So you’re interested in pursuing journalism and becoming a journalist but don’t know what the job actually involves?
This article will outline the basics of being a journalist through the eyes of a field professional, including what an ordinary day looks like, study pathways, career prospects and more.
Let’s dive in!
Haydn Hickson is a freelance journalist who is currently a staff writer at Junkee Media, one of Australia’s fastest growing media companies!
Haydn has professional experience as a writer as well as an audio and visual creator, previously holding positions at Nova Entertainment’s GOAT Media, MTV, FBI Radio, News.com.au, and 2ser, as well as various USYD media publications and platforms.
How did you end up in this role?
Haydn says that journalism definitely just “fell into his lap” during lockdown when his presenting role was made redundant. However he always knew he wanted to work in media, and completed a degree in media and communications at university.
“I took my last job at Nova because I wanted to pursue presenting and I think I fell into a lot more writing once lockdown started,” he said.
Studies and Experience
Haydn studied a Bachelor of Arts/Advanced Studies (Media and Communications) at the University of Sydney with a double degree in Marketing.
During his degree, he completed a three-month media internship with MTV as a Digital Media Intern, where his main job was to pitch and write news articles, catered to the millennial audience!
What made you want to work in this industry?
It’s rewarding to exercise a lot of his skills in his job, says Haydn, because media is changing so rapidly and the role of journalists is increasingly multifaceted. These range from journalistic writing, to video and image-based meme creation, to podcasting and radio presenting!
What is a Journalist?
Journalists research and compile news stories, and write and edit news reports, commentaries and feature stories for presentation in print and electronic media.
While there have been many ‘kinds’ of journalists previously, including print, radio, and television journalists, a great number of journalists today take on several responsibilities across different media forms and may switch between television, radio, print and other mediums from job to job (e.g. writing an article and creating the image to accompany it).
Roles and Responsibilities
“The role of journalist in 2021 is very multiskilled,” says Haydn. “No longer is it just having to research and write and that’s it.” For example, it may also include knowing about relevant memes and being able to incorporate those into articles through Photoshop.
He also adds that for journalists there is “no such thing as nine-to-five day” due to the unpredictability of news, and priority to break a story as fast as possible: “you have to follow news as it comes and goes.”
Haydn’s typical day now begins with scrolling through his Twitter feed on his way to work and noting down important stories or pieces of information, particularly news developments from overnight. Between 9:00 and 9:30 at work, he says, he devises what stories would be best for the news site, and at 9:30 pitches them in a team group meeting.
The day that follows generally consists of researching, writing, and editing, to using WordPress, embedding links, making any images to accompany the article, and creating a Facebook/other social media caption for the story. Once a story is finished, it is sent to the editor to revise and upload. This generally happens 2-3 times a day with different stories.
“At my last workplace I was brought on as a content creator, making video skits that would go on the site, but I would also be asked to write a lot of news articles and also pop on their daily podcast…. [now] I’m writing a lot of articles and making a lot of video memes, image-based memes and a bunch of other stuff,” he says.
Which industries can this career be found in?
Some of the primary industries that journalists can be found in include:
- Information Media and Telecommunications
- Arts and Recreational Services
- Professional, Scientific and Technical Services
- Public Administration and Safety
What jobs do people sometimes confuse this with?
Copywriters design and compose written material to advertise products and services, while journalists typically cover stories about real-world events.
Newspaper or Periodical Editors plan and direct editing of publications, in accordance with correct rules of grammar, style and layout. Although editors may also be journalists elsewhere, the job of a journalist is primarily to research and cover real-life stories, which are revised by editors for publication.
Characteristics and Qualities
Characteristics that Haydn has developed over his career, and continues to work on, include:
- Writing with tone of voice: Every single time they write an article, journalists must retell information in a way that fits the company they work for.
- SEO (Search Engine Optimisation): Journalists must create an article title for Google that will best optimise what people are searching for to gain more clicks.
- Research: Ability to research effectively.
- Speed of writing articles: Pumping out several articles within a day.
- WordPress: The platform used to publish articles online.
- Photoshop: To create/edit images to support articles.
- Premiere Pro: For video editing.
According to Job Outlook, these are the essential skills and knowledge for journalists:
|Knowledge||English language, communications and media, sociology and anthropology, history|
|Skills||Writing, speaking, critical thinking, reading comprehension, active listening|
|Abilities||Oral comprehension, oral expression, speech recognition, written expression, inductive reasoning|
|Activities||Communicating with the public, building good relationships, researching and investigating, planning and prioritising work, explaining things to people|
Steps to Becoming a Journalist
What should you study?
You usually need a university qualification in journalism, writing, communications or another related field to work as a Journalist.
While a degree in journalism or communications will teach you appropriate writing styles, ethics of journalism, and other technical skills and industry knowledge, Haydn says that university is most important for forming the social connections essential to finding internships and jobs.
Check out the different degrees you can study for Journalism:
How long does it take to become a Journalist?
Most journalism (or media and communications) degrees take 3-4 years to complete. Some will find themselves in a full time paid position in the industry directly after graduation.
However an increasingly large number of journalists must undertake contracted and/or freelance work due to rising job scarcity in the industry, often working for several media companies simultaneously or for short periods of time.
Knowledge of WordPress (website builder) is important as a professional journalist, says Haydn, as well as various photo, video and audio editing softwares like Photoshop and Premiere Pro. Many of these can be learned on the job per-se, so don’t worry if your skills are less to none!
Of course this depends on one’s position, however journalists’ knowledge requirements are growing increasingly multifaceted across all positions.
What will this career look like in the future?
How in-demand is this career?
Journalism is projected to have stable future growth, however the number of people working as ‘Journalists and Other Writers’ (in their main job) fell over 5 years from 25,100 in 2014 to 19,700 in 2019, according to JobOutlook.
Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?
The “classic trajectory” of career growth for a journalist typically follows from staff writer, to editor, to senior editor of an umbrella of news sites.
In terms of specialisation, larger news companies with more traditional business models may have different journalists working on writing, video editing, image production, etc. However newer or smaller news sites will typically ask for multi-skilled workers able to execute all or several of these activities in one position.
|Annual Salary||Future Growth||Skill Level Rating|
|$81,000+||Stable over the next 5 years||Very high skill|
Journalism is undergoing dramatic change as an industry today with the explosion of digital platforms, making it an exciting if not unpredictable field. In fact, the role of journalists is possibly more important than ever, with social media and technology allowing nearly anyone to broadcast and ‘report’ events in real-time, heralding a so-called ‘post-truth’ society.
The Future of this Industry
More funding is the major determinant of the future of journalism and the media industry, says Haydn. He says we are either going to see it go into a pay wall (where readers must subscribe to a site to view content) or a lot of native articles (articles sponsored by something else).
Additionally, news companies are increasingly reliant on social media for their consumers. “I think the reliance on social media is the scariest part,” says Haydn, because big platforms like Facebook have control over the flow of traffic to news sites, where much of news firms’ income is acquired.
Best Thing & Worst Thing
What do you enjoy most about this job?
“Plus it’s fun. Everyday I get to make jokes for a living and turn my hobby of being obsessed with celebrity gossip into a job!”
What do you feel is the worst part of this job?
“I think the most stressful part of my job is when I have to write something I don’t know much about,” says Haydn.
“It could be quite stressful at times. Especially if you set your own sort of goal for yourself to pump something out quickly,” he adds.
“It’s a pretty hard industry to crack into. I have such a love for my job because I like what I do and who I do it with, but that’s a mesh you don’t always get.”
Advice for Aspiring Journalists
What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?
Haydn wishes he’d known more about how important connections within his university cohort would be in his experience of getting jobs. The technical skills you learn at university, while useful, can usually be learnt or polished later on, but it’s essential you make friends and get involved with uni news publications because “the wider your initial network the stronger the chance of getting entry level jobs.”
Haydn says taking internships wherever they pop up is also key to this networking!
“Don’t be afraid to cold call or cold email,” he adds. “More often than not companies are looking for people and opportunities that they probably won’t specifically advertise for.”
“For example if you wanted to pitch to Pedestrian, I think you would have better luck actually going out, finding the email of the editor, and saying, ‘Hey would be you interested in this,’ rather than waiting for them to put a call out.”
What should people consider taking on this career?
It’s very important to clean up your “internet footprint” if you’re considering going into journalism, says Haydn. Certain opinions on the internet may “come back to haunt you” that may have seemed relevant to a particular moment in time.
Journalists today must build public brands of opinion that people can follow on social media and in the news, no longer anonymous reporters behind big media firms. It’s also essential you stay very informed about current affairs, which eventually becomes a natural part of your job, says Haydn.
The industry varies in terms of job flexibility, says Haydn, and finding a place that suits you the best.
“Things just have to get done essentially… I’ve seen really hectic environments where you don’t leave until it [the job] gets done, and I’ve also seen more relaxed environments where whatever you get done in that period of time is good. I think it just depends on who you work for.”
Depending on your responsibilities, you could be breaking up the day with a variety of different tasks (e.g. not just article writing, but also image/meme creating).
What is the workplace culture like?
The workplace culture of journalism can be both fast paced and relaxed. Haydn says he’s worked at companies where collaboration is minimal between colleagues, where you ‘sit down’ and get the job done.
“The place I’m at now, I love it so much because we’re always consuming the content that’s put onto the internet and sending it into our group chat and talking about it.”
For example, Haydn says his colleagues will send their headlines to each other and discuss which one they’d be most likely to click on. “Where I am at the moment it’s a very positive environment,” Haydn concludes.
Zara Zadro is a Content Writer for Art of Smart and a current undergraduate student at the University of Sydney. She studies a Bachelor of Arts/Advanced Studies majoring in Media & Communications and English. In her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music and discovering new parts of Sydney. She has also written for the student publications Honi Soit and Vertigo. After she graduates, Zara hopes to do a Masters in creative writing and live overseas, which she cannot wait for!