For anyone who saw All the President’s Men, dreaming of being a journalist or newspaper writer was a top goal for a lot of people. The industry has changed a lot since then and you might be wondering is writing for newspapers still a good career path?
It’s no secret that the internet has changed how people consume information.
More and more people are turning to online resources to get their news, stories, and information. While more and more newspapers are including a digital element, there are still some that are holding strong to print.
If you include magazines as well, there are quite a few options out there.
You’ll also have to decide what kind of writing you want to do for newspapers. While journalism is the most well-known, there is also editing, digital options, brand journalism, editorials, and so on.
Let’s go through the pros and cons of jumping into this industry.
Is writing for newspapers still a good career path?
No matter what, the written word will always be important. Whether it’s used to tell stories, inform the public, or keep people up-to-date on a certain industry, the written word will never go away.
It may or may not take different forms as time goes on, which is why people might still be wondering if it’s worth pursuing writing for newspapers.
If you’re still wondering whether writing for newspapers is a good career path, let’s take a look at the current landscape along with the pros and cons of choosing such a career.
The current stats
While people can debate whether The New York Times still has the same reputation as it did in the past, there’s no doubt it’s one of the most well-known papers. We’ll use it to analyze some of the current salaries and employment statistics.
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a journalist there is currently $80,278, which is higher than the national average for a journalist at $52,409.
Keep in mind, they only employ about 1,700 journalists.
Across the United States, there are currently 46,700 news analysts, reporters, and journalists with a predicted 6% increase in growth.
Now, something to keep in mind is that not all people who write for newspapers are necessarily journalists. Some people are experts in their field and have a column, or maybe they just have an interesting story to tell and get to write for a local paper.
Along with writers, there are also editors, photographers, videographers, and so on. Including those jobs, there are over 114,000 total employees.
All of this is to say it’s not exactly a career that has disappeared off the map yet.
Pros of writing for newspapers
One of the most obvious pros to writing for newspapers is that you’re able to stay on top of current events and tell important stories.
You’ll be able to find and report on stories that matter to either your local community or to the world at large. This might also put you in touch with fascinating people and can give you insight into the world around you.
You can write general news or you can specifically report on a certain industry or niche.
If you love the prestige of getting your byline in a famous paper, all of the hard work to get there might be worth it for you. For some people, getting to work with the big-name papers is enough of a reason for them to persevere.
Having major bylines can also help you get better writing gigs in the future. For example, major book publishers are more likely to give a book deal to someone with credible bylines versus an unheard of writer.
Cons of writing for newspapers
One problem that the industry as a whole is facing is falling employment. Since 2008, US newsroom employment has fallen by 26% according to the Pew Research Center. The good news here is that digital-native news organizations are growing.
Countless journalists have been sharing stories about not being able to make it work on their low incomes. This article, which includes a story from David Rosenfelt who was a journalist for two decades, could not make it work on his $45,000 a year salary.
Even if you choose to go the freelance route, for smaller publications you will often find that articles are paid under $100 each. That’s not even including the amount of time you’ll need to spend sending pitches and getting on the radar of editors to get those pieces in the first place. (To perfect your pitch, use this template.)
On top of all of this, payment terms can be fuzzy at best. Some magazines can take months to not only publish your piece but to pay you as well.
There is no doubt that it is a stressful job. You need to be on top of what’s happening, keep up with sources, and often forget about much work-life balance. It’s not a career that often fits within the 9-to-5 job. You’ll often have to talk to people, hit close deadlines, or write after hours and on weekends.
You might also need to do internships and find ways to work for free to get your foot in the door. That’s not an easy feat for everyone to pull off.
Media as an industry in general is a tumultuous industry. There are constant layoffs and major companies buying out different papers. If you want a stable job where you can depend on your workload for years, this might not be a good choice for you.
How to get into the newspaper writing industry
With all of the above being said, if you’re still interested in getting into the industry, there are a few things you’ll need to know.
Currently, 74% of journalists have a journalism degree. As opposed to being a freelance writer, journalists usually have specific training and degrees in the field. Only 4% have other degrees and still work as a journalist.
If you simply want to write articles for newspapers without necessarily being a journalist, you want to find a unique angle to start pitching to editors.
For example, you could become a brand journalist (also called corporate journalism or corporate media) where you report on brands and companies.
The most important thing is to start building a body of work to send to editors so they can get an idea of your work, your writing style, and the various topics you cover.
What Den 2X grads have to say about the newspaper industry
When asked about their experience writing for newspapers, one of the Freelance Writers Den 2X grad had to say:
“I had a column in a weekly community section of our local daily paper. (Does that make sense?) Anyway, it paid $25. That was in 2011. I quit the column when they decided to make it unpaid. Last year, an SME I frequently use reached out to me with a remarkable story idea. He thought it would make a great follow-up to an article his local paper did 40 years ago. That paper (for a moderately-sized city) no longer works with freelancers, so I pitched the regional lifestyle magazine instead and got the assignment.
And, FWIW, in the Den, I tell newbies that newspapers are not a viable way for freelancers to make a living. If you want to write for newspapers, get a staff job.” – Carol J. Alexander
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