1. Musa
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    Musa New Member

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    Investigative Journalism

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Musa, Aug 1, 2010.

    I have not really checked out the entire forum just yet. For all that I know, there may very well already be multiple threads on this topic. However, it seems to me that a majority of conversation on this forum goes on in relation to books, poetry, etc., and leaves out journalism.

    I am wondering as to whether any members of this forum are journalists, and if so, if you could share some of those ways that we should make it in the industry. I'm a huge fan of Robert Fisk, and aspire one day to do similar work as he- God Willing. How would one go about becoming an internationally recognized journalist?

    I am nearly entering college, and am debating whether I should major in Political Science, and then get my masters in Journalism, or just stick to Journalism for both my major and masters. Then of course there is also the option of doing it the opposite way, which would be to major in journalism and get my masters in Political Science.

    Also, is it possible to get a job working for a particular news agency as an investigative journalist, and after attaining some sort of credibility, move on to freelance journalism? How difficult is it to actually find a job as an investigative journalist overseas? And how likely is it, after that experience working with a specific agency, to move into freelance journalism?

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Start by gaining some experience with school or local magazines/newspapers. That's a good way to build credibility.
     
  3. Tribe of Fools
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    Tribe of Fools New Member

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    I don't know much about becoming an internationally recognized journalist, but I have achieved a modicum of local fame in my area as a journalist and opinion columnist despite never having set foot on a college campus.

    Experience, both in life and in writing, will always trump a degree, so like thirdwind suggested, get as much of it as you can.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    In such a job-scarce economy, I'm not sure that's the best advice to offer someone starting out.

    You need every advantage you can get, education- and experience- wise. Start out by writing for school or local papers, and in the mean time, find out what education other leading journalists had. Don't just think about which general course either: if you're really serious, find out which schools are the best, which lecturers, and look into ways of sourcing finance to get there. Can you intern at local papers, are there any good journalists in a nearby area (or contactable online) that you can ask for advice?

    I mean, I'm sure you've already thought of all this before, but it bears repeating. Start with finding the best schools, the kinds of schools that will open all the right doors, and in the mean time, look for more modest opportunities closer to home. As someone in a similar position (starting out trying to break into a very competitive field), my best advice is rather than obsessing over what other people have done/are doing, just look for all the best opportunities that are available to you right now and make the most of them, and always ask "where is this taking me?"
     
  5. Tribe of Fools
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    Tribe of Fools New Member

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    I gave the advice I did because when I was originally hired, I was picked over an applicant with a masters in political science. Why? A combination of three things: my writing sample was kickass, I had already done volunteer work for the company, and I was already networked with all the important people in my coverage area.

    So 2/3 of my qualifications were experience-related, while the third--knowing the right people and having a good working relationship with them-- is common sense for anybody looking for a job.
     
  6. ManicHedgehog
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    ManicHedgehog Member

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    Considering journalism school? Well, as a journalism school grad, I'm going to ask you ahead of time exactly what you're going to hear from profs should you get into it:

    "What the heck are you thinking?"

    If you enter journalism school, expect profs to give you fair warning that journalism is a tough field to get into now. Sometimes it seems they just want to scare everyone out of the field, and for some, that's for the best. Getting into journalism (I'm coming from the newspaper standpoint, personally, which is about as ballsy of a move I could have made) is not easy. Getting a job is tough, especially in a time when media companies are cutting jobs, not adding them. Excelling in that job is even tougher. Expect to work long hours, weekends, be on-call all hours of the day and evening, and have thousands of things to do that you never thought you'd signed up for.

    That's the spiel you're going to get from the profs, and it's effective. If you're not 100 percent dedicated to the craft, love what you do and are willing to put up with the mound of bull that comes along with it, get out while you can. If you don't love journalism, it's not worth it.

    Once you get into journalism school, though, make sure to cast a wide net. I made the mistake of focusing almost solely on newspaper journalism and honing my writing skills, and once I decided I wasn't cut out for the stress of the newspaper industry, I didn't have the education to branch out. Take as many new media and online courses as you can. Get involved at your school paper, magazine or online publication as soon as possible. And once you're done, expect to have a tough job search, and be willing to move anywhere in the country. I sent out about 200 inquiry letters before I found a job thousands of miles from home.

    The sad fact is, writing and reporting will only get you so far in this climate. With media outlets cutting jobs, reporters aren't just reporting anymore. They're taking photos, shooting video, producing multimedia, managing Web content, designing, and more. I won several writing awards in the two years I spent at a newspaper, and it really was a rush. I loved the job, and I guess that's why I was willing to take the plunge.

    But I didn't like where I was headed — there is almost NO room for vertical movement at your first job. You will move to Montana for your first job at a tiny town newspaper, then to Florida for a slightly bigger newspaper for a small city, then, maybe by your third job, you'll get lucky and land a spot as a reporter at a major metro somewhere else. You won't get paid much — I made about $11 an hour in an expensive state to work my butt off in a little town where there was almost nothing to do. It takes a ton of patience to make it as a journalist, and I guess I didn't have it in the end.

    But someone has to report the news, and I'm not talking about Twitterers. If you're willing to put up with all this because you love journalism, go for it. Passion is what's needed for aspiring journalists. But don't say I didn't warn you ;)
     
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  7. claireb2
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    claireb2 New Member

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    Manic Hedgehog - you sound like me in a former life...!
    I would say experience over qualifications, every time, which means getting the best internship possible, and building up the best porfolio that you can. As MHedgehog has pointed out, the days of being a simple front line shorthand reporter are numbered. You have to be prepared to acquire a lot of other skills nowadays, from what I've been told.
     
  8. Langadune
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    Langadune Member

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    I would never recommend against education. Experience is the best way to improve a craft but education is a form of experience. I'm not currently working in the field I majored in, but I still value the education. In my opinion, no education is wasted. No one will overlook you for having an education, but not having one could be the deciding factor.
     
  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I'm a college sophomore right now and I"m majoring in PR (Public Relations).

    Poli Sci is one of those majors that it's hard to get a job with. Same with journalism, as the job market sucks.

    PR is closely tied to journalism, so you could get a job in the media easy, but it's also marketable for business jobs. It's a safe major for the economy.
     
  10. Shinn
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    Shinn Banned

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    I'm currently taking Media & Communication at university as my major. After I graduate in three years time, I will try and land a job with our local newspaper. I've always been very interested in letting people know what is happening, so it was a natural choice for me.
     
  11. Tribe of Fools
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    Tribe of Fools New Member

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    PR is also, in many ways, the antithesis of the type of journalism the OP wants to pursue.

    Listen, I don't want to bash education too much or suggest that anybody here has wasted valuable time and money in pursuit of little more than a piece of paper that says you're smart (however true it may be). But I have watched plenty of my friends take the "safe" road and do what they were "supposed" to do instead of what they really wanted to do, and they're all either miserable, unemployed or both now.

    If you chase money, you may get money and you may get happiness, but if the money ever goes away your happiness goes with it. Chase your passion and you will always have your happiness, which will eventually lead to money.

    Whatever you do, don't be another brick in the wall.
     
  12. EileenG
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    I definitely don't want to bash education, but I've been a full time, successful journalist without a single qualification in journalism. I actually trained as an accountant with a side of computer qualifications.

    I started contributing the occasional freelance feature, then getting commissions, then I moved in to an office with other freelance journalists, where we backed each other up and provided cover during holiday etc. I learned from them (steep learning curve!) and moved into investigative and crime reporting.

    Yes, it's a tough job. But if you get the story, and if you are consistently accurate and reliable, you will get work and make money. And sometimes, you have the satisfaction of knowing that a story you wrote made a difference, that a law was changed because of it, or a villain was caught, or even that a life was saved.
     
  13. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    At age eighteen I'm far from a professional journalist, but near the end of my six-year bout with journalism I had published a major international package and was getting paid for radio pieces.

    If you're trying to decide between political science and journalism, I would go for journalism. It's a much more specialized degree, and at least you graduate knowing your job market, even if it is tough. I'm not even sure what the job market looks like for someone with a bachelors in polysci.

    But if you do go for journalism, I strongly, strongly, strongly suggest doing a double major or at least a double minor, because like people have been saying, the market for journalism will always be alive, but it's incredibly unstable and difficult to break into, and the more knowledgeable a journalist is, the more valuable he becomes. And it's also a great fallback if you cant land a journalism job. I seriously suggest something in the technological field, like computer science, since that's the way journalism is going to be headed for a long while. Or at least something specialized, like a science, so you could write for a medical journal or something. Or an education major, since most school newspapers wont die anytime soon.

    I agree with Mallory that Public Relations is possibly a better major.

    Also set your sights on good journalism schools if your serious about breaking into the business, even if you will take on more debt. (I'm assuming though, since you're thinking about journalism and polysci, money either isnt an issue or isnt as important as doing something you love.) There's a reason the University of Missouri's journalism department is called the Mizzou Mafia. More their grads land jobs than other schools' grads in this major.

    And you should be prepared to do a master's degree either in journalism or with an MBA. Although I think being prepared to do a master's degree is good for advice any major, especially right now.

    And the next most important thing you can do is get experience. In fact, it may be more important. Most journalism outlets wont even consider you without a degree, but your experience matters more in an interview because they'd probably put you at an entry-level position anyway. You may as well have had experience in that area; it'll help you land a job. There are probably tons of youth media outlets that could use you volunteering and some might pay you. I dont know if this organization called Children's Express is still alive or not, but there were a few bureaus along the east coast and a few in the midwest like Indiana and Chicago. Definitely get a job on your school's newspaper (and lucky for you, a lot of them will pay you per piece) and work your way up to page editor or EIC if you can. Intern intern intern.

    Intern and network.

    My opinion probably doesnt matter as much as some other journalists' do here, but I am inclined to agree with most of them. "What the hell are you thinking" is what I would say to you too. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with amazing journalists and everything, but the one thing it taught me is that it's something I never want to do with my life. It's too unstable, too demanding (time-wise), too low-paying, and requires too much luck to hit it bigtime.

    For every one Terry Gross or Fareed Zakaria or NYT reporter, there a literally tens of thousands of those who wont make it because it's such a tough job market.
     
  14. lovely
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    I'm currently a college student, and I've been working my way into the journalism field. It's been tough, but the more experience you can get, the better off you'll be. I would recommend working at your college paper as much as you can. Write as many stories as you're able in as many different areas as possible. I would also recommend an internship or practicum with a local paper. I just finished one, and the paper I was working for hired me.

    It's really difficult to break into the field without prior experience, and the school paper is the best starting point you have. Try to work your way up to an editorial position, because real newspapers really value that. I did, and my editor told me that my work as editor-in-chief was a big reason he chose me as an intern, and, ultimately, reporter. Make sure you build up a strong portfolio, and make yourself as valuable as possible by learning skills that will compliment your writing. My advisor recommended that I learn graphic design and photography, and I cannot stress how valuable that experience has been. Papers want people that can work in multiple areas and won't need much training. Web design experience is also something papers really look for.
     

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