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Reporters and correspondents play a key role in our society. They gather information and prepare stories that inform us about local, State, national, and international events; present points of view on current issues; and report on the actions of public officials, corporate executives, special interest groups, and others who exercise power. In covering a story, they investigate leads and news tips, look at documents, observe on the scene, and interview people. Reporters take notes and may also take photographs or shoot videos. At their office, they organize the material, determine their focus or emphasis, write their stories, and may also edit videos. Many enter information or write stories on portable computers, then submit them t to their offices using a telephone modem. In some cases, newswriters write the story from information collected and submitted by the reporter.
Radio and television reporters often compose stories and report "live" from the scene. Later, they may tape a commentary in the studio.
General assignment reporters write up news as assigned, such as an accident, a political rally, the visit of a celebrity, or a company going out of business. Large newspapers and radio and television stations assign reporters to gather news at specific locations or "beats," such as police stations or courts. Some reporters specialize in fields such as health, politics, foreign affairs, sports, theater, consumer affairs, social events, science, business, and religion. Investigative reporters cover stories that take many days or weeks of information gathering.
News correspondents are stationed in large U.S. and foreign cities to report on news occurring there. Reporters on small publications cover all aspects of the news: They take photographs, write headlines, lay out pages, edit wire service copy, and write editorials. They also may solicit advertisements, sell subscriptions, and perform general office work.
The work of reporters and correspondents is usually hectic. They are under great pressure to meet deadlines. Some reporters work in comfortable, private offices; others work in large rooms filled with the sound of keyboards and computer printers as well as the voices of other reporters. Those reporting from the scene for radio and television may be distracted by curious onlookers or police or other emergency workers. Covering wars, political uprisings, fires, floods, and similar events often is dangerous.
Working hours vary. Reporters on morning papers often 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 usually are assigned to a day or evening shift. Magazine reporters generally work during the day. Reporters may have to change their work hours to meet a deadline or to follow late-breaking developments. Their work demands long hours, irregular schedules, and some travel.
Reporters and correspondents held about 59,000 jobs in 1994. About 7 of every 10 worked for newspapers, either large city dailies or suburban and small town dailies or weeklies. Almost 2 in 10 worked in radio and television broadcasting, and others worked for magazines and wire services.
Most employers prefer people with a bachelor's degree in journalism, but some hire graduates with other majors. They look for experience on school newspapers or broadcasting stations and internships with news organizations. Large city newspapers and stations may also prefer candidates with a degree in a subject-matter specialty such as economics, political science, or business. Large newspapers and broadcasters also require a minimum of 3 to 5 years experience as a reporter.
Bachelor's degree programs in journalism are available in over 400 colleges. About three-fourths of the courses in a typical curriculum are in liberal arts; the remainder are in journalism. Journalism courses include introductory mass media, basic reporting and copy editing, history of journalism, and press law and ethics. Students planning a career in broadcasting take courses in radio and television newscasting and production. Those planning newspaper or magazine careers usually specialize in news-editorial journalism.
Many community and junior colleges offer journalism courses or programs; credits may be transferable to 4-year journalism programs.
A master's degree in journalism was offered by over 100 schools in 1994; about 20 schools offered a Ph.D. degree. Some graduate programs are intended primarily as preparation for news careers, while others prepare journalism teachers, researchers and theorists, and advertising and public relations workers.
High school courses in English, journalism, and social studies, provide a good foundation. Useful college liberal arts courses include English with an emphasis on writing, sociology, political science, economics, history, and psychology. Courses in computer science, business, and speech are useful as well. Fluency in a foreign language is necessary in some jobs.
Reporters need good word processing skills, and computer graphics and desktop publishing skills are useful. A knowledge of news photography is valuable for entry level positions which are for combination reporter/camera operator or reporter/photographer.
Experience in a part-time or summer job or an internship with a news organization is important. The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and newspapers, magazines, and broadcast news organizations offer summer reporting and editing internships. Work on high school and college newspapers and broadcasting stations, community papers, and Armed Forces publications also helps. 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 1994.
Experience as a "stringer"-a part-time reporter who is paid only for stories printed-is also helpful.
Reporters should be dedicated to providing accurate and impartial news. Accuracy is important both to serve the public and because untrue or libelous statements can lead to costly lawsuits. A "nose for news," persistence, initiative, poise, resourcefulness, a good memory, and the physical stamina and emotional stability to deal with pressing deadlines, irregular hours, and sometimes dangerous assignments are important. Broadcast reporters need to be at ease on camera. All reporters must be at ease in unfamiliar places with all kinds of people.
Most reporters start with small publications or broadcast stations as general assignment reporters or copy editors. Large publications and stations hire very few recent graduates; they generally require their new reporters to have several years of experience.
Beginning reporters cover court proceedings and civic and club meetings, summarize speeches, and write obituaries. With experience, they report more difficult assignments, cover an assigned "beat," or specialize in a particular field.
Some reporters may advance by moving to larger papers or stations. A few experienced reporters become columnists, correspondents, writers, announcers, or public relations specialists. Others become editors in print journalism or program managers in broadcast journalism, who supervise reporters. Some eventually become broadcasting or publications industry managers.
Competition for reporting jobs on large metropolitan newspapers and broadcast stations and on national magazines will continue to be keen. Small town and suburban newspapers will continue to offer better opportunities for beginners. Many openings arise on small publications as reporters become editors or reporters on larger publications or leave the field. Talented writers who can handle highly specialized scientific or technical subjects have an advantage. Also, "stringers" and freelancers are being hired by more newspapers.
Employment of reporters and correspondents is expected to decline through the year 2005-the result of mergers, consolidations and closures of newspapers, decreased circulations, increased expenses, and a decline in advertising profits. Some growth is expected in radio and television stations. Most job openings will arise from the need to replace reporters and correspondents who leave the occupation. Turnover is relatively high in this occupation-some find the work too stressful and hectic, or don't like the lifestyle and transfer to other occupations where their skills are valuable, especially public relations and advertising work. Others leave because they are unable to move up to better paid jobs in bigger cities.
Journalism graduates have the background for work in such closely related fields as advertising and public relations and many take jobs in these fields. Other graduates accept sales, managerial, and other nonmedia positions, in many cases because it is difficult to find media jobs.
The newspaper and broadcasting industries are sensitive to economic ups and downs. During recessions, few new reporters are hired and some reporters lose their jobs.
The Newspaper Guild negotiates with individual newspapers on minimum salaries for both starting reporters and those still on the job after 3 to 6 years. The median minimum salary for reporters was about $443 a week as of August 1, 1994. Ten percent of the contracts called for minimums of $326 or less; 10 percent, $618 or more. The median minimum weekly salary for reporters after 3 to 6 years on the job was about $713 a week. Ten percent of the contracts called for top minimums of $522 or less; 10 percent, $933 or more.
Annual average salaries of radio reporters ranged from $18,600 in the smallest stations to $28,989, in the largest stations in 1994, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Broadcasters. For all stations, the median salary was $23,612. Salaries of television reporters ranged from $17,435 in the smallest stations to $79,637 in the largest ones. For all stations, the median salary was $31,239.
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.
Career information, including pamphlets entitled Facts about Newspapers, and Newspaper:
What's In It For Me? is available from:
Newspaper Association of America Foundation, 11600 Sunrise Valley Dr., Reston, VA 22091-1412.
Information on careers in journalism, colleges and universities that offer degree programs in journalism or communications, and journalism scholarships and internships may be obtained from:
The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, Inc., P.O. Box 300, Princeton, NJ 08543-0300.
Information on union wage rates for newspaper and magazine reporters is available from:
The Newspaper Guild, Research and Information Department, 8611 Second Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910.
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 Kansas School of Journalism, Stauffer-Flint Hall, Lawrence, KS 66045.
For general information about careers in journalism, contact:
Association For Education in Journalism and Mass Communication University of South Carolina, 1621 College St. Columbia, SC 29208-0251.
A pamphlet titled A Career in Newspapers, can be obtained from:
National Newspaper Association, 1627 K St. NW., Suite 400 Washington, DC 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.
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