A career in newspapers

The American Society of Newspaper Editors offers this brief advisory to students who are considering careers in journalism.

Is journalism for you?

The American Society of Newspaper Editors offers this brief advisory to students who are considering careers as newspaper journalists.

Most beginning journalists head into reporting, but newspapers also seek young talent as photographers, artists, copy editors, computer experts, librarians, and other specialists.

Jobs, especially at the entry level, are sometimes difficult to land. But the student who has writing ability, graphics or photo skills, curiosity and determination – and who is well prepared by education and training – should have no difficulty finding an interesting and challenging position with a daily newspaper.

Setting your educational goals

What about getting a broad education?

The newspaper journalist must possess an inexhaustible fountain of curiosity and an ability to express ideas. Studying the liberal arts will introduce you to new horizons; studying journalism will help you communicate your discoveries. ASNE urges every student considering journalism to get a broad background by taking courses in many fields. If you attend an accredited journalism school, you will be required to take 90 semester course hours outside journalism. If you are studying journalism at an unaccredited school, it's still a good idea to earn three-fourths of your credits toward graduation outside the journalism school. Some students want to take more journalism courses, at the expense of the liberal arts and sciences, economics, history, etc. But editors are interested in young people who are broadly educated.

Should I major in journalism?

Not necessarily. A 1990 ASNE survey indicated that half of the editors had no preference for a journalism degree versus a major in another field. About four in 10 editors expressed preference for hiring J-school grads, and one in 10 preferred graduates from other fields. However, almost three-fourths of the editors of smaller papers, where many graduates begin their careers, prefer J-school grads. A 1989 ASNE survey indicated that 80 percent or more of the young people taking newspaper jobs at that time were journalism school majors across the board for newspapers large and small.

Some students choose to concentrate on a field they want to write about – business, science, the arts, politics, for example – and take journalism courses as electives or work on the student newspaper.

Should I choose an accredited J-school?

ASNE surveys indicate that fewer than half (43 percent) of the editors make it a point to know whether the job candidate is a graduate of an accredited journalism program. Go to the ACEJMC Web site to get a list of accredited programs and to learn more about the accreditation process.

Are skills courses important?

Taking some journalism skills courses is a good idea. A 1993 ASNE survey asked editors what fields of study students should take to prepare themselves for newspaper work. Editors thought that courses that developed writing skills and fostered an understanding of economics, statistics, and the basics of reporting were most important. In the mid-range of importance were an understanding of graphics/design, multiculturalism, newsroom technology, management, liberal arts and basic sciences. Lower priorities included classes on photography, media law, the role of mass media in society and journalism ethics.

How important are internships?


Virtually all editors agree that getting a summer internship on a newspaper while you are in college helps you land that first newspaper job. If an internship isn't possible, the student should make every effort to get published. Editors are always interested in clips.

Should I work on the school paper?

Yes! That carries a lot of weight in getting entry-level newspaper jobs.

Is a graduate degree worth the time and effort?

A graduate degree may be interesting and personally useful, but most editors say that they do not pay higher salaries to job candidates because they have a master's degree.

What about work in photography and graphics?

Students whose interests lie in photography or the graphic arts should build their portfolios while in college. The advice provided to other students also applies here: get a broad education, take internships (if possible), and work on the campus newspaper. Knowledge of computer graphics is essential to young people seeking jobs in graphics in today's newspaper environment.

What about scholarships?

Colleges and universities can provide information.

You might also look at ASNE's site for scholarship information. It includes scholarships especially for minority students

Are there resources especially for minority students?

The newspaper industry actively seeks minority applicants. ASNE's can provide you with information about scholarships, for example.

There are also professional associations for the four major racial and ethnic minority groups (Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native American Journalists Association).

As graduation approaches, students will want to participate in job fairs sponsored by the minority journalism groups, ASNE, and others.

Some tips on job hunting

Consider smaller newspapers

Newspapers of all sizes do hire students fresh out of college, though most of the larger papers (and many of the medium-sized ones) require previous experience, usually at a smaller paper. Therefore, the smaller the newspaper, the better your chances of landing that first job.

It is advantageous to apply to newspapers that you know something about, newspapers where you have had an internship, and papers that are located in areas that are familiar to you. By all means, consider your hometown newspaper. You can study out-of-town newspapers from their Web sites.

What resources are available to help me get a job?

Most colleges and universities offer guidance in job hunting, and journalism schools post openings. Also, recruiters from newspapers sometimes visit campuses. They are often interested in interviewing students who have majored in fields other than journalism, as well as J-school candidates. Some state press associations have job banks (as do the minority journalism associations), so check out the associations in the states that you have targeted.

What about applying to newspapers directly?

Yes! Most entry-level jobs are landed by young people who contact the newspaper directly. The proper approach is an informative, personal letter addressed to the appropriate editor. For smaller newspapers, you should contact the editor or managing editor. Don't blanket the newspaper with several letters – one letter of application should be enough. For larger papers, you could write the main editor or select the editor of the department that interests you the most (city desk, lifestyle, sports, etc.). You should describe your journalism and writing experience and ability, provide references, and enclose five or six clips to illustrate your best work. If you are going to be in the area where the newspaper is located and would be available for an interview, be sure to include that information in your application letter.

One source of newspapers and their editors is Editor & Publisher Yearbook, which is available in most major libraries. Another would be the newspaper's Web site itself.

The rewards of journalism

"If you had to do it over again, would you choose newspapering as a career?" ASNE asked a representative sample of newspaper journalists that question. A very high 84 percent said they would. Also, 78 percent said their present job met or exceeded their expectations when they took the position. The most satisfying aspects of their work were (1) “creativity and meeting the daily challenge of my job” (58 percent) and (2) “dealing with significant matters and having an impact” (32 percent). The respondents to this 1989 survey said the opportunity to write was what first attracted them to journalism (43 percent) or “the excitement and challenge of journalism” (38 percent). If that sounds like you, pursue your dream of a journalism career!

The future of newspapers

Newspapers are a profitable business, with great prospects for the future, especially considering the various forms of dissemination of information via electronic communication.

Newspapers own the major database of information for communities large and small across the nation. Most U.S. adults read at least part of some newspaper every day.

More information on journalism careers

@ Small Newspapers