Top tips for making it as a journalist in the digital era. Part 1.

By, Elizabeth Jarrard

One of the very first weekly newspapers ever published was in Venice, Italy, in the 16th century, as early as 1566. A century later, newspapers began to appear in many European nations, and the novel idea eventually made its way to places like Mexico and the American colonies. The invention of the printing press was crucial to the wider dissemination of news (or gossip), and, as always, propaganda.

In those very early days of newspapers, historical figures like the political essayist and satirist Jonathan Swift, are still influential.

In 1791, the newly emancipated fledgling US government signed the first amendment to the Bill of Rights which included the right to report news and circulate opinions—the freedom of the press. In the 1820’s and 30’s, news agencies in the United States were hiring reporters who would “collect news” from afar. Journalism was also considered a profession where even women could stake a claim, at least at the turn of the 20th century in Europe and North America. Prior to this time, women were mostly given stricture to write periodicals targeted at other women as their primary audience.

Today, anyone with sound writing skills, a penchant for investigating—asking interesting questions for the purpose of finding an answer—could be considered a journalist. Could be. What does it take today to be a good journalist? One journalist for the digital magazine, Vox, who calls himself a “professional explainer” suggests,

The industry is not in good shape...The online media industry is still driven by ad sales, which means by traffic, which means there’s still constant pressure to resort to quick, identity- and outrage-based content. Digital media outlets are getting bought up or shutting down. It’s difficult to find support for serious, in-depth journalism and it’s difficult to make a living as a journalist.

A free press is integral to a democratic society. Sound journalism is a necessity. Are there rogues today willing to write a good story—fight the good fight—in order to uncover truths and fight for a worthy cause? Despite the odds? The “Death of Journalism” may in fact, just be the death of the incumbents of journalism. That may not be a bad thing. If journalism is evolving, let it. We gathered information from a few credible sources to highlight what it takes to be a competent (and ethical) journalist in the digital era.

Photo:  Roman Kraft @romankraft

Photo: Roman Kraft@romankraft

Three great tips we wanted to share:

When opportunity knocks, answer the door. And another idiom also applies here, “it is better to be a big fish in a little pond than the other way around.” Opting for the opportunity to write content that you’re passionate about (and you have expertise in) for a smaller media outlet may be better for your career than writing general or blasé content at a larger firm. When you can write in a specific genre, and your pieces reflect that passionate tone, once you’ve gained experience and expertise, you’re more likely to be able to land a job in that genre at a larger firm down the road.

Outshine the incumbents. New York Times contributor and highly acclaimed author, Malcom Gladwell, suggests that while wisdom and experience earn higher salaries, incumbents are often burned out and don’t work as vigorously as they once did (slackers). Younger writers with high-flying ambitions can use this to their advantage.  

Be a self-starter. The hierarchy of the editorial staff room of yesteryear continues to change. This means that in the digital era of journalism, you will not only have to write the content, but you need to know what is trending and relevant to your audience. You have to find a topic, create an angle, do your research, edit your own content, and promote it.

Is it worth it? To be a writer? Like any industry where passion fuels the drive to create, the pay is often, at least in the beginning, a little sluggish. But utilizing some innovative strategies could really boost your exposure as a writer. In the next article, we discuss how freelance journalists and bloggers can take advantage of digital platforms in order to monetize their content.


Be Heard. Get Paid.  

Elizabeth Jarrard