Reporter Job Description, Education, Training Requirements, Career, Salary, Employment

Job Description: In covering a story, reporters investigate leads and news tips, look at documents, observe events at the scene and interview people. Reporters take notes and also may take photographs or shoot videos. At the office, they organize the material, determine the focus or emphasis, write their stories and edit accompanying video material.

Training and Educational Qualifications: Most employers prefer individuals with a bachelor’s degree in journalism or mass communications, but some hire graduates with other majors. They look for experience at school newspapers or broadcasting stations and internships with news organizations. Large-city newspapers and stations may prefer candidates with a degree in a subject-matter specialty such as economics, political science or business. Some large newspapers and broadcasters may hire only experienced reporters.

Job Outlook: Competition will continue to be keen for jobs on large metropolitan and national newspapers, broadcast stations and networks, and magazines. Most job opportunities will be with small-town and suburban newspapers and radio and television stations. Newspapers are increasingly hiring stringers and freelancers.

Salary: Median annual earnings of reporters and correspondents are $33,470. The middle 50 percent earn between $24,370 and $51,700. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $19,180, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $73,880.

Significant Facts:

•    Competition will be keen for jobs at large metropolitan and national newspapers, broadcast stations and magazines; most entry-level openings arise at small broadcast stations and publications.

•    Most employers prefer individuals with a bachelor’s degree in journalism or mass communications and experience gained at school newspapers or broadcasting stations or through internships with news organizations.

•    Jobs often involve irregular hours, night and weekend work, and pressure to meet deadlines.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

I spent a summer as a reporter in the NYC bureau of the Associated Press after my junior year of college and one summer as an intern reporter at the Washington Star between my two years of graduate school. In both cases, I worked as a full-time reporter since I had experience as a very active reporter and editor on my college paper.

Do you know of which companies have the best internships in this field that are known to help launch a successful career?

The Post has the best program, but there are still some good internships at the Boston Globe, the LA Times and maybe a few other papers. The best thing to do is write to any and all papers you want to work for.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

New York, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago. The bigger the city, the more opportunities.

What is your typical day like?

I get up at 7:30 a.m., read the papers, and get to work by 11:00 am. I check my email and send emails to sources on upcoming stories, talk to my editor on the phone (I work in our Alexandria, Virginia bureau and he is in the main newsroom in DC), write a column or story, check email, maybe make a phone call or two, go home to read accumulated work mail and transcribe tapes or work on book manuscript (I usually try to do 1,000 words a day on such projects). I interview someone in-person or watch a classroom in action about twice a week.

What are your job responsibilities?

I write stories for the Schools and Learning page of the Post every other week and do a weekly column for our Web site as well as a quarterly column for our magazine. I also write weekly Q&A columns in the neighborhood sections of the Post for Fairfax and Montgomery Counties, our two biggest school districts.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Interviewing successful educators, transcribing the tapes of those interviews (I always hear something I missed) and writing articles, columns or books about them.

What do you dislike about your job?

It is hard to keep control of the enormous amount of email I get. I am now mostly an email reporter, and that makes me much more efficient and productive, but I always feel like I am way behind.

Have you had any turning-point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?

My earlier career as a China correspondent began when I was taking a shower at age 16, thinking about my life, and realizing I was fascinated with that growing power in the East. But another experience actually got me where I am now in education writing. On December 7, 1982, while working as LA bureau chief for the Post, I went to Garfield High School to interview AP math teacher, Jaime Escalante. That interview led to several books and hundreds of articles, as well as the high school rating system used by Neivsweek, on my favorite subject, how to make high schools more challenging.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

I wanted to go to China. I first studied to be a diplomat but discovered that was a huge bore too many rules, too much emphasis on social chit chat. My dad had been a reporter for a while, so I thought that would be a more enjoyable way to get to China.

How did you get into the industry?

I joined the Harvard Crimson, the daily student paper at my college. That was an important move, and I recommend that to everyone. Go to a large university that has a daily paper and make that your prime extra-curricular activity. It’s fun, you learn a very useful trade and you meet some very interesting people. I married the managing editor the day we graduated.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

I have been able, through the Post and my books and the Neivsweek list, to spotlight one of the worst facets of high school education the persistent refusal to open up our best courses, Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB), to all students who want to take them. Far more people are aware of this now and are doing something about it than before I started.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

I would probably be a high school teacher and then a principal.

To what professional associations do you belong?

I am on the board of Editorial Projects in Education, the non-profit organization that publishes Education Week, the newspaper. I belong to the Education Writers Association.

What professional publications do you read?

I read Education Week and an assortment of education publications.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Good writing and reporting starts with lots of reading. Get in the habit of reading a good newspaper every day and study deeply those subjects that interest you. The happiest journalists, like me, are specialists.