Journalism Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Journalism Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

A degree in journalism can open up many career opportunities. It helps graduates find work not only in media outlets but also in other corporate settings related to communication. This is because the core skills required to be a journalist is translatable to many occupations. These include critical and analytical thinking, a good understanding of data, and strong ethics. These are on top of the basics like comprehension, writing, speaking, and digital literacy. Thus, a journalism career path can also lead to occupations in non-profits, government, and academia.

There are many specializations in the field and journalism degrees come in different types, with various options for minors. Aside from the usual bachelor’s to doctorate programs, there are many certificates available to journalists. These include professional certificates not only in journalism but also in other fields of interest that journalism covers, such as finance, science, politics, and economics.

In this article, we will look into the common career paths available to journalism graduates. Data such as salaries, advancement opportunities, and alternative career options are included. In this way, you will have a better idea of how to plot your career should you choose to become a journalism student.

Why pursue a career in journalism?

Just like any occupational field out there, there are several reasons to pursue a career in journalism. Perhaps topping the list is to be a part of something greater than yourself. For journalism, this means a long and great tradition. Journalism as a field and human endeavor can trace its roots to ancient civilizations, such as those of Rome and China (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2021). It is instrumental in establishing and promoting functional governments, economies, and cultural advancement. As the recorders and influencers of zeitgeists, journalists play an important role that not only impacts current affairs but also the way they are going to be viewed in the future. Thus, many want to become a part of this tradition and participate in this powerful creative process. This can be a great source of personal fulfillment that drives people to become professional journalists.

However, journalism is not just the dissemination of factual information. It is, in essence, an enterprise that comes with its particular ethical baggage. As Burns (2002) noted in her book Understanding Journalism, every decision in journalism has an ethical aspect to it, aside from being a professional and commercial decision. This is because of the view of journalism as a public interest. Contemporary journalists have common purposes that relate to it: informing the public, being a watchdog, facilitating democracy, [and] supporting [the] community” (Kovach, Rosentiel, & Mitchell, 1999).

They also have a shared professional identity. This was how Mark Deuze, a professor of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, put it in his 2005 paper, “What is journalism? Professional identity and ideology of journalists reconsidered,” which appeared in the Journal of International Communication. Journalists, he stated, view themselves (or their idealized versions) as public servants by being “watchdogs or news-hounds, active collectors and disseminators of information … impartial, neutral, objective, fair, and (thus) credible.” This is why being a good journalist is anchored on doing good for the community by providing them with accurate, timely, and relevant information.

It is no wonder that people who are drawn to the profession possess a strong sense of ethics even though their values may differ. Many enter the profession to make a positive social impact. This is what Petersen (2020), in his review “Ode to local daily journalism” published in Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication, pointed to as the source of pure joy that journalism careers can offer. In his review of Bob Gobardi‘s The Truth: Real Stories & the Risk of Losing a Free Press in America, he found that Gombardi’s enthusiasm for the work can be infectious. Thus, he recommends it to be included as required reading in Introduction to Journalism courses as it can show students that journalism, as an industry, needs new ideas and see that “small-town journalists can make big impacts.” It can be encouraging for students to know that newcomers and smaller players can also leave their marks in the field.

Moreover, many find fulfillment in journalism as it gives people license to do or learn about what one truly loves while getting paid for it. Many specialists are paid to just become experts. This is the case for specialists in the field like food journalists, sports journalists, and science journalists, among many others.

common purposes of journalism

Journalism Career Outlook

Before going into the relevant statistics like journalism salary, it is worth noting again that having a degree in journalism can lead to many career opportunities outside of strict journalism. In fact, media and communication workers earn higher salaries than journalists and reporters. In a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) report, it is shown that media and communication workers make an average of $12,010 more than journalists do. In fact, other information services pay $18,270 more than traditional tri-media of print, radio, and television organizations on average. So, finding a job away from strict journalism can be more lucrative.

Of course, the actual salaries would depend on the type, size, and scope of the employers.

The average median salary of news analysts, reporters, and journalists, as of May 2020, is $49,300. This is only $7,350 more than the average median annual wage of all occupations at $41,950. The projected job growth of journalists at 8%, however, is just about as fast (or as slow) as the average for all occupations at 6%. The recession brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has affected advertising revenue. Experts also feel that it may impact the long-term demand for journalists. Their 2020 to 2030 projections show a positive employment change of 2,800 for the recorded 46,700 jobs in 2020.

Source: Edelman, 2021

The prevalence of fake news and the blurring of the line between news and opinions may also affect the demand for strict journalists in the coming years. In a 2020 Gallup Poll, the share of adults in the U.S. with no trust whatsoever in the mass media has been at an all-time high since 2000 (Jurkowitz & Mitchell, 2020). In the base year, only 12% of adults stated that they do not trust mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. This rose to an alarming 33% in 2020 while 27% answered: ‘not very much.’ Only 9% trust mass media ‘a great deal’ and only 31% answered that they have a ‘fair amount’ of trust. Most American adults at 73%, however, still feel that journalists are important in serving as watchdogs over elected leaders. Thus, many people, including practicing journalists since 1999, feel that the industry is due for a reform (Kovach et al., 1999)

Journalism Career Salaries and Demand

Job RoleSalaryJob Growth
News Analysts, Reporters, Journalists$49,3006%
Editors$63,4005%
Writers and Authors$67,1209%
Technical Writers$74,65012%
Announcers$41,95015%
Photographers$41,28017%
Public Relations Specialists$62,81011%
Broadcast, Sound, and Video Technicians$50,00021%
Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators$61,90029%
Source: BLS, 2021

Required Skills for Journalism

Several skills and abilities will help you succeed in your career development plan in journalism. This is so as journalism is a wide and varied field with many employment opportunities and roles. However, there are core skills that journalism degree graduates are required to develop. These include knowledge skills, technology skills, and social skills that are specific to job roles but are general enough to ensure a long and fruitful career (O*NET OnLine, 2021).

Essential Skills for Journalism

  • Comprehension and communication skills. Journalists are required to gather and analyze information from a wide variety of sources. These can be through interviews, first-hand observations, or published technical data, among many others. Thus, they are expected to have a high degree of comprehension and command of the primary language of their medium. This is most important in writing, which is the basic journalistic skill. Writing here is not only limited to writing columns or other works for reading consumption. It also encompasses writing for other audio and audio-visual media of different types. When circumstances call, journalists can also be called upon to perform tasks involving large audiences. These include hosting events like political debates or delivery talks about their work.
  • Active listening, active learning, and social perceptiveness. Journalists work not just with their colleagues but also with outside sources and in many different contexts. This requires them to be on their toes and be able to capture and identify relevant information as time goes by. They must be able to give full attention to points being made by other people, reading materials, and media. This means that they are able to take the necessary time to understand important points and assess their implications. This enables them to ask the right questions. Also, it takes skill not to interrupt sources and interviewees at inappropriate times. So, they should be very socially aware and self-perceptive. By monitoring themselves and others, they can assess their performance and those of others in order to make the necessary corrective procedures. This set of skills are most important during interviews and live broadcasts.
  • Complex problem-solving. Working in the news and media will have strict and dynamic deadlines. So, professionals are required to be able to keep up with the ever-changing pace of the work environment and work with what they have. This involves identifying problems, prioritizing them, create and evaluate options, and implement solutions. This essential skill is important in live coverages, technical troubleshooting, and when dealing with highly sensitive information with legal consequences.
  • Digital media and technological literacy. Journalists do not use computers just for writing and producing news content. Those with specializations use other software, such as statistical analysis tools like IBM SPSS Statistics and Nielsen Arianna. This is especially important when journalists move up to management positions that require them to address business aspects of producing news and related content. When working for media types other than written words, they are also expected to produce basic media content and perform basic audio and video editing. For those working online, web page creation and maintenance are also required skills.
    • Types of software used in journalism include:
      • desktop publishing software
      • analytical or scientific software
      • audio and video editing software
      • spreadsheet software
      • web page creation and editing software
    • Typical tools used in the trade:
      • audio video consoles
      • digital camcorders or video cameras
      • digital voice recorders
      • notebook computers
      • satellite core equipment
  • Knowledge Skills. You cannot write, create content, or comment on things that you do not know about, and it is the job of journalists to do those. Thus, there are essential knowledge skills required to be proficient on the job. Of course, the more specialized the assignment, beat, or your coverage area, the more things you have to know about it.  Generally, however, here are the top knowledge skills that journalists must possess according to importance in the O*NETOnLine (2021) database.
    • 96% – English language
    • 93% – Communication and media
    • 68% – Law and government
    • 60% – Computers and electronics
    • 60% – Telecommunications
    • 54% – Customer and personal service
    • 51% – Geography

General Skills

  • Time management. Like other jobs, journalists work with deadlines, maybe more so than other jobs. Also, as they commonly work in teams, they also should not just plan to work with the schedules of people they are working with. These do not only include their colleagues, bosses, and subordinates but also people from outside the organization like interviewees, confidential sources, and other experts they ask for opinions from.
  • Teamwork. A news item or any content assignment is not produced in a vacuum. It can be handed down from bosses and it can take teams to accomplish. This is especially true for non-reading consumption media like television news stories, features, and live reports. Thus, it is important for journalists to be good at working with a team. This also requires them to have a general understanding of how things work in their organization and how it is structured.
  • Creative thinking. Even in the world of disseminating cold hard facts and figures, there is still room for creativity. This includes areas like presentation, angles, and even creating efficient workflows to get the job done better.
  • Presentation skills and public speaking. Many job roles and tasks require journalists to put down their pens and address audiences through different types of media. So, it is best for journalists to be dependable public speakers. This is not only in the context of live broadcasts but also in talks and presenting reports.

most important knownledge skills in journalism

How to Start Your Career in Journalism

The 20th century witnessed a growing sense of professionalism in journalism (Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 2021). This comes with a shared sense of professional identity, ethics, and standards. This is because, as noted by Burns (2002), journalism in practice is not all about just writing. Every journalistic product is made up of decisions with professional, commercial, and ethical baggage. Academic training is intended to help future journalists make the right decisions every step of the way; and, also, to get their foot in the door.

Typically, an entry-level job today in journalism requires a bachelor’s degree in journalism or in media communications. However, one can start by earning an associate degree and maybe get a job in newsrooms or related organizations. Then, progress by the merits of their contributions and the wisdom of their experiences or advance by earning more academic credentials like a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In general, the requirements to get accepted into an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program in journalism are proof of graduation or something equivalent, a transcript, and a minimum GPA and test scores. Other requirements include letters of recommendation, a letter of intent, and TOEFL/IELTS certification for international students.

What can I do with an associate degree in journalism?

There are many jobs that are available to people with an associate degree in journalism. These, however, are lower entry-level jobs and are in smaller media companies.

News Assistant

Working in newsrooms, these professionals help in the management and coordination of production operations. These include scheduling and maintenance of equipment. They are, essentially, support staff. Thus, they may receive tasks depending on the radio, television, or web program that they are employed in. These may include administrative tasks involving billing and archiving. Moreover, they also typically help producers in ensuring compliance with both internal and external standards and regulations.

Median salary: $35,279

Copywriter

Copywriters typically work for the marketing and PR departments of companies. Many also go freelance for brands and individual clients. They are tasked to create content for products, services, advocacy, or a famous person to engage their intended audiences. They should be able to produce various types of content for different media, including brochures, social media posts, and blog entries.

Median salary: $52,743

Public Relations Assistant

Public relations assistants help PR specialists and managers coordinate the production of PR materials for dissemination. They also assist them in administrative tasks such as scheduling, billing, and communications like email management. Moreover, they are usually asked to create reports and maintain archives and databases. Generally, they are all-around support staff. They may even double as social media managers.

What can I do with a bachelor’s degree in journalism?

A bachelor’s degree in journalism gets you a higher chance of getting accepted to entry-level positions in newsrooms in print, online, radio, and television.

Entry Journalist

Entry-level journalists or reporters are usually tasked to develop, research, and write simple stories about topics determined by their editors. Depending on the particular organization and management style, they may also be given the chance to determine their own stories, content, and follow their own leads. They gather information through observation, interviews, and reading other written sources. As writers, they must follow strict deadlines and adhere to the company’s style, format, and other content standards.

Median salary: $37,801

General Assignment Reporter

Just like entry-level journalists, a general assignment reporter is tasked to research and write about topics either determined by their editors or themselves. They are not subjected to write for a certain beat or assigned to specific coverage areas. Thus, assignments can range from hard news to heart-warming features. This opportunity allows them to write in different styles and learn about many topics, preparing them for specialization and more complex assignments.

Median salary: $44,200

News Writer

They gather information, develop leads, research, and write about news-related topics. News writers that work in formats other than print write in different styles fitting for audio and audio-visual media. They are usually assigned tasks by the news editor and they work closely with other team members. During coverage meetings, they also interact with producers and may pitch topics.

Median salary: $49,300

PR Specialist

These professionals create and maintain a favorable public image for the company or a client. They support PR and marketing initiatives and manage everyday media relationships and other functions. They may help in the planning of a PR calendar and its implementation. PR specialists also create and write PR materials for a wide variety of media. These include press releases, social media posts, and internal company newsletters. They also hold PR events and even help out in corporate social responsibility efforts.

Median salary: $62,810

Can you get a journalism job with just a certificate?

Yes, depending on your ability, work experience, other credentials, and the culture of news and media organizations. In the time of digital media, content is a highly-regarded asset. If you may not find work in strict journalism organizations, you can find work as a content creator or writer in digital specialist publications covering other topics. These can include team sports, celebrities, games, and other areas of public interest. If these are not for you in the long run, you can use them as stepping stones and get as much experience as possible.

Source: Data USA, 2021

How can I advance my career in journalism?

Usually, middle management and senior management jobs in journalism do not require a Ph.D. or even a master’s degree. Advancement in a company usually depends on the level of productivity, knowledge, quality of output, and leadership of a person. Most journalists advance in their careers through experience and producing quality work.

However, getting more academic credentials can be a plus. By having graduate degrees, prospective employees can apply for more advanced management positions.

Also, by specializing in certain areas, journalists will be able to have a better grasp of them and become experts. Getting a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in another field will enable a journalist to make complex concepts simpler for their intended readers. Also, those who have graduate degrees can also contribute through teaching and mentoring.

What can I do with a Master’s in Journalism?

Editor

The title of an editor can mean different to different organizations. Some treat them as mere copyeditors that review and edit submissions, ensuring that they are accurate, clear, consistent, and according to internal and external standards. In many news organizations, however, editors are also tasked to manage a team of writers, graphics artists, and other staff; and, they oversee the content and other materials used for their particular beats or assignments.

Median salary: $63,400

News Producer

News producers in radio and television newsrooms oversee coverage and content meetings and decisions. They also supervise the newscasts and the creation of materials depending on the medium. For radio and other audio productions, these may include soundbites, music, and effects clips. For television, these include the appropriate graphics and other visuals for the right segments. News producers should also have strong journalistic ethics and be knowledgeable in the legal aspects of broadcasts, such as libel laws and other compliance issues.

Median salary: $76,400

PR Managers

These professionals manage the day-to-day activities of the PR department. They help the PR director in the creation of PR calendars for the company or clients. Also, they maintain the daily media relationship functions of the company as well. PR managers work with their staff and oversee the production of materials to be disseminated across a wide variety of media, ranging from internal newsletters to corporate social media accounts. These professionals also create workflows and policies to improve the efficiency of the PR department. These include the creation of guidelines, the setting of objectives, and performance evaluation metrics.

Median salary: $118,439

What can I do with a doctorate in journalism?

Postsecondary Teachers

People with a Ph.D. in journalism usually share their expertise through teaching and publishing research work. To do this, they work as postsecondary teachers and as professors, actively mentoring the next generation of journalists. They also serve as consulting experts for other organizations, including non-profits. The day job, however, is in schools and universities where they manage student learning and advise on research projects.

Median salary: $80,560

Writers and Authors

Those who have a Ph.D. in journalism tend to work as specialist writers in areas like economics, finance, science, travel, food, and culture. Journalists also foray into writing books and other media for reading consumption. They usually tend to do this late in their careers when they feel they have accumulated adequate expertise in the subjects. Many writers and authors are self-employed and they, with their agents, handle their own operations. These include the marketing of their work and other modes of dissemination by presenting them through interviews or converting them into other types of media like documentaries and movies.

Median salary: $67,120

Which certification is best for journalism?

There are many certificate programs available to journalism dealing with specific subjects and areas. For instance, there are certificate programs for media ethics, interviewing, food writing, visual communications, and copy editing. Most of these certificate programs being offered today are at a graduate level designed for professionals. There are also courses that offer specialized training in business journalism, investigative journalism, and headline writing. The best one for you depends on your interests and which areas you would like to work in. There are also certificate courses available on online platforms such as Udemy and Coursera.

Alterative Career Options for Journalism

The skills one learns in the field of journalism are easily translatable to other fields. A few of the most important of these, however, are social skills, teamwork, and the strict adherence to objectivity and accuracy of information. Of course, communication skills such as writing, public speaking, and presenting are very important too. This set of skills can be carried over to a business management career or a public relations career.

You will also find that these skillsets are valued in jobs for marketing majors. In this section, we will list down alternative career options for journalist graduates.

What else can a journalist do?

Lawyer

The law and journalism professions have co-evolved. This is because journalism as a profession and practice has been affected by the spread of democratic forms of government as pointed out by Siebert (1946) in his article “The Law and Journalism” published in the Virginia Law Review. He also stated that much like law, journalism has a hand in maintaining national and world stability by nurturing public opinion. He added that both “law and journalism are social agencies devoted to the maintenance and improvement of the social body; both are conscious of their deep responsibility for its health.” This is why many lawyers have chosen journalism as their pre-law majors. As pointed out in Study.com (2021), many colleges and universities are in fact offering dual degrees in law and journalism.

If you are a journalist major and working directly for social change in the journalism field does not fit you well, maybe you can make a difference as a lawyer. Journalists can also apply their analytical skills to law. Lawyers, in their day-to-day activities, analyze probable outcomes of cases using legal precedents. They argue motions, give advice, and interpret laws. Moreover, a journalist’s interviewing and active listening skills can also come in handy during proceedings.

Marketing Manager

The communication skills of journalists can also translate well in the arena of marketing. Communication, in general, including journalism, is intertwined with marketing. Professionals in both areas need to understand their audiences, what works for them, and supply them with those things profitably. Of course, there will be technical differences in principles and in execution. This does not only mean presentation techniques but also in the handling of information. Marketing managers tend to have more applied use of data where journalists use them for explicitly expository purposes (ideally). Both use of data, however, requires analytical skills that both good marketing managers and journalists possess.

These professions also require planning skills. Marketing managers plan marketing calendars and journalists plan editorial calendars. Essentially, both occupations promote something. One promotes stories as their products and the other promotes other types of products and services. Also, given the omnichannel nature of marketing and journalism nowadays, using a wide variety of platforms for marketing should be a native skill already to a journalist.

Non-Profit Director

Journalists covering their communities usually already work with non-profits. Many journalists, in fact, bring attention to different causes and advocacies in their work, ranging from socio-economic and political causes to environmental ones. So, working for non-profit organizations is not far off a journalist’s radar. A journalist’s skill in bringing attention to ideas and events can be very helpful in this work. Also, a journalist’s investigative and social skills allow for critical analysis of issues that non-profits try to solve.

Non-profit directors also manage their own staff. Many, especially in small organizations, are also active in the day-to-day operations. So, a journalist’s time, people, and project management skills can go in handy as well. Moreover, as many journalists enter the trade to make a social difference, working with a non-profit could be a good career alternative for them.

Is journalism the right career for you?

Journalism is a very wide field, covering many topics and areas of human society. Because of its breadth and depth, it offers many career opportunities. It is fit for people who want to be near subjects, events, and other phenomena that they are interested in while getting paid for it. Moreover, it is also an enterprise with a potent power for change. Thus, it is a good fit for those who want to make positive impacts on their communities and society at large.

As mentioned, working in journalism allows people to bring attention to stories, causes, events, and ideas that they find important. Work can also provide them opportunities to meet with movers and shakers, people they admire, celebrities, and experts. The job also requires learning about a lot of things in order to communicate them well to intended audiences. Thus, people passionate about lifelong learning might just find journalism a good career fit for them.

The field is also undergoing a lot of changes and is under a lot of stress. Reform in the sector has been called for since the ’90s when business pressure on editorial content has disturbed journalistic balance. Today, public mistrust is an issue and credibility has been lower than ideal. So, there are many things to do in and for journalism. As it remains an integral part of the social fabric of democratic nations, the institution itself can be worth saving. If you find it so, then maybe to be a part of the reform is a good enough reason for you to be a part of it and work from within. This is because aligning your career goals in journalism with your values is a smart professional and life choice.

 

References:

  1. Burns, L. S. (2002). Understanding journalism. SAGE Publications.
  2. Data USA. (2021). Journalism. Retrieved September 27, 2021, from Data USA.
  3. Edelman. (2021). 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. Edelman.
  4. Deuze, M. (2005). What is journalism?: Professional identity and ideology of journalists reconsidered. Journalism, 6(4), 442-464.
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica. (2021). Journalism. Britannica.
  6. Jurkowitz, M., & Mitchell, A. (2020, August 18). Most say journalists should be watchdogs, but views of how well they fill this role vary by party, media diet. Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. Pew Research.
  7. Kovach, B., Rosenstiel, T., & Mitchell, A. (2020, May 30). National survey of journalists. Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project.
  8. O*NET OnLine. (2021). 27-3023.00 – News analysts, reporters, and journalists. O*NET OnLine.
  9. Petersen, T. G. (2020). Ode to local daily journalism. Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication, 10(2), 68. Proquest.
  10. Siebert, F. S. (1946). The law and journalism. Virginia Law Review, 32(4), 771-780. JSTOR.
  11. Study.com. (2021). Is journalism a good major for law school? Study.com.
  12. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, September 9). News analysts, reporters, and journalists. BLS.

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