What is Journalism?

The investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends for a mass audience

Lucy van Pelt PR help 5c cartoon
A vision of online journalism courtesy of Tatianadarie's Blog
JOURNALISM is the practice of investigating and reporting events, issues and trends to the mass audiences of print, broadcast and online media such as newspapers, magazines and books, radio and television stations and networks, and blogs and social and mobile media. With the idea in mind of informing the citizenry, journalists cover individuals, organizations, institutions, governments and businesses as well as cultural aspects of society such as arts and entertainment. News media are the main purveyors of information and opinion about public affairs.

What does a journalist do?

The main intention of those working in the journalism profession is to provide their readers and audiences with accurate, reliable information they need to function in society.

There are many different jobs in journalism. For instance, a news journalist might be involved with:

Researching stories. Newspaper, magazine and web stories require research before writing. All writers have to conduct research and gather information before they can start writing. Journalists use three tools to gather information for stories: observation, interview and background research.

Writing hard news and feature stories. Hard news stories are short, very timely and focus on telling you what's just happened starting with the most important thing first. Feature stories, on the other hand, are not as timely, yet need a topical news peg (raison d'etre or reason for existence). Newspaper and Web features, and magazine articles, are more in-depth and less rigidly structured. They might be interviews, travel reports, how-to articles, profiles, tear jerkers, etc.    How to write a feature story »

Shooting photographs and video. Photojournalists in print and on the air use their still and moving images to tell a story with very few words. Multitasking is more and more a part of life in media, which makes photography a useful skill for writers to have.

Editing stories. Editors prepare and improve the work of other people. They correct grammar errors and straighten out organizational issues. They write headlines and make sure the publication has a consistent style. At many publications, copy editors are an endangered species and journalists are expected to get it right the first time with no safety net.    How to write headlines »

Checking facts. Newspapers rarely employ people to check facts in articles. Magazines still do check facts, but it's becoming less common.

Planning issues. Editors are responsible for all the content in a newspaper, magazine or website. As journalists advance upward in job responsibility, they do less actual writing and more planning and management of other writers, editors and designers.

Laying out pages. Editors design and lay out pages mixing copy written by reporters with photos shot by photographers and other art. At smaller papers, reporters sometimes lay out pages in addition to writing the copy for them and shooting the photos for them. Magazine editors, on the other hand, usually have an art department to design pages. Whoever designs it, layout is accomplished using software such as Quark XPress and Adobe InDesign. Ability to use those programs is a valuable skill for a journalist.

Some journalism lingo
complete journalism glossary » Learn more about journalism . . .