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What Does a Career in Journalism Entail?

Journalists are often said to write the first draft of history. They investigate and report on the news on a daily basis, using audio and digital media to let everyone else know exactly what is going on. This means that their schedules are often not set, and they may need to spend late hours chasing down a story. Reporters also write the news, so they need to have a storyteller's gift for narrative as well as a solid grasp of grammar and style. You may also choose to go into broadcast journalism, where you will discuss the news on TV and will need poise and the ability to deal with rapidly evolving situations at times.

Typically, journalists will have beats they oversee for their newspapers or magazines. A beat is a special area of the news such as politics, crime, business, features, or sports. Professional journalists will cultivate their expertise in these areas and build a career based on that experience and accumulated knowledge. Further, as journalists continue in journalism and media, they develop trusted sources while always maintaining their all-important journalistic objectivity and integrity and improving their writing and reporting skills.

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Components of A Successful Career In Journalism

A successful career in journalism can take many twists and turns as it grows and matures. So success can take many different forms. Some might pursue an editorship at a top newspaper, such as the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times. Others might find success in the results of their journalism career, such as uncovering corruption or crimes. Such success is predicated on certain factors and a few components of a successful career in journalism are:

Bachelor's Degree: It's vital to create a strong basis for later achievement and nothing is better than the top-notch academics of a bachelor's education from a journalism program.

Certificates/Continuing Education Every professional could use a refresher from time to time. When you return to school to focus on a specific area of journalism, you can still broaden your horizons. If, for instance, you are a politics writer who completes a sports journalism program or one in business writing and reporting, a diversified knowledge base might gain you a top editorial position focused on news media and journalism someday.

Experience Seek out the very best experience and work with the best editors.

Diligence If journalists query the same sources for news on a regular basis, they will know that journalist is a serious professional. They may also one day have the sort of major scoop that could make a journalism career. Students in school journalism programs have been known to break national news and then go on to work at the New York Times and other excellent news reporting companies as well-known journalists.

Professional Ethics As a journalism professional, you are expected to have storytelling skills, but you must also maintain absolute adherence to a high ethical standard. That is, you should adhere to facts over opinion, avoid any appearance of bias, and always strive for objectivity in your reporting and writing. This includes writers who have chosen career paths in soft news, such as critics, sports reporters, and even op/ed writers, who may use their own opinion but who must never fabricate facts, figures, or events.

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How to Earn an Online Degree in Journalism

What can you do with an Online Journalism Degree?

journalism_degreeStudents who complete an in-person or online journalism degree can pursue many fields including public relations, marketing, news journalism, magazine/features journalism, and ghost writing. They can pursue careers in social media management, broadcast news writing, public relations, strategic communication, multimedia journalism, digital journalism or digital communication, media law, and as various media and communication workers. Some university alumni with a bachelor's degree in journalism or another media major move into corporate communications or find work in an editorial position, using their writing skills to help others create better content. There are many options.

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Since the advent of the internet, even more opportunities have arisen for students, even before they become full-time journalists with their degrees. Not only can they produce their own blogs and potentially monetize them, creating a self-sustaining business, but they can produce all sorts of web content. Much of this web content blurs the line between journalism and technical writing and should be easy to handle by any journalistic writer.

Typical Online Journalism Degree Requirements

Journalism students immerse themselves in a rich and interesting curriculum on the way to graduation. Though each online program is sure to differ somewhat, here is a list of courses journalism students might expect to take as part of their journalism program:

  • Communication Law
  • News Reporting Across Platforms
  • Media and News Consumers
  • Gathering Information
  • Video Production
  • Photojournalism
  • Graphics
  • History of Journalism
  • Race, Class, and Gender in the Media
  • Critical Writing
  • Feature Writing
  • Investigative Journalism
  • Internship
  • Capstone Projects and/or Internship(s)

Typical Journalism Certifications Needed

Whereas you don’t need any certifications beyond a degree to be a journalist, there are a wide range of journalism certificates available. If you are seeking to change careers, and already have an undergraduate degree, you might pursue a journalism certificate. This is a shorter learning program that will allow you to delve directly into your chosen field without needing to re-take any core or elective courses. Some certificate programs even allow you to concentrate on a specific form of journalism, such as: Photojournalism, Digital Journalism, Cultural Studies, Communication and International Relations, News Writing, Multimedia Journalism, and even Podcasting.

Academic Standards for Journalism Degrees

Academic standards in online journalism and mass communication programs are often quite high. In order to maintain accreditation, schools ask that faculty and students perform to the highest possible levels. When studying in an online journalism degree program, students should work as hard as possible to maintain a high GPA. After all, with a high GPA, it is easier to gain acceptance to graduate schools for journalism or other fields.

Experience Needed for a Journalism Degree

experience-needed-for-a-journalism-degree Journalism is a practice and a discipline, and most schools with journalism programs insist their students have some experience in the field prior to graduation. Journalism schools therefore often run daily newspapers that provide students the opportunity to report and write stories on a daily basis. Students can work their preferred beats, or the beats to which they are assigned, and produce a portfolio of work, known as clips.

Student newspapers primarily report about events on their campus, but they are also known to report on stories in the wider community. When students are able to report on campus politics as well as, for instance, their town councils, they develop the experience and instincts necessary to succeed on non-campus papers.

Online Associates Degree in Journalism

An associate degree in journalism will get you started along the path to a great career. Once you have gained some strength as a writer, you can get started with a newspaper. Many papers work with stringers who supply stories on a freelance or per-story basis. That means you'll have the opportunity to scoop the full-time reporters and make a name for yourself. This might lead to employment, but there are no guarantees. Your best bet for employment will always be higher education. Here are a few courses you'll need to make the most of your associate journalism degree:

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Associate Journalism degree program sample courses

  • Journalistic Writing, I
  • Mass Communication
  • Elements of Journalism
  • Research and Reporting

Online Bachelor's Degree in Journalism

If you attend a fully-accredited university for journalism, you will receive the academic and practical training you need to thrive in the profession. Robust programs frequently have daily student-run newspapers that may even have an AP wire feed for national and international news. Your program can also help you land internships in non-student papers or magazines and even in public relations firms. Your coursework might include, but is not limited to these courses:

Bachelor’s journalism degree program sample courses

  • Journalistic Ethics
  • Non-fiction Writing
  • Mass Communication and Society
  • Mass Media
  • Strategic Communication
  • Public Relations
  • Magazine Journalism
  • Investigative Journalism
  • News Writing

Some online bachelor's programs are divided into specific tracks to help students focus on their career goals. While you might take many of the same core journalism courses as your fellow students, your paths may diverge to focus on one of the following:

  • Magazine Journalism
  • Sports Journalism
  • Public Relations
  • Business Journalism/Communications
  • Advertising
  • Science
  • Media Management

Online Master’s Degree in Journalism

To take your career to the next level, you'll need a master’s degree. With a graduate degree, your earning potential will rise exponentially. You will find more opportunities at the higher rungs of your profession and might even land a spot on the editorial board. If you're working as a writer for a private enterprise, you should see your salary increase and your rise through management become far easier. Finally, a master's degree puts you in a position to teach journalism and convey your wisdom to younger generations. Your master's coursework may include, but is not limited to:

Master’s journalism degree program sample courses

  • Feature Writing
  • Interactive Journalism
  • Journalistic Methods
  • Data and Journalism
  • Personal Narratives
  • Travel Writing

Your online master's program can also include a specialization that focuses your degree on your passions. A few concentrations are:

  • Magazine Journalism
  • Video and Broadcast
  • Social Justice and Investigative Reporting
  • Documentary
  • Writing
  • Library Science
  • Business Journalism

Earning Potential for Journalism Degree Fields and Occupations

As your career advances, so should your earning potential. However, there is one way to advance your potential even faster. That is to continually seek to upgrade your academic credentials. When you can enhance your professional experience with academic accomplishments, you will find even more opportunities and higher pay rates. For example, when just graduating with a bachelor’s in journalism, you can find a job as a beat reporter or maybe a researcher/interviewer for a news broadcast station. You can either gain experience over years to eventually make your way to a higher-paying position, or you can continue your education in order to broaden your skills and knowledge-base and leap-frog your way to that better job. There are many journalism occupations that are part of liberal arts that can be lucrative careers.

Journalism Fields of Study Median Salaries

Entry Level Median Annual Salary and Mid-Career Median Annual Salary

Field of Study Entry-level salary Mid-Career salary
Photojournalism $32,800 $38,200
Feature Writing $40,800 $49,600
Broadcast Journalism $30,800 $72,400
Editors $39,100 $55,700

Journalism Occupations and Occupation Salaries:

  • Magazine Reporter
    writes articles and copy for regular magazine publication. Magazine writers are often able to delve deep into subjects and create long-form, investigative pieces. These writers also craft shorter pieces or even write short descriptive copy for features.

  • Newspaper Reporter
    frequently work a specific beat, such as sports, local politics, or features. Deadlines are often much shorter than for magazine reporters, and breaking news can take precedent over ongoing investigative projects.

  • Magazine Editor
    oversee magazine sections, or even the entire publication to ensure that each issue is prepared according to the highest standards. Editors assign articles to reporters, help facilitate reporting, and groom the final copy of all articles. Editors usually work their way up from reporting positions to oversee their specialty areas.

  • Newspaper Editor
    manage newspaper sections or even the entire paper. Editors set the standards for journalistic integrity in their newsrooms and see that stories are on-time, balanced, and relevant. Editors answer to their publishers, who expect the paper to produce a profit. Thus, editors must ensure that not only are readers satisfied, but so are advertisers.

  • Photojournalist
    photograph newsworthy people, places, and things. Photojournalists are famous for their work in war-torn areas, exotic natural locales, and for capturing iconic moments. Freelance journalists take a lot of financial risk, but their images can fetch high prices, depending on their quality and exclusivity. For instance, celebrity paparazzi can sell unique, exclusive images to magazines for high dollar amounts. Though an individual picture might garner a high price, an independent photojournalist's pay is never guaranteed.


Junior Editor Assistant Editor Associate Editor Senior Editor
$40,100 $40,800 $46,900 $69,600


Entry-level Mid-level Late-level
$33,500 $51,200 $54,800


Entry-level Mid-level Late-level
$32,800 $38,200 $53,900

Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)

How long does it take to earn a Journalism bachelor's degree online?

Depending on your online program, a journalism degree should take between three and four years. However, if you take lighter credit loads each semester or skip any terms, it could take 4-5 years. You should always check the graduation rate of any online program you are considering, as that information could be vital in letting you know how long it could take to earn your own degree.

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How much does an online Journalism bachelor’s degree cost?

journalism-bachelors-degree-cost The cost of a bachelor's degree in journalism is dependent on many things. If you live in the same state as a publicly funded program, then you will pay in-state tuition, which can be rather affordable. If you go to a school in another state, institutions often charge out-of-state rates that are higher than those for in-state students. Typically, students should expect to pay somewhere between $58,000 and $300,000 for a bachelor's degree.

The low figure assumes that students study for two years in a community college before transferring to an in-state university. The high figure is for the most expensive private schools, often in very expensive locations, such as San Francisco or Manhattan. Do your own math when looking at your schools of choice.

Journalism Bachelor's Degree Coursework

Coursework for a typical journalism bachelor's degree can cover a wide range of subjects. Students might delve into professional ethics, social issues, politics, and technical skill areas. When a program is large enough to offer a wide range of courses, students will have the opportunity to explore the various corners of the profession and determine which is the best for them. Some courses which journalism students might choose from include, but are not limited to:

  • Graphic Design
  • HTML Coding and Design
  • Interviewing and Investigative Journalism
  • Society and Mass Media
  • History of Mass Media
  • Journalistic Ethics
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Financial Analysis for Journalists
  • Creative Non-fiction

Does the online school have the major(s) you’re considering?

Not every institution of higher learning is created equal. When considering a college or university, it's vital to determine whether or not they offer the major fields of study that interest you. As an extreme example, students won't find an online English degree in a technical university. Nor is it likely to find engineering courses in an arts college.

When you find schools that have the majors that interest you the most, do more research. Some departments will have particular specialties that may or may not appeal. For instance, some English departments focus on classical literature and only have one or two courses that feature contemporary novels. Journalism schools have similar focuses, with some emphasizing work on the university newspaper and others pressing students towards long-form journalism and book authorship.

How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?

journalism-programs-students-graduate-on-time These days, it's less and less likely that a first-time college student will complete their degree in four years. In fact, most measures seem to assume a six-year window for degree completion. Some of this is due to the fact that some schools have added extra requirements that make it mathematically impossible for a student to finish in four years, assuming a normal full-time load and a free summer term.

The National Center for Education Statistics shows that students at private non-profit institutions are slightly more likely to graduate within six years. Private for-profit institutions showed the worst figures, with only 26% of students receiving diplomas within six years.

The retention and six-year graduation rates were highest for institutions that had the toughest admissions rates. When colleges restrict their admissions to 25% of applicants or less, their graduation numbers rise to 88%. Institutions that admit 25-49.9% of applicants see a 70% success rate with six-year graduations.

NCES researchers also found that female students tend to meet the six-year window 63% of the time, overall. Their male counterparts meet the six-year mark 57% of the time.

What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How is it regarded in the field?

Journalism programs, like many other fields, are accredited by a specialized agency, in this case it’s the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC.) This independent agency visits institutions every year to determine their worthiness in the field. They evaluate journalism programs using a number of criteria, including:

  • Curriculum
  • Diversity and Inclusiveness
  • Faculty Status – Full-Time/Part-Time
  • Faculty Scholarship – research, etc.
  • Student Services
  • Resources and Facilities
  • Service to the Public and Profession
  • Learning Outcomes

Software, Technology and Skills Needed

Journalists don't often use much special technology; however, their tools are very important and proficiency is vital. Perhaps the most important tools they need to master are their notebook and pen. To make best use of those tools, a fast and efficient note-taking method is mandatory. When a source is relaying information, it must be recorded with utmost accuracy. Reporters have been fired for misspelling names or getting other details wrong.

Journalists also need to have proficiency with a word processing program. The standard is often Microsoft Word, but they might prefer LibreOffice or Apple's Notes software.

If they're involved in investigative journalism, reporters will likely also need good math and spreadsheet skills. This will help them assess things like financial irregularities and aggregate information into charts and graphs. Keen spreadsheet skills can be helpful when journalists need to apply special formulas to their data.

When fact-checking or otherwise researching a story, it is vital to have a mastery of research software. Lexis/Nexis is a software and service frequently called upon to research news stories. Their system also includes a comprehensive legal database which reporters can use to delve deep into a subject's history of litigation, or other court-related filings.

Journalism Scholarships

  • Broadcast Education Association
    For studies that relate to media technology and innovation, students at the sophomore through graduate school levels may receive $5,000. Applicants should have exemplary academic credentials and submit their transcripts for consideration. The scholarship committee also looks for evidence of personal and professional responsibility.

  • Hearst Journalism Fellowship
    Hearst Fellows work as full-fledged, salaried journalists for two 12-month rotations in top Hearst newspapers or websites. Fellows receive full benefits and all of the training, mentoring, and guidance needed to develop into world-class reporters. Hearst properties include the Saint-Louis Post-Dispatch, Houston Chronicle, a bevy of magazines, and many others, so the opportunities are vast.

  • National Press Club
    The NPC is famous for its yearly roast of top Washington politicians, but they are also a top professional organization. They offer three scholarships:

    • Scholarship for Journalism Diversity: this $2,000 scholarship can be renewed for up to three years.
    • Feldman Fellowship for Graduate Studies in Journalism: for graduating college students seeking to pursue journalism at the graduate level.
    • Richard G. Zimmerman Journalism Scholarship: awarded to high school seniors intent on studying journalism in college.

    The NPC's scholarships are worth between $2,000 and $5,000 and seek to further the cause of excellence in journalism. Plus, recipients of these scholarships will stand out when seeking jobs, as these awards are very prestigious.

  • Facebook Journalism Project Scholarship
    has $250,000 for each of the following associations that represent under-served communities such as:

    • National Association of Hispanic Journalists
    • Asian American Journalists Association
    • Native American Journalists Association
    • National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association

    The scholarships are awarded to students at the junior through graduate school level. To apply, students will need to submit their very best clips, transcripts, and a letter of recommendation that will attest to their dedication to communicating the stories that drive our society.

  • ProPublica Emerging Reporters Program
    This non-profit organization has arisen to address a seeming dearth in investigative journalism. They partner with many newspapers and broadcast journalism outlets to produce in-depth stories that seek to uncover the truth. Their emerging reporters program is targeted to journalism students of color who demonstrate excellence in the field. Recipients receive $4,500 per semester as well as mentoring from ProPublica reporters and editors. The award includes a one-week trip to their offices in New York City.

  • NPR Kroc Fellowship
    Aspiring radio journalists should apply to this prestigious fellowship program. Students who are close to completing an undergraduate or graduate degree, or who have completed their degrees within the past year are encouraged to apply. Recipients will receive a one-year stipend of $40,000, health benefits, and paid vacation. Fellows will also receive help with job placement once their tenure is ended.

Professional Journalism Organizations

  • NPC
  • API
  • ASNE
  • AAJA


National Press Club

This storied institution is a mainstay in Washington, D.C. journalism and politics. Their facilities host up to 2,000 events per year and journalists enjoy spending time there to enjoy entertainment, food, and drink. In addition to being a place for professional fellowship, the NPC offers educational opportunities and even office space for members. Since NPC is centrally located in D.C., it makes for a perfect location for interviews or to sit down with a laptop and post a story for a deadline.



American Press Institute

The API is primarily an educational, non-profit organization whose goal is to advance journalism. The institute addresses journalism both as a business and as a force for social change. They focus on four main areas: understanding audiences, growing revenue for newspapers, accountability for journalism, and organizational change and transformation. The institute sends journalists a daily newsletter that helps them understand the metrics behind the stories they publish. Their content-analysis software provides the data editors and publishers need to devise a workable content strategy.



American Society of Business Publication Editors

The ASBPE was formed in 1964 as an industry resource for publishers of business-related publications. They sponsor an annual conference where member writers, editors, and publishers can meet for fellowship and learning. The ASBPE also provides free training webcasts on a monthly basis. Their website maintains a job bank and a blog that addresses member concerns.



American Society of Newspaper Editors

ASNE was formed in 1922 to promote principles vital to the practice of journalism: fairness, principled journalism, first amendment rights, freedom of information, and an open government.



Asian American Journalists Association

AAJA was formed in 1981 to provide an association that meets the specific journalistic needs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI.) The AAJA assists AAPI students with resources for mentorships, scholarships, and general information they can use to survive, thrive, and ultimately succeed as journalists. The association was first formed by journalists in Los Angeles but became a national organization in 1985. Now, the AAJA boasts 20 chapters and 1,500 members.

Choosing an Accredited College

Students who have determined that journalism is their calling should waste no time in finding the best online program for themselves. A large part of this process lies in determining which schools have the top accreditations. In particular, students should seek out institutions that have been certified by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). This agency maintains the highest standards for journalistic education and students who graduate from an ACEJMC-accredited institution will find that their credentials open new and exciting opportunities.

Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid

Students can now choose between three different types of educational approach: online, traditional campus, or hybrid. Sometimes, a single online program will provide options for all three. Each has benefits but might also pose problems.

An online-only program is a great choice for students who need to continue working or who need to attend to their families. Online education provides students the ability to pursue their education on their own terms. They can access course materials whenever they choose and submit papers and other assignments on a timetable that works best for them, while meeting deadlines, of course.

On-campus, or traditional programs have a more rigid scheduling system, but allow students to meet their instructors and fellow classmates face-to-face. This traditional method is often considered superior due to the real-world interactive nature of the process, but it paradoxically also allows some students to breeze through classes without much interaction. Online students all must participate equally.

Hybrid programs are becoming more prevalent, particularly at the graduate level. In this model, students complete much of their work at home and receive their materials from the online classroom. They then meet up on campus for designated residencies during the term. Some programs schedule monthly residencies, while others only have one residency per term.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?

Post-graduate job placement services are vital to the successful completion of a college experience. While independent associations, corporations, and institutes often have fellowships that can lead to employment, a college needs to also provide career guidance or assistance.

When researching the best online programs, students should ask for graduates' job placement rates. In particular, it's vital to see how many graduates are working in newspapers, magazines, or otherwise in the pursuit of journalism. Seek out online programs who track these numbers to get a good idea of how the program supports its students in the job search. Admissions counselors should be able to provide this information.

Why You Need to Consider that Rating/accreditation Can Affect Your Salary

Students should be careful to attend well-ranked and/or ACEJMC-accredited programs. Employers will be primarily interested in interviewing students from the best programs. Further, those with the beset academic credentials will be in a position of strength when it comes time to negotiate a compensation package. While this may seem a bit unfair to some, ratings and accreditation are criteria that are easy to apply when searching through a stack of resumes.

ACEJMC-accredited programs are more likely to offer students the best instructors, resources, and career support. These programs frequently have daily, student-run newspapers that cover campus and community news. They also may have well-established ties to newspapers that can hire students for internships or who are happy to hire entry-level journalists.

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