Pied Pipers of Public Opinion

Pied Pipers of Public Opinion

You turn over rocks and let the light burn away the rot. You’ve been a reporter for over ten years now.

The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is.   People read the press to inform themselves-and the better the teacher, the better the student body.---Warren Buffett

Since you graduated and got your first job, a crime beat desk at a small paper, you’ve moved up the ladder to two other larger papers. Now you’re a rising star at a major web news service.

Since leaving school, your once-cherished illusions about life have been turned upside-down. You’re tougher every year. You’ve learned to question everything and anything.

Friends and family wonder what’s going on inside you. Because even when you’re having dinner with them, details of a story are boiling in your head. The serial killer in your city left clues, you know it, but what are they, how do you connect the dots?

Some pundits say investigative reporting is dead, but you’ve cracked enough major stories to know better. Your life has been threatened so many times, you no longer feel a chill on your back when a strange car keeps turning, each time you turn, or when someone on the street seems to be waiting for you.

You covered the frontlines in two wars. Your addiction to the adrenaline rush” of danger is what keeps you churning. Your life is a treasure hunt for the truth.

And your relentlessness is why the people who lie to you, who avoid you, who threaten and discourage you, maybe want you dead. It’s also why your editor respects you, trusts you, and worries about you like a father. You love it all.

The fluff jobs aren’t for you. Only the hard stuff, where angels fear to tread.

Because you’re hooked. Hooked on the amazing places you go and the astonishing people you meet. Hooked on the blast of beating other reporters to a hard-to-cover story, hooked on your sense of mission, hooked on the impact of the truth when it gets out there into the public mind.

Hooked on telling the world about what’s happening, hooked on startling the public conscience, hooked on making a difference.

Being a reporter, a journalist, is all you’ll ever be. It’s who you are now.

News analysts, reporters, and correspondents gather information, prepare stories, and make broadcasts that inform us about local, State, national, and international events; present points of view on current issues; and report on the actions of public officials, corporate executives, interest groups, and others who exercise power.

Female news reporter

News analysts—also called newscasters or news anchors—examine, interpret, and broadcast news received from various sources. News anchors present news stories and introduce videotaped news or live transmissions from on-the-scene reporters. News correspondents report on news occurring in the large U.S. and foreign cities where they are stationed.

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 their office, they organize the material, determine the focus or emphasis, write their stories, and edit accompanying video material.

Many reporters enter information or write stories using laptop computers and electronically submit the material to their offices from remote locations. In some cases, newswriters write a story from information collected and submitted by reporters. Radio and television reporters often compose stories and report “live” from the scene. At times, they later tape an introduction to or commentary on their story in the studio. Some journalists also interpret the news or offer opinions to readers, viewers, or listeners. In this role, they are called commentators or columnists.

Newscasters at large stations and networks usually specialize in a particular type of news, such as sports or weather. Weathercasters, also called weather reporters, report current and forecasted weather conditions. They gather information from national satellite weather services, wire services, and local and regional weather bureaus. Some weathercasters are trained meteorologists and can develop their own weather forecasts. (See the statement on atmospheric scientists elsewhere in the Handbook.) Sportscasters select, write, and deliver sports news. This may include interviews with sports personalities and coverage of games and other sporting events.

General-assignment reporters write about newsworthy occurrences—such as accidents, political rallies, visits of celebrities, or business closings—as assigned. Large newspapers and radio and television stations assign reporters to gather news about specific topics, such as crime or education. Some reporters specialize in fields such as health, politics, foreign affairs, sports, theater, consumer affairs, social events, science, business, or religion. Investigative reporters cover stories that may take many days or weeks of information gathering.

Some publications use teams of reporters instead of assigning each reporter one specific topic, allowing reporters to cover a greater variety of stories. News teams may include reporters, editors, graphic artists, and photographers working together to complete a story.

Reporters on small publications cover all aspects of the news. They take photographs, write headlines, lay out pages, edit wire-service stories, and write editorials. Some also solicit advertisements, sell subscriptions, and perform general office work.

The work of news analysts, reporters, and correspondents is usually hectic. They are under great pressure to meet deadlines. Broadcasts sometimes are aired with little or no time for preparation.

Male news reporter

Some news analysts, reporters, and correspondents work in comfortable, private offices; others work in large rooms filled with the sound of keyboards and computer printers, as well as the voices of other reporters. Curious onlookers, police, or other emergency workers can distract those reporting from the scene for radio and television. Covering wars, political uprisings, fires, floods, and similar events is often dangerous.

Working hours vary. Reporters on morning papers often work from late afternoon until midnight. Radio and television reporters usually are assigned to a day or evening shift. Magazine reporters usually work during the day. Reporters sometimes have to change their work hours to meet a deadline or to follow late-breaking developments. Their work demands long hours, irregular schedules, and some travel. Because many stations and networks are on the air 24 hours a day, newscasters can expect to work unusual hours.

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 also 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. It’s a big plus to have experience gained at school newspapers or broadcasting stations or through internships with news organizations.

Most reporters start at small publications or broadcast stations as general assignment reporters or copy editors. They are usually assigned to cover court proceedings and civic and club meetings, summarize speeches, and write obituaries. With experience, they report more difficult assignments or specialize in a particular field. Large publications and stations hire few recent graduates; as a rule, they require new reporters to have several years of experience.

Some news analysts and reporters can advance by moving to larger newspapers or stations. A few experienced reporters become columnists, correspondents, writers, announcers, or public relations specialists. Others become editors in print journalism or program managers in broadcast journalism, who supervise reporters. Some eventually become broadcasting or publishing industry managers.

More than 1,500 institutions offer programs in communications, journalism, and related programs. In 2007, 109 of these were accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

Most of the courses in a typical curriculum are in liberal arts; the remaining courses are in journalism. Examples of journalism courses are introductory mass media, basic reporting and copy editing, history of journalism, and press law and ethics. Students planning a career in broadcasting take courses in radio and television news and production. Those planning newspaper or magazine careers usually specialize in news-editorial journalism. To create stories for online media, they need to learn to use computer software to combine online story text with audio and video elements and graphics.

Some schools also offer a master’s or Ph.D. degree in journalism. Some graduate programs are intended primarily as preparation for news careers, while others prepare journalism teachers, researchers and theorists, and advertising and public relations workers. A graduate degree may help those looking to advance more quickly.

High school courses in English, journalism, and social studies provide a good foundation for college programs.

Useful college liberal arts courses include English with an emphasis on writing, sociology, political science, economics, history, and psychology. Courses in computer science, business, and speech are useful as well. Fluency in a foreign language is necessary in some jobs.

Employers report that practical experience is the most important part of education and training. Upon graduation many students already have gained much practical experience through part-time or summer jobs or through internships with news organizations. Most newspapers, magazines, and broadcast news organizations offer reporting and editing internships.

Work on high school and college newspapers, at broadcasting stations, or on community papers or U.S. Armed Forces publications also provides practical training. In addition, journalism scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships awarded to college journalism students by universities, newspapers, foundations, and professional organizations are helpful. Experience as a stringer or freelancer—a part-time reporter who is paid only for stories printed—is advantageous.

News analysts, reporters, and correspondents held about 67,000 jobs in 2006. About 59 percent worked for newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers. Another 23 percent worked in radio and television broadcasting. About 11 percent of news analysts, reporters, and correspondents were self-employed (freelancers or stringers).

Employment of news analysts, reporters, and correspondents is expected to grow 2 percent between 2006 and 2016, which is considered to be little or no change in employment. Constantly improving technology also is allowing workers to do their jobs more efficiently, another factor that will limit the number of workers needed to cover a story or certain type of news. However, the continued demand for news will create some job opportunities. For beginning newspaper reporters, freelancing will supply more opportunities for employment as well.

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix

Students with a background in journalism as well as another specific subject matter, such as politics, economics, or biology, will have an advantage over those without additional background knowledge. Journalism graduates have the background for work in closely related fields such as advertising and public relations, and many take jobs in these fields. Other graduates accept sales, managerial, or other nonmedia positions.

Salaries for news analysts, reporters, and correspondents vary widely. Median annual earnings of reporters and correspondents were $33,470 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,370 and $51,700. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,180, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $73,880. Median annual earnings of reporters and correspondents were $31,690 in newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishing, and $38,050 in radio and television broadcasting.

Median annual earnings of broadcast news analysts were $46,710 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $30,080 and $83,370. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,430, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $145,600. Median annual earnings of broadcast news analysts were $48,790 in radio and television broadcasting.

If you want to be a reporter, if the idea of investigating drives you, go get a journalism degree, to get your foot in the right doors. To learn what you must know.

Do you want to influence public affairs? To help shape the world we live in? To form the public opinion?

The truth is out there. It’s waiting for you.

The truth will always need to be told. But first, it must be found!

For information on broadcasting education and scholarship resources, contact:

  • National Association of Broadcasters, 1771 N St. NW., Washington, DC 20036 http://www.nab.org

Information on careers in journalism, colleges and universities offering degree programs in journalism or communications, and journalism scholarships and internships may be obtained from:

  • Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, Inc., P.O. Box 300, Princeton, NJ 08543-0300

Information on union wage rates for newspaper and magazine reporters is available from:

  • Newspaper Guild, Research and Information Department, 501 Third St. NW., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20001

For a list of schools with accredited programs in journalism and mass communications, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:

  • Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Stauffer-Flint Hall, 1435 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, KS 66045 http://www.ku.edu

Names and locations of newspapers and a list of schools and departments of journalism are published in the Editor and Publisher International Year Book, available in most public libraries and newspaper offices.

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