If you're interested writing for a newspaper or magazine, you may find yourself wondering about the qualifications for a journalist. While it's true that journalists come from many different backgrounds, there are a few general traits that most successful journalists seem to share.
What Are the Qualifications for a Journalist?
The qualifications for a journalist include a mixture of traits that make it easier for a person to perform the duties of this challenging position.
Obviously, a journalist must be an excellent writer. He must have a firm grasp of the English language, including proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. He must be able to write well in a variety of styles, including technical, descriptive, and persuasive.
Natural talent aside, most journalists are committed to continually improving their writing skills through the completion of various classes and workshops. They understand that the development of strong writing skills is an ongoing process.
Time Management Skills
Time management skills are extremely important qualifications for a journalist. A working journalist must often juggle several different stories at one time. He is rarely closely supervised during the day, so it's up to him to make sure the work gets done by the publication's deadline. Since journalists are expected to work irregular hours, time management skills must carry over into the writer's personal life as well. A working journalist who has a spouse and small children at home will need to be extremely organized in order to fulfill all of his obligations.
By nature, successful journalists are curious people. They are interested in learning more about how the world works. They think to ask the questions that other people often never consider. Journalists enjoy doing research to learn more about a subject, whether that means talking to experts in the field or spending hours sorting through materials at the local library. "I don't know, but I'll find out" is a commonly heard phrase in the journalist's vocabulary.
In his daily work, a journalist often comes into contact with people from many different backgrounds. He may begin the day talking to the mayor about budget cuts for city construction projects, then rush to the scene of an accident to interview a woman who has just learned her son is seriously injured. Knowing how to interact with people of all ages, races, and cultural backgrounds makes the journalist's job much easier.Diplomacy is also important when you consider the need to make a reluctant interview subject open up for a story. Many people are inherently suspicious of the media, so they're not going to talk to journalists unless they are given a reason to feel comfortable. A good journalist knows how to empathize with his subject, without getting emotionally involved in the story.
The Education Question
When asking about the qualifications of a journalist, many people find themselves wondering if a college degree in journalism is a requirement for finding a position as a reporter. Although it's recommended that young people interested in journalism choose this as their college major, plenty of successful journalists have entered the field after studying different subjects in college. English and communications majors have the strong writing skills necessary to be successful journalists. Science, engineering, history, economics, and government majors have topical subject knowledge that many publications consider a major asset.
If you want to be a journalist but lack a journalism degree, the best course of action is to get as much writing experience as possible. Start out at small publications if necessary. When you focus on building the best portfolio you can, your exact educational background isn't going to matter much.