In a democratic society, media have traditionally enjoyed a privileged position because they provide news to the public, independent of government. News media work sometimes evokes movie legend, but that image belies the long hours, difficult working conditions, and genuine danger. Picture newsman Clark Kent not turning into Superman to save the day, but just trying to report the news honestly in the face of no-leeway deadlines and multiple pressures within and without his organization. Add in a genuine risk of death or injury if covering, say, a war or insurrection abroad. But someone must report the news, and the field is open to those willing to try.
Some senior journalists, who prefer to teach their own hires on the job, disparage journalism programs. Consider, however, that if you learn in a program, your instructor observes your goofs; on the job, your boss does. Programs also provide key insider information about jobs, contacts, and working conditions. If no journalism program is available or appealing, get a degree in English or New Media. Take any available courses in editing along the way. Self-editing is critical to media success.
The main problem that the News and Media field faces is major shifts due to the Internet. Two changes to consider are:
– Anyone with access to the Internet can break a story today, with whatever slant.
– Most people expect Internet content for free, creating serious difficulties about how to compensate those who make a living from professionally prepared news.
One outcome has been the reduction in circulation and viewers for traditional media organizations, thus reductions in advertising dollars and hence jobs. However, new media as well as old offer career opportunities geared to an online audience. Consider: A young adult born in 1990 has never known a world without computers and cell phones, and never been an adult before the age of the Internet.
Management careers in media
In broadcast media (radio, TV, film), the Producer (media/film degree, $43,000 – $58,000) hires and manages the news team. In theory, no academic credentials are required; in practice, contacts are king in the business, and related education programs is where you start to make them. The salary range suggested doesn’t tell the whole story. Successful producers can earn a great deal more for high-stakes performance.
In print media, online or otherwise, the Editor (English/Journalism $31,000 – $55,000, 2009 median $41,000) assigns and manages written work. Can you learning editing skills on the job? Yes, if you need a chance to look bad in front of your boss and the whole world. Relevant courses in editing easily pay for themselves in promotions and merit pay. In book publishing, a successful editor can become an acquisitions editor (buys book manuscripts) or an agent (sells book manuscripts from proven authors), and make a great deal more than the average, usually for merit. Freelance editors generally make more than employee editors because editors usually freelance later in the career path.
Technical careers in media
Media of all types also feature many technical careers in which you need not appear in front of a camera or put your name on a story. You could be, for example, a Broadcast Engineer (Bachelors; $40,000 – $50,000 to start, 2009 median $61,000), with a relevant degree in engineering or electronics. The job requires a quick eye and ear, as you may be troubleshooting during a momentous live broadcast.
Consider also Television Camera Operator (Bachelors (film), $29,000 – $59,000). You could get hired without a Bachelors in film, but considering the salary spread, the degree is an excellent investment. A hybrid technical/communications job is Television Editor (Masters $35,000 – $110,000). As the figures show, the person who knows what and where to cut, and when to bleep an exasperated caller on live broadcast can be very well rewarded by a big studio.
In print media, there is Desktop Publisher (continuing education, $43,000 – $57,000), preparing anything from books to calendars to billboards. While you can start with a high school diploma, for advancement, keep upgrading your skills through online courses. The first time your boss sees an impressive new technique should be when you, not the competitor’s hire, demonstrate it.
Front line careers in media
Media is performance art, so average salaries do not reflect your chances as well as, for example, average salaries for union electricians. Some journalists or TV personalities may make much more or much less than the average, depending on a variety of factors, especially the size of the market. The averages only tell you whether, in principle, you could make a living out of it. Here are a few examples taken from TV:
The TV News Reporter (Journalism, $25,000 – $45,000) is seen or heard briefly on the air but may spend all day preparing a nightly news story. The News Correspondent (Journalism, $55,000 – $100,000) covers one-off events, often abroad. The salary is high because business is sporadic and correspondents must find their own stories on the scene. Any second language can be a major asset, but take advanced online courses to ensure a professional level of fluency. The Talk Show Host ($24,000 – $61,000) is there to get other people talking, while creating interest in their comments. The Commentator (Media/Broadcast/Journalism, $25,000 – $34,000, up to $90,000) on sports or politics must be a bit of a personality to succeed.
The Internet will not reduce news and media jobs because the human appetite for news and entertainment is endless. But to succeed, you must orient your career to the Internet’s effects.