Newspaper journalists research and write accurate stories to tight deadlines for local or national newspapers
Writing for national, regional and local press, newspaper journalists report on news and politics, as well as on sports, arts and culture, science and business. They also cover national and local events, entertainment and human interest stories.
There are a number of roles within newspaper journalism. Junior reporters usually write up stories allocated to them by the news desk, which they then pass to the news editor before they're handed to sub-editors. Correspondents are specialists in one field or location, while feature writers, who cover topics in greater depth, often use a more personal style.
If you work for a smaller newspaper, you'll have to multitask, and may work on layout, photography and sub-editing, as well as writing stories and posting on social media.
Newspaper journalism is becoming increasingly multi-platform. Many newspapers will expect applicants to have strong videography, photography, and social media skills, alongside research and copywriting.
As a newspaper journalist, your duties will include:
- interviewing people in a range of different circumstances
- building contacts in many areas to maintain a flow of news, such as with the police and emergency services, local councils, community groups, health trusts, press officers from a variety of organisations and the general public
- seeking out and investigating stories via your contacts, press releases and other media, such as social media
- attending press conferences and asking questions
- attending a range of events, such as council meetings, magistrates' court proceedings, football matches, talent contests and protests
- answering calls and emails on the news desk and reacting to breaking news stories
- working closely with the news team, photographers, and editors
- recording interviews and meetings, possibly using shorthand or technical equipment
- producing concise and accurate copy according to the newspaper's house style and to strict deadlines - daily newspapers may have several each day
- writing shorter, 'filler' stories to entertain, and researching and writing longer feature articles, sometimes for subsidiary publications and supplements
- creating and uploading news content for the newspaper's website
- adhering to ethical guidelines set out in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code
- live online reporting or real-time posting when covering important events.
- Trainee reporters earn around £18,000 to £22,000, depending on whether they're working for a local, regional or national paper.
- With up to five years' experience your salary can rise to around £35,000.
- As a senior newspaper journalist, with around 10 years' experience or more, you can expect to earn up to £40,000.
Pay in this sector is notoriously low, but your salary is likely be at the higher end of the scale if you're working for a national newspaper. Share options and bonuses, reflecting the paper's performance, may bolster salaries at senior editor level.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll frequently need to work long or unsocial hours to meet tight deadlines. Being flexible is important too, to accommodate for breaking news and deadlines.
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What to expect
- A hybrid working pattern is common in newspaper journalism, spending two to three days in an office and the rest at home or other location. The work will also involve some travelling to meet people or to cover events, often at short notice.
- Many journalists spend part, or all, of their career working on a freelance basis. Demand for experienced freelancers is high, especially for feature writing. Young journalists often work freelance to build up experience and contacts. The NUJ (National Union of Journalists) issues a guide to freelance rates in its Freelance resources.
- Career breaks are possible. The profession is predominantly white, but efforts are being made to recruit from more diverse backgrounds with initiatives such as the Journalism Diversity Fund.
- Opportunities with regional newspapers exist throughout the UK. Geographical mobility is important, especially at the beginning of a journalism career. However, many roles can be completed on a remote basis, though attendance to events may be needed with little notice.
- Because of the need to sometimes work long and unpredictable hours, anything up to 50 to 60 hours per week, journalists' social and working lives may become intertwined.
This area of work is open to graduates of any discipline but an undergraduate degree in journalism, English or writing may improve your chances. However, some editors may be more interested in graduates with a specialist degree subject, such as economics or science.
Experience and personal attributes are also considered extremely important.
Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is possible, though most new entrants to the newspaper journalism industry are graduates.
Graduates can choose from several pre-entry routes into newspaper journalism. There are full-time, one-year postgraduate courses which result in a postgraduate diploma or Masters degree. There are also fast-track, 18 to 20-week postgraduate courses.
Courses accredited by the NCTJ are generally highly regarded. The NCTJ's Diploma in Journalism includes mandatory modules on reporting, essential public affairs and media law. Students must also study at least four elective modules which include sports journalism, video journalism for digital platforms, and broadcast journalism.
You must pass the Diploma in Journalism to sit the professional senior qualification which demonstrates your journalistic skills, which you'd take once you'd been in relevant employment for 18 months. This is either the National Certificate Examination (NCE) or the National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ), depending on your specialism.
Entry with an HND or foundation degree is possible if you have relevant skills and experience. Some foundation degrees in journalism are recognised by the NCTJ, including the 18-week foundation course in journalism from PA Training.
Competition for the limited graduate trainee places with large newspaper groups and national newspapers is extremely fierce. Programmes vary each year and details may not be widely circulated, as editors rely on candidates to take the initiative to research opportunities.
Entry with a postgraduate degree is possible, especially if it's an NCTJ-accredited qualification or includes relevant work experience. Postgraduate students from subjects not related to journalism will need to gain experience and writing skills and may need to consider a relevant pre-entry course. Search postgraduate courses in journalism.
Initiatives such as the NUJ's George Viner Memorial Fund, support black and Asian students through the training of journalists from ethnically and socially diverse backgrounds onto NCTJ-accredited courses.
The Scott Trust Bursary Scheme, offered by The Guardian Media Group, provides a limited number of bursaries to postgraduate students each year.
You'll need to show:
- strong written and oral communication skills with accurate spelling, grammar, and punctuation
- a keen interest in news, current affairs, business, and people
- strong contact-building skills
- good organisation skills and the ability to prioritise and work under pressure to tight deadlines
- an ability to grasp complex issues quickly and explain them in simple, concise language
- resilience, determination, flexibility, persistence, motivation and integrity
- a strong understanding of social media
- good videography and audio-taking skills
- an awareness of the importance of delivering trusted, accurate, and impartial stories.
You'll need a good record of relevant work experience accompanied by a professional file of cuttings (samples of your published writing). Take every opportunity to write articles and reviews for local, free, national or specialist publications, especially if you get a byline (your name above the story). Get involved in student newspapers and try to build up a network of sources.
For work experience opportunities, keep an eye on publications and websites such as:
PA Media Contact local newspapers and ask for work experience. A list of local newspapers can be found via the News Media Association. Lots of people are trying to find work experience in June and July, so be proactive and try approaching publications at other times of the year. Don't despair at rejections; editors appreciate and respect persistence and the desire to succeed.
UK newspapers provide a significant employment market for journalists. Many titles are owned by large newspaper groups at international, national or regional level, such as:
- DMGT (Daily Mail and General Trust Plc)
- Guardian Media Group
- National World
- Reach PLC
- Telegraph Media Group
Independent press agencies, also known as news wires, supply general interest or specialist news, features or pictures to news media. There are several leading press agencies, including:
- AFP (Agence France Presse) (based in Paris)
- Associated Press (based in New York)
- PA Media (based in London)
- Reuters (based in London)
- United Press International (based in Washington D.C.).
Also see the National Association of Press Agencies.
Print titles are currently struggling, and, in reaction, many newspapers are turning their attention to online journalism, where news is uploaded as it happens. As such, knowledge and experience of social media is also essential.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Guardian Jobs
- Hold the Front Page
- media.info - directory of media brands available online
- News Media Association - lists groups with in-company training schemes
Jobs may be advertised via the head office of a regional group or by individual newspapers. Some newspapers rely solely on speculative applications to the editor and never advertise vacancies.
After an initial probationary period, many trainee reporters follow basic journalism training under the terms of a training contract, usually lasting up to 18 months.
All trainee journalists must pass preliminary examinations to be eligible to sit the NCTJ National Certificate Examination (NCE) or the National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ), depending on your specialism. These are the professional qualifications for senior newspaper journalists.
Trainees with large newspaper groups and national newspapers may also receive structured training in reporting, writing, proofreading, sub-editing, layout and design and production.
Smaller newspapers may not be able to provide training opportunities in these areas to the same extent.
Courses run by the NCTJ are recognised in the industry and can lead to a variety of further qualifications, including NVQ/SVQs.
The National Union of Journalists' NUJ Training also offers a range of training courses.
Most journalists start on local or regional newspapers. After a few years as a general reporter, many people move on to become senior or chief reporters, or specialist writers of some kind, such as regional or topic-specific correspondents, or feature writers.
Other career options include moving into news management by joining the news desk, moving into production or working on page layout and headlines as a sub-editor.
It may also be possible to move overseas as a foreign correspondent, where knowledge of the language and culture is essential.
Career development depends on your performance and initiative. The skills learned on a local or regional newspaper, or through a training scheme, are relevant to reporting in all media and there is more movement from newspapers to other types of journalism than vice versa.
Many senior journalists and correspondents work freelance across print, broadcast, and online journalism. Both radio and television offer newspaper journalists off-screen opportunities as researchers, writers, and production assistants on the reporting or editing side of news programmes. Web publishing and live reporting, in the forms of blogs or uploading news online as it happens is increasingly important to UK newspapers.
Employees in news agencies can sometimes enter directly as trainees, but it's more common to start in newspapers and then move to agency work. Working for an agency can provide experience in a range of different media; agency reporters may provide tapes for local radio, features for magazines, and news items for national daily newspapers and digital media providers.
Because of the range of work available, agency work can be a good stepping stone to freelance work. Agency work tends to suit more experienced reporters, with an extensive list of contacts and who are able to fight their corner to find the exclusive angle that will make a publication want to buy their story.