To succeed as a journalist on a local or national newspaper you'll need determination and the ability to research and write accurate stories to tight deadlines
Newspaper journalists research and write stories for national, regional and local press. They 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.
On smaller newspapers journalists have to multitask. They may work on layout, photography and sub-editing, as well as write stories.
Newspaper journalism is becoming increasingly multi-platform, making IT, web and broadcast skills highly valuable.
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 council, 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
- attending press conferences and asking questions
- attending a range of events, such as council meetings, magistrates' court proceedings, football matches, talent contests, etc
- answering the phones on the news desk and reacting to breaking news stories
- working closely with the news team, photographers and editors
- recording interviews and meetings 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 website
- 'live' online reporting or real-time blogging when covering important events - a growing area of work, especially on national newspapers
- In the sector, reporters working in newspapers and magazines have the lowest average salaries. According to the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) the average salary for a newspaper journalist is £22,250. When you're starting out as a trainee reporter, your salary could be as low as £12,000 to £15,000, depending on whether you're working for a local, regional or national paper.
- Although there's wide variation between regional and national newspapers, salaries for journalists with up to five years' experience generally rise to around £25,000, while those with a decade's experience or more can expect around £35,000 to £40,000.
Your salary could be higher 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.
Journalists quite frequently work long or unsocial hours. Early in your career, you're likely to work an early or late shift pattern. You need to be flexible to accommodate for breaking news and deadlines.
What to expect
- Offices are usually open plan and may be noisy. Although you will spend much of your time working on a computer and on the phone, 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; some retired journalists continue to work on a freelance basis. The NUJ issues a guide to freelance rates in their NUJ Freelance Fees Guide.
- Career breaks may be possible. Returnees sometimes move back into the profession via a sub-editing role or through freelance work.
- The NUJ reports a 60/40 male to female gender split in its membership. Women are underrepresented, although increasingly present at senior level.
- The profession is predominantly white, but efforts are being made to recruit from ethnic minority backgrounds, with initiatives such as the Journalism Diversity Fund.
- Opportunities with regional newspapers exist throughout the UK. Three in four journalists working for national newspapers are based in London. Geographical mobility is important, especially at the beginning of a journalism career.
- The role can be stressful. Competition between rival publications - and hence their reporters - can be fierce, and you may often need to put awkward or unwanted questions to people who do not wish to answer.
- 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.
- Journalists often travel within a working day, although absence from home overnight is rarely required.
- There may be opportunities to work abroad.
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 qualities are also considered extremely important.
Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is possible but is becoming increasingly difficult. The majority of 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. Students should check that their courses will be well regarded by potential employers.
Courses accredited by the NCTJ are generally highly regarded and will usually include your preliminary NCTJ examinations. The NCTJ's Diploma in Journalism reflects the multimedia environment of modern journalism and includes mandatory modules on reporting, essential public affairs and media law and shorthand.
Students also need to take a minimum of two subsidiary modules in areas such as sports journalism and media law court reporting and provide a portfolio (logbook) of work.
You must pass the Diploma in Journalism in order to sit the professional senior qualification which demonstrates all-round competence in a range of 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 17-week foundation course in journalism from Press Association Training.
You can be recruited directly by employers on to a two-year training contract, although these opportunities are increasingly rare.
Competition for the limited graduate trainee places with large newspaper groups and national newspapers is extremely fierce. Programmes vary from year to 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 still have to gain experience and writing skills and may need to consider a relevant pre-entry course in journalism. Search for postgraduate courses in journalism.
Initiatives such as the NUJ's George Viner Memorial Fund aim to support black and Asian students through training. The Journalism Diversity Fund supports the training of journalists from ethnically and socially diverse backgrounds onto NCTJ-accredited courses.
The Guardian Media Group's Scott Trust Bursary Scheme offers a limited number of bursaries to postgraduate students each year.
All potential candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
- strong written and oral communication skills
- a keen interest in news, current affairs, business and people
- accurate spelling, grammar and punctuation
- good organisation skills and the ability to 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.
To start your career in journalism, 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.
While you're a student, join organisations for information and networking opportunities, such as the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) or the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ).
For work experience opportunities keep an eye on publications and websites such as:
The Press Association also offers work experience.
Contact local newspapers and ask for work experience. A list of local newspapers can be found via the News Media Association. June and July are the busiest times to find work experience, 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:
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)
- Press Association (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 the growth of online journalism, where news is uploaded as it happens.
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
- NUJ Careers
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.
Entry requirements include:
- a grade C or higher in the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism
- a shorthand examination pass with a speed of at least 100 words per minute
- at least 18 months' paid employment as a trainee journalist
- an e-logbook of stories from newspaper employment.
The NQJ for reporters, for example, comprises four sections:
- media law and practice examination
- news interview
- news report
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.
Learning extra skills that enable multitasking, such as video skills or web design, can be a good way to progress in your career.
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, in the forms of blogs or uploading news to the web as it happens, instead of waiting for daily or weekly paper deadlines, is increasingly important to UK newspapers.
Employees in news agencies can sometimes enter directly as trainees, but it is 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, as 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, this can be a good stepping stone to freelance work. Agency work tends to suit more experienced reporters, who have already built up an extensive list of contacts and are able to fight their corner to find the exclusive angle that will make a publication want to buy their story.