How to Become a Good Journalist: A Guide for Young Adult Writers

Journalism, though a noble pursuit, is far from easy. When you’re just starting out and trying to get your feet wet, it’s nearly impossible to know where to start or even what it feels like.

Unlike many other professions, journalism sometimes feels like you have to be one in a million to succeed, especially as a teenager. If you try to ask for advice on how to succeed in this often unpredictable world, you get a million different answers. For me, I finally had to stop and see what I could do with what I had. These are things I learned.

1. Be curious about the world

Arouse curiosity about how the world works. You also don’t have to overload yourself researching every aspect of it. Instead, decide what fascinates you about the world, be it art, history, or politics. Learn as much as you can. Don’t worry if your interests aren’t mainstream, there are still plenty of journalism opportunities for you, such as trade and trade publications.

2. Enjoy interacting with people

Journalism is about people and relationships, having good personal skills is essential. The ability to communicate well both orally and in writing not only shows that you are a professional, but makes your presentation clearer.

Practice doing mirror interviews to see the facial expressions you make when talking. You can also check in and play it to see what you need to work on. Focus on coming across as warm and friendly.

3. Become a note taker

If you’re like me, taking notes isn’t your favorite thing in the world. For a journalist, it’s almost a necessity. Notes help form stories more accurately and are a lifesaver when it comes to quoting people you’ve interviewed.

There are two main note-taking methods used by journalists; traditional pen and paper recording and note taking. Both are incredibly useful when conducting interviews. If you plan to record the interview, be sure to get the interviewee’s permission before you begin.

4. Write, write, write

It may seem like a no-brainer, but write. Write about your passions, interesting happenings in your neighborhood, anything that catches your eye. Think about what inspires you, what makes you laugh or cry?

Go out for your school newspaper or magazine. Submit articles or article proposals to your local newspaper or community magazine. Apply for The Teen Magazine, if you’re not already a writer here. Get your job there.

5. Seek the truth

A journalist must pursue the truth, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable it may be. Look at all sides of the story, not just the ones you agree with. Sometimes the truth isn’t very pretty or popular, but it’s our duty as members of the media to report it.

Remember to always verify your sources and keep records of all sources used in case you need to prove your credibility.

6. Know your subject

It’s been said that you should only write what you know, but I wouldn’t recommend taking that advice. Instead, if there’s a topic you’d like to write about, read about it. Check out what others may have written about it and see if you can find a new angle or bring an old one back to life.

7. Be able to do research

When writing an article, you may not always be able to find what you need with a Google search. It means enjoying the library. Familiarize yourself with the Dewey Decimal System and take advantage of the library’s other resources, including the archives.

Start a future file with all the information you collect that might be useful to you later. This makes research easier and gives you more time to write.

8. Don’t be afraid to get dirty

Many of the best articles come from first-hand experience. It means getting in the middle of the action in order to write an accurate story. This could mean training as a chef for a few weeks to understand how students are taught in culinary schools, or spending a week traveling through a national park to learn about land preservation.

9. I like a mystery

Even if you’re not writing an investigative story, mystery is part of a journalist’s job. Whether it’s wondering what a designer will say about her new line or understanding what it takes to get into a top university.

When you begin to formulate an article, you usually start with the questions of who, when, where, what and how? Your article must be built on at least one of these questions.

10. Read the work of those you admire

Who are the writers who made you want to become a journalist? Read what they wrote, paying particular attention to their style, voice, and word choice. What do you like about their way of writing? What would change if you wrote the play instead?

Check out their social media pages and websites to find out how they got started. You can even write to them and ask for their advice.

11. Remember that you are not perfect.

Although perfection is something many of us strive for, it is an unattainable goal. Don’t beat yourself up for the mistakes you made or if the article you worked so hard on doesn’t get published. Instead, take it as a learning experience.

Most writers have made thousands of mistakes and have stacks of unpublished work. That doesn’t make them a failure, it makes them human.

Don’t pressure yourself to become big while you’re still learning. Know that every journalist starts at the bottom and progresses.

12. Have a little fun with it

Even if you like what you write and the way you write it, change it up from time to time. This could mean writing a political article when you usually write about fashion. Instead of writing in your usual place, try that new coffee shop on the corner or go sit in the park and get a dose of vitamin D while doing your work.

Success in your journalism career and in your life should be defined by the goals you set for yourself, not whether or not your career meets the expectations of others. If becoming a journalist is something you want, then don’t be afraid to pursue it.

Link to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists