What Is It Like to Be a Reporter?
Job descriptions, duties, earnings, and requirements
News reporters are the journalists who are most visible and most accessible to the general public. Bylines on stories in newspapers, magazines, and websites are the names of the reporters who researched and wrote the stories. The faces and voices of those on television and and radio who are telling stories or conducting interviews are those of the reporters who did the research and are sharing what they found with viewers or listeners.
Being a reporter, before all else, is about doing research. It's about digging into numbers and finding the data that is most relevant and has the most impact on readers, listeners, and viewers. After that, it is about being able to tell the story in a way that shows the intended audience how that data affects them. It can be a challenging and exciting job, and one day rarely is like the next. However, it can be difficult work that often leads to unpopular stories and negative feedback, and it rarely pays well compared to other jobs that require similar skills.
The way news is delivered and received has evolved constantly over the centuries, but the needs for reporters to research stories always has been a constant. How those reporters share news with the public, though, has expanded from the advent of the printing press to the growth of radio, television, and the internet.
While the job of researching the news is the same as it always has been, different media allow for different means of storytelling. Print lends itself to longer, more in-depth stories and detailed reflection on events and their impact. Television and radio have allowed to reporters to bring stories to audiences as they are happening. The internet has transformed news from something that was read or viewed only at specific times each day to something that is constantly updated in real time.
Increasingly, reporters are expected to work in each medium. In addition to writing stories, they also may record elements of some stories to be uploaded to the web as audio or video.
While part of the excitement of being a reporter stems from new and different stories to cover each day, that also can be physically and emotionally draining because it leads to inconsistent work schedules and the need to be on call to cover major news events as they happen. Even the most dedicated reporters occasionally will dread hearing the phone ring, knowing it means their night or weekend is about to be consumed by work.
Additionally, reporters sometimes face a lot of negative feedback from those in the communities they cover, from citizens who follow their work to those being covered in stories. While it's the job of reporters to be objective and factual, readers and sources who have inherent biases may target their frustration at those who report on the news. It's not unlike being a referee in sports. Most calls, no matter how accurate, are likely to upset half the people watching. The bottom line is that it takes a thick skin to be a reporter.
This also is a challenge for reporters or for those trying to break into the field, and it might be significantly larger than any other challenge reporters face. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for reporters and correspondents is expected to decline by 10 percent during the decade from 2016-2026. This is a significant decline compared to the 7 percent growth projected for all occupations during that decade.
Those seeking news have increasingly turned to the internet in recent decades, causing a decline in traditional forms of print, television, and radio advertising revenue. Online advertising revenue has not been able to fully replace that revenue, leading to reduced news coverage and, ultimately, fewer jobs.
As of 2017, median pay for reporters and correspondents was about $39,000 annually, according to BLS.
Education and Experience
A bachelor's degree in journalism is most beneficial, but it's not always required. Entry-level applicants who gained experience through internships or through work at college newspapers can get a foot in the door if their previous work shows promise. Even those with journalism degrees should have some amount of work samples they can show potential employers.
A minor or second major in a relevant field also is very helpful if seeking a career covering a specialized area. For example, if your ultimate goal is to be a business reporter, a minor in business will be every bit as beneficial as a journalism major.
Reporters must bring certain soft skills to the job. These are character traits that you won't learn in a classroom setting, but instead come naturally or are attained through life experiences. These are some of the most important soft skills for reporters:
- A fact-based and objective approach: Some people are natural observers who asses situations without bias or prejudice. Similar to scientists doing research, reporters need to be able analyze events and data without allowing emotion to get in the way.
- Curiosity and skepticism: To do your job well, you have to be the kind of person who also wants to know more. However, you can't stop with wanting to know more. You also have to question and seek verification for everything. There's an old cliche that's been repeated in newsrooms for generations: If your mother tells you she loves you, find a second source to verify it.
- Communication Skills: It is obvious that you will need superb verbal communication skills to broadcast the news, but you will also need them, as well as excellent listening skills, when interviewing sources, regardless of the medium on which you are reporting your story.
- Interpersonal Skills: Interviewing sources also requires you to be able to establish a rapport with them. Additionally, on-air reporters must be personable.
- Writing Skills: You must be able to effectively convey information through the written word.