When I told my best friend I wanted to go to college to become a journalist, he was not exactly supportive.
“But you are so smart! Why don’t you become a doctor or lawyer?” he suggested.
He believed my career choice meant that I would never be financially stable. He worried that my aspirations of covering race and inequities, areas that publications rarely prioritized in the early 2010s, was a pipe dream.
As I progressed through university, other people continued to warn me that journalism was a dying industry, and they weren’t necessarily wrong: From 2008 to 2014, jobs at U.S. newspapers fell about 20%, magazine sales dropped significantly and journalism jobs in general were harder to find. But nothing could sway my desire to write about the things I felt were important. Despite all the negative advice, I decided to continue toward the career I knew I’d be good at. Now 32, with 10 years of journalism experience and the publication of three books, plus op-eds and essays in such places as The New York Times, Marie Claire, Vox and Playboy, I can confidently say my friend was wrong to discount the opportunities and rewards of journalism. Though the media landscape continues to shift, and the economy is being battered by Covid-19, journalism is still an exciting career path with opportunities for growth, success and fulfillment.
Here are five reasons to be excited about entering the field:
1. There are jobs!
Despite all the talk of an impending recession, the job market for journalists is looking pretty good right now. At the beginning of the pandemic, USC Annenberg adjunct instructor Mallory Carra said, she struggled to fill her West Coast Media Jobs newsletter, but now “there are just so many jobs, I don’t know if I can fit them all.”
Most of these jobs are great for journalists just starting out, entry-level positions like assistant producer and breaking news reporter. There are also a lot of positions for those with a few years of experience, like audience editor and weekend editor. “I came from the school of thought when I graduated in the early 2000s that you move where the job is, and you’re always going to start in a small market and work your way up,” Carra said. “But I feel like there’s even more opportunity now than there was back then. You can really just start anywhere.”
She said even if her students didn’t end up with their dream opportunity right after college, many of them still had options. “A lot of them were able to secure really great alternative positions where they’re like, ‘OK, I still have the dream, but I’m able to invest in this position right now,’” she said.
2. Working as a journalist is highly rewarding.
The first time I published an essay in a major publication was 2013. George Zimmerman had just been acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin and Black Lives Matter had exploded into the public discourse. By then, I had been writing about racial justice for a few months for a small indie blog that received millions of views and thousands of comments. It felt empowering to finally have the opportunity to use my voice to educate others about racism.
Today, it is clear there is still a lot more work to make people aware of and eradicate injustice and inequality, but undoubtedly, there has been a major cultural shift in how Americans view race and racism. I feel incredibly proud to have played a role in that shift, and I am not the only journalist who reports job satisfaction. In fact, according to a recent survey of 12,000 journalists by the Pew Research Center, 70% said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their job and 77% said they would pursue a career in journalism all over again.
While these numbers might be surprising, considering all the talk of professional burnout, “it reflects journalists’ passion for what they do,” Jeffrey Gottfried, the survey co-author and senior researcher for Pew’s journalism division, told Poynter. “They just love it and they are excited by it … (even as) they recognize all the challenges they face.”
3. Joining the fight against disinformation is not just noble work but also an emerging beat.
False narratives and sophisticated disinformation campaigns have the power to wreak havoc on society, a truth that became clear in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election. And tackling disinformation — deliberate and purposefully false information, as opposed to misinformation, which is inaccurate information without the malicious intent — cannot be successfully done without the hard work of investigative reporters and journalists.
In fact, one of the growing areas of journalism is the disinformation-misinformation beat. NBC senior reporters Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins have been building this beat for years, and more recently, other national outlets like CNN and NPR, as well as local ones, have hired disinformation reporting teams, too. “This isn’t gotcha journalism,” Oklahoma Watch’s Trevor Brown wrote in January about his new democracy and misinformation beat. “This is about refusing to let falsehoods — whether they are made intentionally or not — spread freely.”
4. If you would like to work from home at least some of the time, this field may be the perfect fit.
As a freelance writer, I have always had the fortune of working from home (mostly in my pajamas), and many other journalists began to do the same during the pandemic. Fortunately, this perk looks like it may be here to stay. A recent survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that only 9% of news organizations plan to return to their pre-pandemic work model. The report, which surveyed 132 news industry leaders in 42 countries, found 89% said they were fully onboard with implementing a model that incorporates both in-office and remote work, with about one-third of organizations already adopting this model and 57% trying to figure out the best way to do it.
Carra said she, too, has noticed this shift. In January, nearly every job she compiled in her newsletter was remote; now, many mention a hybrid model of going into the office a few times a week.
While some news organizations are mandating employees to return to their New York or D.C. headquarters several days a week, others have realized that remote options have allowed them to widen their pool to include candidates beyond the East or West coasts. This is great for journalists who have no interest in relocating to big cities or paying high rents, for parents and caregivers like me who need some flexibility, and for people who simply work better outside an office environment. It also helps to diversify newsrooms socioeconomically, geographically and otherwise.
5. Working in journalism can open the door to other work opportunities in publishing and beyond.
Probably the hardest part about a career in journalism is the hustle. Many journalists like me are freelance, and in that Pew survey, 42% of journalists said they are at least somewhat concerned about job security.
No one wants to get laid off (or simply live with the anxiety of where their next paycheck is coming from), but even if the journalism job market shrinks tomorrow, there are still options. Carra said she mentored a student who questioned whether by taking a corporate PR job, she was selling herself short. “I was like, ‘Look, you could set a deadline for yourself, stay six months, see how you feel. And then if you are really itching to freelance, then you have to make the call for yourself. Because ultimately, it’s you who makes the decision,’” she said.
The skills and connections that a journalist requires — researching, storytelling, fact-checking, finding sources, editing, pitching — are fundamental to working in not just communications and corporate America, but also in other creative outlets like book publishing, film, streaming and podcasting. After 10 years of reporting and publishing op-eds and personal essays, I sold my memoir and incorporated much of that work into it. And I am not alone. Many journalists have used the skills they acquired in the field to launch successful projects across various platforms and new, exciting careers. You probably know that Ernest Hemmingway and Joan Didion started off as journalists, but so did Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Isabel Wilkerson. A cursory glance of The New York Times current bestseller list shows that four of the top 10 nonfiction books are written by journalists.
“The most common advice I give to students is to keep going,” Carra said, “and if you have to take a break from journalism, it’s OK.”
After surviving the marathon of writing and doing publicity for my recently released memoir, I took some much-needed time off to recalibrate. But it wasn’t long before I felt the urge to tackle newsworthy issues — like the implications of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars and the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp defamation verdict — once again. As a journalist and writer, I am always drawn back by the opportunity to inform and educate the public. It is a true privilege and a constant reminder that I made the right choice, all those years ago, when deciding my career path.