Good journalists have a mad skills: writing, research, and sifting for the truth. They can boil down a subject to a single theme with a ‘nut graf’ and spin that idea through words for their audience to assimilate the material. Good journalists get to the point before their readers’ attention wanders.
In the course of investigating a story–whether it’s about Russian interference in the 2016 election or fashion styles for the coming season–journalists talk to a variety of people, framing questions to access information, listening carefully, and following up to open new avenues of thought.
It can be a thrilling and satisfying pursuit for those with a curious mind and a talent for wordsmithing–but it is also an industry in peril. As old media crumble, waves of layoffs have decimated the industry. This past January, NPR reported on the shrinking universe at Gannett, Yahoo and AOL, often as a result of corporate consolidation. The news hook for that particular report was that Buzzfeed was pink-slipping 15 percent of its workforce.
Journalists everywhere are getting laid off, and what freelance work they can find is often inconsistent. Freelance, if you don’t know, is code for no company-supported medical insurance, retirement fund, or recourse from harassment. Add to that the most frequent complaint of freelance writers: difficulty getting paid in a timely manner (or at all) from their clients.
Food journalist turned teacher trainee Sophie Devonshire wrote in The Guardian: “I craved a career path with sturdy steps to climb rather than rickety ladders that could topple without warning.”
The days of joining a newspaper as a copy person and rising through the ranks to junior reporter, senior reporter, section editor and then editor-in-chief has gone the way of the endangered black rhino. One journalist lamented that the only way up was to destabilize those below her. Unless you have a love for TV’s Survivor, this cutthroat environment may not be for you.
This level of uncertainty has inspired many journalists in the field to look elsewhere for economic stability. And while many neophyte writers and reporters will continue to enter the field at entry-level relatively low-paying positions, take it from a journalist with over 25 years at newspapers, magazines and top websites: it’s important to have a back-up plan. And that’s not a sign of a lack of faith in your abilities but hewing to Boy Scout wisdom…
It’s wise to consider alternative income streams should there be continued downturns in the field.
One such alternatives is getting a master’s in teaching, a logical match with journalism skills—even if becoming a full-time teacher isn’t your primary career goal. For more on getting that master’s and its results, take a look at existing Noodle articles, like these that dive into the earning potential of English and kindergarten teachers.
Fear not; as Steven Singer reports in his blog Every good reporter – like every good teacher – is a radical at heart. You don’t get into either field to support the status quo. .. You want to change the world for the better – all from the comfort of your swivel chair behind your computer screen or from the well-worn tread of your classroom carpet.”
Teaching programs are available at institutions public and private at varying price points – and can be achieved full- or part-time or online. Also: there is always a demand for teachers. Another plus? The potential protection of a labor union and benefits.
In a relevant article in the City University of Seattle blog, journalist-turned-fourth-grade teacher Russell Stahlke expressed huge satisfaction with his choice: “What I found out is that my writing background led into my success as a teacher candidate because there is so much writing, researching and publishing involved in becoming a teacher. I write a weekly newsletter that I send home to parents.”
Stahlke chose the City University of Seattle because of its online program, which makes sense for journalists plying their trade while earning a teaching degree at their own pace. He ultimately turned a complete corner, going on to pursue an EdD with his sights set on becoming a school superintendent.
Like Stahlke, Amy Wu “never planned on moving from the newsroom to the classroom.” Wu left a satisfying 14-year as a journalist topped by three years as a lecturer to pursue a PhD, telling Poynter: “I fell in love with newspapers in high school.”
What she discovered while attending the highly ranked University of Maryland‘s Philip Merrill College of Journalism was that she wasn’t turning her back on her favored profession. Instead, she was diving deeper into research and critical thinking.
By pursuing an advanced degree, Wu created the opportunity to share her academic insight (plus real-world experience) with the next generation of journalists.
Concerned that being surrounded by kids in an institutional setting may not quite meld with your introverted writing self?
Test the waters by substitute teaching. While the pay for those with a B.A. and no state certificate can be meager, the experience might just save you future tuition money. It’s just as likely to inspire the “aha” moment that the rewards of teaching don’t take away from the joys of investigating, but add another dimension to your journalistic wheelhouse.
Journalism is a fantastic career—if you enter with your eyes open.
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