An overview of the role

The role of a newspaper journalist is to research and write news stories on a range of different topics. This involves finding and travelling to sources, conducting interviews and recording responses to inform written articles. Journalists may work at local, regional or national level depending on their skill and experience. 

Sales of print newspapers have been diminishing in recent years and as a result much journalistic work is aimed at online publication. It is more important than ever for journalists to have a sound grasp of technology and an awareness of writing for a digital audience.

What are the responsibilities of a newspaper journalist?

The responsibilities of a newspaper journalist include:

  • Conducting interviews with a wide range of different people
  • Building and maintaining a network of trusted contacts in a variety of sectors as a source of news and information
  • Attending a variety of events, from press conferences to court proceedings to sports games
  • Researching articles from a range of sources
  • Adhering to strict deadlines
  • Using shorthand skills or technology to record events
  • Assist the editorial team with layout and sub-editing

The responsibilities of a newspaper journalist vary depending on their level of experience, their role and the journal or paper for which they are working. 

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What are the key skills required by a newspaper journalist?

Key skills required by a newspaper journalist include:

  • The ability to communicate well and easily with people from all different backgrounds and walks of life
  • Good writing skills, including the ability to adapt tone of voice
  • Good research skills
  • A sharp eye for editing
  • Excellence at sticking to deadlines
  • Organisation and the ability to multitask
  • Persistence and determination

Traditionally newspaper journalists have needed skills in writing shorthand at speeds of 100wpm or over. A modern journalist may or may not require shorthand, but this is dependent on the role.

What qualifications does a newspaper journalist require?

Traditionally it has been possible to become a journalist without higher education. Realistically, this is very difficult in the modern world and candidates are expected to have at least a degree in a relevant subject. The degree subject need not be journalism – English, creative writing and other communications degrees are useful, as are humanities degrees that require a high level of research and writing ability. In addition to this a postgraduate qualification in journalism will stand applicants in good stead.

Many newspaper jobs also require a Diploma in Journalism from the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), a highly reputable qualification. Roles that do not officially require or request NCTQ certification will nonetheless respect applicants who possess it.

Journalism is so competitive and such a difficult field to break into that aspiring newspaper journalists are advised to have as many strings to their bow as possible. For this reason, it is advisable to gain valued postgraduate qualifications such as the NCTQ in order to lessen the amount of time between graduating and securing a job.

Do I need relevant work experience to become a newspaper journalist?

Work experience is essential in order to become a newspaper journalist. It is advisable to gain experience working in editorial or another related field at your university paper while you are studying. 

Not only is this important in order to build up a network of sources and gain writing experience, it will also help you to build up a portfolio of work to show to prospective employers. For this reason publishing pieces is especially useful if you have a byline (your name published along with the content). 

Experience benefits aspiring journalists in another way. Many papers and journals do not advertise job vacancies at all, relying solely on speculative applications for candidates. A sound knowledge of various publications – and ideally contacts at them – will stand you in good stead for this reason.

What are the prospects and salary of a newspaper journalist?

  • On average a newspaper journalist earns around £22,250.
  • Newly qualified journalist: £12,000 – £15,000
  • Journalist: £25,000
  • Experienced journalist: £35,000 – £40,000

Newspaper journalists should expect to spend much of their time working freelance. Newly qualified journalists usually do this in order to build up a portfolio of work before they are able to secure a full-time role, though it is not unusual to work freelance for your entire career. Retiring journalists may also choose to transition into freelance work.

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Is the role of a newspaper journalist right for me?

There are both pros and cons involved in the role of a newspaper journalist.

Pros of being a newspaper journalist include:

  • An exciting and varied role that will give you exposure to many people, industries and situations
  • This is an ideal role for those who enjoy a blend of solo work and social interaction
  • Travel within the course of a working day is usual, providing an excellent balance between a desk job and a active role
  • Women are well represented within the industry, with an almost even gender balance, and racial equality is improving steadily
  • In addition to regular local and semi-local travel for work purposes, there are also opportunities to work abroad as a reporter

Cons of being a newspaper journalist include:

  • The role can be highly stressful, thanks to internal and external competition and the necessity of interviewing people who may not be cooperative
  • As a newspaper journalist your workplace will often be noisy and chaotic – you must be able to thrive in this environment
  • Very long hours, often exceeding 60 hours per week in order to meet deadlines
  • Working hours are unpredictable and you may have to stay longer 
  • Nowadays it is almost impossible to become a journalist without a relevant degree, if not a degree and a journalism qualification as well
  • A fiercely competitive role both to break into and to progress within
  • Pay is not particularly good unless you are working at a high level

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