Becoming a journalist possesses this allure and appeal to many—a job filled with excitement and plenty of writing. And with unconventional journalism that includes targeting a specific audience like family magazines, business journals or even city guides, the job stretches your creativity to its limits. Composing pieces, whether hard-hitting or simply educational, for many to read brings on a sort of thrill. To hear a profound story told and then do the person justice by sharing their words with the world proves exciting each and every time. With crunching deadlines, long hours hacking away behind a screen and ever-changing structure and tasks, journalism lives in a fast paced environment.
Learn how to become an unconventional journalist in this rapidly changing field.
What Can an Unconventional Journalist Do?
Journalists in the traditional sense write and report on present news and social issues of our environment and world. A journalist can take many different angles in their pieces from forming stances and opinions to making decisions. The ultimate goal of the journalist lies in educating the public not only on current news, but also on tolerance and bigotry. “We created [Giggle Magazine] because we wanted to give parents a really good resource into how to raise their children here in Gainesville,” said founder of Giggle Magazine, Nicole Irving. “Our whole goal has always been to help parents be the best parents they can be here.” The key lies in finding your skills and interests and then incorporating your writing skills into it.
- Extensively research your material and topics
- Reach out to sources for interviews and stories
- Follow stories exclusively, whether by dwelling in a certain area or residing with a particular source
- Get into touch with the digital space, keeping up with technology and how the internet works
- Incorporate different mediums into certain pieces, whether it may be podcasts or videos along with the writing
- Look for pieces that are not only relevant, but angles and stories that are going untold
- Undergo thorough editing and redacting process with your editor
What Does it Take to Become a Journalist in the New Wave?
In order to become a journalist in this new wave of journalism, you need to broaden your skill set. Beyond the writing, you must possess some other skill set or outlook to bring to the table. In the conventional sense, you should major in Journalism to learn how to properly report and write a piece. To make it in journalism, you have to actually know grammar rules, get well acquainted with everything AP style and reporting and creating an article.
In the true essence of journalism, just write. “Write,” said graduating Gator Tucker Berardi. “Oh my god. Just start writing. Start writing if you are publishing…on a blog or if you’re lucky enough to find a publication that will take you early on—just try to get yourself out there.” Even without a journalism background, you need to have a drive to pen down stories or write what you see, hear and feel.
Double majoring, minoring or majoring in a completely different field will help you market yourself. Find out where you want to go with your stories and develop yourself in that direction, whether by dipping your foot in video production or minoring in education. For example, a newly developed class at the University of Florida, Narrative Nonfiction, draws on the power of storytelling within a journalism piece. Before, speaking in first person was viewed as taboo. Now it provides an intimacy that helps readers connect with a piece and translates well into transparency. This form of writing combines the powers of English and nonfiction writing by incorporating it into the traditional sense of reporting.
What Should You Know About Becoming a Journalist in the New Wave?
1. What Will I Earn As A Journalist?
The national average salary for a traditional journalist ranges from $44,000 to $46,000. Entering the field with more to offer, like familiarity with video production or an understanding of public relations, can open up doors that bring in the money. “I’ve had journalistic offers and I have also had PR agency offers,” said graduating gator Tucker Berardi. “And the difference in income is significant.” By branching out and becoming unconventional in your approach, your expected income grows with you.
2. How Much Will I Be Expected To Work?
Your hours will vary as a working journalist. In general, you can expect a typical work week of around 35 to 40 hours. When deadlines come crushing in, you will undoubtedly have to put in some extra hours hacking away at your desk. If you travel for a piece, the story follows you around the clock as you gather information from the area or event that you cover.
3. What Will My Work Environment Look Like?
Your work environment depends greatly on your piece. “Most of my long form stories I would come back to Atlanta to write,” professor at UF and former senior writer for CNN Moni Basu said. “I traveled all over the world. No two days were ever alike. I met all sorts of interesting people.” You will have to get out of your office and venture out into the world to get the facts for your stories. A lot of moving parts lie within the writing process. The atmosphere thrives on a fast paced, deadline driven and creative foundation with a lot of shifting gears.
4. What Do I Need to Know About the Future of Unconventional Journalism?
In the sense of traditional journalism, the climate always changes drastically and the outlook never looks good. The way news gets presented and distributed has grown different from the past. That said, print still holds a place in society. The need for journalism is greater than ever in this day and age. “Every student of mine who has wanted a job in journalism has gotten one,” UF Professor of New Reporting Mike Foley said. “I’ve seen them work their way out into medium sized, full sized newspapers.” Certain genres always last because of the constant need for information.
Even though many people in newspapers have lost their jobs due to budget cuts and lack of need, the digital space of writing grows as we speak. As technology grows, you have to marry your writing with the digital element. Consumption of material never dies, leaving a place for a growing form of unconventional journalism such as long–form storytelling and narrative nonfiction. “People always want to hear, read, see good stories.” Basu said. “And that’s not going to change. We are human beings. Storytelling is as old as we are as mankind. I mean, we are nothing without stories.” The outlook of journalism does not necessarily mean a decrease, instead an evolution as mediums and forms of writing shift.
Skills you need to become an Unconventional Journalist
As an unconventional journalist, you never know what the next moment or day has in store for you. Things constantly change on the fly, both in the office and in the media. In order for you to make it in the industry, you must learn how to adjust accordingly. “You have to learn how to work with a lot of moving parts at all times and be flexible,” Irving said. “If this isn’t going to work, your whole world can’t fall apart because you have to get this magazine done.” When a piece goes awry, you need to have the ability to quickly fix the problem through accommodation.
In such a field you need to have a drive for your work. “Number one: Passion,” said Foley. “You must have passion because it’s a very difficult occupation.” There comes times when the work proves challenging, whether in the material covered or the penning process. An unconventional journalist must have a strong focus and love for their craft and an agenda in order to push through the tough times. Passion fuels great work. When you feel for your work, the piece speaks for itself in the writing.
Receptive and Unafraid Communication
A crucial part of unconventional journalism presents itself in your sources. “You have to be able to go up to complete strangers and talk to them. To be able to extract information,” Basu said. “Knowing how to interview people and to interview people to get really deep information.” Quotes not only provide more information and insight, but they also can help push a story along. When writing pieces on people, you want to hear their words and feel their heart. Challenge yourself to find unique subjects for your pieces and don’t be afraid of asking tough questions. Only then will your story set itself apart from the rest.
Other Important Relevant Skills
- Efficient Document Reading and Analysis
- Open mindedness
- Value Accuracy
“[Journalism] is both a craft and a mission. And you have to believe in the pursuit of truth. It’s pretty basic, what we’re all after: it’s the truth. Secondly, it’s our job as journalists to help people understand a confusing world. The need for good journalism is maybe more so now than ever in the history of this country,” Foley said.
“Magazines, I always say, they’re timeless. They’re meant to sit on the shelves. You’re meant to collect covers. Magazines become a friend. People like to feel it, they like to see it, they like to touch print. There’s something about a glossy cover that draws people in. Print stays on the coffee table, stays in the doctor’s offices. It stays there,” Irving said.
“The free press is like a pillar of our democracy. If you choose to go into journalism, you are choosing a really important profession and more important than ever before, I think, in our history. We’re sort of at a crossroads with everything. At the end of the day I want to be on my deathbed thinking that I did the best that I could for this world. For me that’s what I’ve been doing and that’s my contribution to the world. I hope that some of my students feel that way, too,” Basu said.