We have all seen movies about them: intrepid reporters who ferret out the truth, then share it with the public in a splashy cover story, saving the day and sometimes people’s lives. Yet few people realize that the job of a reporter is open to anyone willing to take a few journalism and English courses.

In high school, you can start working toward a goal of becoming a reporter by doing well in English courses and taking journalism, yearbook, and photography classes. These will teach you how to organize information, write compelling articles, and take the best photos to accompany your work.

It is possible to become a reporter with just on-the-job training, but most newspapers and magazines prefer their reporters to have a college degree. Whether you attend a four-year university or a community college, you can prepare for a reporting career by bulking up on writing, mass media, and journalism courses. Getting involved with the school newspaper or alumni magazine also provides opportunities to write. Virtually every employer looking for a reporter will want to see “clips”, copies of articles you have written, during the hiring process. Working for the college newspaper or magazine is a great way to hone your writing skills and build a portfolio of clips.

What if you cannot afford college or need to work full-time in another field to support a family? Becoming a reporter without a degree may be difficult, but it is not entirely out of reach. Many community newspapers and magazines are free to the public and are willing to hire unpaid interns.

Even if you have to start out just ferrying coffee to the editors or answering phones, volunteering at a newspaper or magazine will get your foot in the door. Look for opportunities to write about interesting events or individuals in your community, and then pitch the story to the editor. A few articles with your byline will convince the editor that you can produce quality writing, which may in turn land you even more assignments. Even if you do not get paid for writing, just getting published will help you generate clips and build a portfolio, which can get you hired as a reporter later.

Once you land a paying job, you will find that the life of a reporter is not your typical Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 career. You can expect to work nights, weekends, and even holidays. The pace of your job will depend on how frequently your newspaper or magazine publishes. Some daily newspapers will require you to produce an article in just a few hours, while you may have weeks to write a piece if your publication is a monthly.

The fast pace of reporting can be exciting. Reporters get to meet new people when they interview sources for articles. They also get to learn new things as part of the research process. It can be rewarding to inform citizens about situations that affect their lives. Many reporters also get the satisfaction of writing about injustices and important social causes, and their articles effect positive changes in their community.

The job of a reporter can be tough, too. The relentless pressure can be physically and mentally exhausting. Editors rarely assign exciting, life-changing stories to novice reporters, and much of the work can seem mundane and downright boring. After all, citizens also want to know about town council meetings, sewer improvement projects, and high school football games.

Being a reporter can negatively affect your personal life, too. It can be hard to sustain a good marriage and enjoy raising a family when you are required to work odd, long, and unpredictable hours.

The salaries of most reporters are not that high, either, and many entry-level reporting jobs pay barely enough for you to pay your living expenses. Recent surveys show that the annual salary for a new reporter is around $24,000 and that’s the average salary; some full-time reporting jobs pay less than $20,000 per year. Earning a Master’s degree can help; you usually can add an extra $5,000 to $10,000 to your starting salary if you have one, along with good writing experience and a solid portfolio. It may not help much, though, if you took on expensive loans to obtain the degree.

Reporting is one of the few journalism careers you can enter without a college degree, making it highly attractive to people who may already be in the workforce. The investigative and writing skills you learn can also pave the way for many kinds of writing careers. Few people know that authors Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Anna Quindlen all started out as reporters. Who knows? With a few English and journalism classes under your belt, and a lot of perseverance, you may just become the world’s next Woodward or Bernstein.


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