How to Become a Reporter

By Eric Hammer

So you want to become a reporter, huh? Well you're in good company. Reporters, or journalists as they are more popularly known work in a variety of media, including newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the Internet. Each kind of work has its own little quirks that you'll need to learn in order to become a reporter.

In all cases however, you'll need an inquisitive mind. That means that you love learning new things all the time. Reporters don't just get to interview the President or write about the latest serial killer. Instead, you'll be working on a variety of stories covering almost any subject imaginable. If there's a toxic spill somewhere, you'll need to become an expert on toxic spills in a hurry. Reporting on an exploding volcano? You need to know something about geology.

Reporters also need to know how to think on their feet as you'll be interviewing important people who are pressed for time and can't spare a great deal of time to talk with you. You can't expect a source to allow you to get back to them later with additional questions (though many will let you do so). Instead, each time you do an interview, work from the assumption that this will be your only shot to talk to this person about this issue and be prepared to ask the questions you need to ask on the spot.

Did we mention by the way that a very big part of a reporter's job is interviewing and asking questions? If your source says something interesting, you need to be able to pick up on that and move away from your scripted list of questions to pursue a new track. This is a skill you'll pick up in journalism school.

A final word about how to become a reporter: be tenacious. The world of journalism is one of the most competitive in the world and it's hard to get a decent job in this field. The only way you'll succeed is to be determined to do the best job you possibly can.

How Much Can You Make?

According to the bureau of labor statistics, the average starting salary for a reporter is $35,328 and the average for all reporters is $44,030. In other words, this is a lower middle class job as far as salary. Of course, if you work at a top newspaper like the New York Times or if you work in a large market television station, you can expect to make significantly more money. In general however, reporters do what they do because they can't imagine doing anything else; not because they expect to make a great living at it.

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In addition to the basic job of being a reporter, there are other levels in both newspapers and magazines as well as in television and radio. In the newspaper and magazine world, reporters often move up to become editors, who are paid more money. There are also photo journalists who take pictures and copy editors who check reporter's writing. Copy boys/girls are also a part of a newspaper's news room and often act as gophers for the reporters, though you do pick up some knowledge as a copy person.

Remember that the most important thing a reporter needs is tenacity. You need to be willing to dig and keep digging to find out everything there is to know about a story. Without that, you'll simply end up with something that sounds like a reworded wire story (wires such as Associated Press and Reuters syndicate their stories all over the world to hundreds of newspapers and television stations. When an editor doesn't have a reporter on site, they may run a wire story or reword the wire story and run it under their own byline).

Speaking of wire services, don't forget to consider working for wire services. While you don't get your own byline (i.e. an article you write will say "By: Associated Press" rather than by "John Smith") the experience can be invaluable and you can literally be placed all over the world with wire services.

Many reporters, especially when they become successful also write books or novels and some maintain blogs as well. Speaking of blogs, many reporters today also freelance for blogs as a way to make ends meet since the world of journalism has been shrinking with the move to the digital sphere.

Qualifications / Requirements

Generally, to become a reporter, you'll need a degree in journalism from a journalism school. It helps if you've written for the school newspaper and if you've interned for a professional newspaper. You also need to know the English language well and know how to write. Even television reporters need to have a firm command of the English language and how to craft a story since you will often be explaining things live on television.

First Steps

Start by going to journalism school. Then, look for smaller newspapers that may take you on as a cub reporter (starting reporter) or as an intern. Be ready to move to another city or even another country if need be as reporting jobs tend to be somewhat hard to come by.


Check out these helpful resources to find out more about how to become a reporter:

How to Become a TV News Reporter - This blog is exactly what it sounds like. A guide to becoming a reporter for television news.

Writing World: How to Become an International Reporter - Writing World generally is a great resource for anyone who writes for a living. This particular article is quite useful as well, giving you the basic information you'll need to become a reporter.

About.Com: Journalist Profile - A good basic guide to what it takes to become a reporter.

Bureau of Labor Statistics - Use the their search box to locate information on what it takes to become a reporter and what the wages currently average.

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