Steps to Become a Journalist Later in Life

Many of us reflect on the current state of journalism and wonder if we could do better. If we believe that we can meet that challenge, we then have to ask what does it take to become a journalist, especially if we are older and have no formal training?

For older individuals, your experience in other fields may make the transition easier than you think. Time management skills, good communication, and interpersonal skills can give you a leg up over your younger counterparts.

Okay, so that all sounds great, but before making any rash career decisions, let’s talk about some downsides and upsides to making this switch. 

The Downsides

Since 2008, employment in newsrooms has halved. Falling subscriber numbers, consolidation of newspapers, outsourcing, and automation, has led to a drop in employment opportunities in traditional journalism roles. 

The other issue is pay. With the starting median salary of less than $35,000 for reporters and correspondents, you may find it difficult to make ends meet.

The Upsides

The downsides to journalism can also be beneficial if you prove that you are dedicated and willing to go the extra mile to get the story.

Yes, getting into journalism is more difficult because of increased competition, but at the same time, the roles that are still available have more important roles. 

With fewer people to cover stories, your editors may give you more important investigative roles, instead of covering local bake sales or a local bus schedule meeting.

How to Break into Journalism

Make sure to realistically set your expectations going into journalism, especially if you don’t have a degree in journalism. Before ever trying to get into journalism, make sure you have perfect grammar, your writing is interesting, and you know all of the lingo used in a newsroom. 

If you are looking for a role at a traditional newspaper, expect to find an old-school approach where you have to “pay your dues” and work your way up the ladder. Depending on your shift, you may also work late into the night to help finalize any stories that came in late and to help make any changes before the paper goes to print.

If you are working for an outlet that is digital-only, a traditional 9-5 is more likely, but not a guarantee. You may have to keep your phone on late into the night to talk with a source, make edits, or to put together a few hundred words on breaking news.

No matter which industry you work in, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the stories that the newspaper produces and their writing style. Then go out and find stories that you can pitch to the editor during the interview. This will show initiative and an ability to see opportunities that others may miss. This will lessen the workload of editors. Remember, many newsrooms are working with skeleton crews, so taking up other responsibilities helps out everyone.

Long-Term Success

Around 60 percent of people working in journalism don’t last beyond the ten-year mark. If you stuck around and built an excellent portfolio and network of sources and colleagues, at this point you may start looking for new opportunities. This can include taking on more leadership roles, or transitioning to a national newspaper, doing research for colleges or university, or even working for political campaigns. 

What direction you go will depend on what you desire. Some people stick with reporting because they want to break stories, interview people, and be on the ground as part of a fast-paced lifestyle. For others, the pay, repetition, and lack of new opportunities can start to weigh on them, and they use their journalism experience to go into other industries that they would have never considered when they started. For example, some might go to work for public relations companies, politicians, or marketing industries where spin and the truth aren’t always important.

Final Words

Journalism matters more now than ever before. With the country becoming more polarized and once-reliable sources of our news being called into question, we need dedicated and hardworking journalists. 

If you think that journalism is your calling, now is the right time to make the change. It is never too late to start something new, and journalism might be the right thing to help you find fulfillment and make a difference in the world.