only experienced reporters. The need to replace experienced reporters and correspondents who leave the occupation each year will account for the vast majority of all job openings. Compared to other professional workers, a somewhat larger proportion of reporters and correspondents transfer to other occupations--reflecting the somewhat stressful and hectic nature of the job. Some people decide they don't like the lifestyle and transfer to other occupations where their skills are valuable, especially public relations and advertising work.
Overall, graduates who have majored in news-editorial journalism and completed an internship while in school should have the best prospects for reporting jobs. Most editors prefer to hire the top graduates of accredited programs. Talented writers who can handle highly specialized scientific or technical subjects will be at an advantage in the job market. Small newspapers often look for beginning reporters who are acquainted with the community and who can help with photography and other aspects of newspaper production. Persons without at least a bachelor's degree in journalism will face increasingly stiff competition for entry level positions.
Newspapers and magazines located in small towns and suburban areas are expected to continue to offer the most opportunities for beginning reporters. Journalism graduates who are willing to relocate and start at relatively low salaries are likely to find reporting jobs on these newspapers. Openings arise on small publications as reporters gain experience and move up to editorial positions, or transfer to reporting jobs on larger newspapers and magazines. Competition for reporting jobs on large metropolitan newspapers and national magazines will be keen. Most of these employers require experience and do not ordinarily hire new graduates. Sometimes, however, new graduates find jobs on major publications because they have credentials in an area for which the paper has a pressing need. Occasionally, the experience and contacts gained through an internship program or summer job lead to a reporting job directly after graduation.
Because enrollments in journalism education programs are expected to continue rising moderately through the mid-1990's, college teaching opportunities are expected to be good for qualified applicants--generally, Ph.D.'s with practical reporting experience. Some highly qualified reporters with a master's degree will find teaching positions in journalism departments of colleges and junior colleges. The favorable outlook for journalism educators contrasts with the generally bleak prospect for college faculty in many other academic disciplines, because the student-teacher ratio in journalism courses is much lower than for many other college courses.
Employment of reporters and correspondents generally is not cut back sharply during slack economic periods, but when career conditions force publishers and broadcasters to reduce spending, new hiring may be temporarily slowed or even halted.
College graduates who have majored in journalism also have the background for work in such closely related fields as advertising and public relations. Every year, a substantial number of journalism graduates take media jobs in these fields. Other graduates accept sales, managerial, and other nonmedia positions, while still others continue their training and then find jobs in fields such as law, career, public administration, and political science.
Reporters working for daily newspapers having contracts negotiated by the Newspaper Guild had starting salaries ranging, with a few exceptions, from about $13,500 to about $27,000 a year in 1990. For experienced reporters, the minimums ranged, with a few exceptions, from about $21,600 to about $43,200. Annual salaries of radio reporters ranged from about $12,500 in the smallest stations to about $31,800 in the largest stations in 1990, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Broadcasters. For all stations, they averaged about $18,000. Salaries of TV reporters ranged from about $15,900 in the smallest stations to about $71,400 in the largest ones. For all satins, they averaged about $27,600.
Most reporters generally work a 5-day, 35- or 40-hour week and receive extra pay for overtime work. Benefits may vary widely according to length of service and the size and location of the employer. Most reporters, however, receive benefits such as paid vacations, group insurance, and pension plans.
Reporters and correspondents must write clearly and effectively to succeed in their profession. Others for whom writing ability is essential include technical writers, advertising copy writers, public relations workers, educational writers, fiction writers, biographers, screen writers, and editors.
Sources of Additional Information
Career information, including pamphlets entitled Your Future in Newspapers and Facts about Newspapers, is available from:
American Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, The Newspaper Center, Box 17407, Dulles International Airport, Washington, D.C. 20041.
Information on careers in journalism, colleges and universities that offer degree programs in journalism or communications, and journalism scholarships and internships may be obtained without charge from:
The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, Inc., P.O. Box 300, Princeton, N.J. 08540.
For a list of junior and community colleges offering programs in journalism, contact:
National Community College Journalism Association, Midland College, Midland, Tex. 79701.
Information on union wages rates for newspaper and magazine reporters is available from:
The Newspaper Guild, Research and Information Department, 1125 15th St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20005.
For a list of schools with accredited programs in their journalism departments, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:
Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, University of Missouri, P.O. Box 838, Columbia, Mo. 65205. For general information about careers in journalism, contact:
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1621 College St., University of South Carolina College of Journalism, Columbia, S.C. 29208.
Careers in Communications, a booklet providing information on opportunities for women in newspaper reporting and other communications fields, is available from:
Women in Communications, Inc., P.O. Box 9561, Austin, Tex. 78766.
A pamphlet titled A Career in Newspapers can be obtained from:
National Newspaper Association, 1627 K St. NW., Suite 400 Washington, D.C. 20006.
Names and locations of newspapers and a list of schools and departments of journalism are published in the Editor and Publisher International Year Book, available in most public libraries and newspaper offices.