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If you're seriously interested in investigative journalism, you should give Bob Woodward's Masterclass a try:

Watch, listen, and learn as Bob teaches investigavtive journalism in his first-ever online class.

Lessons include topics like: journalistic principles, finding the story, in-depth reporting, finding documents, finding sources, developing sources, building trust, conducting interviews, interview challenges, developing cases, writing the story, polishing and publishing the story, learning from mistakes, and the state of journalism.

How to become a journalist?

My best advice is practice and experience. Write, read, write, read. Join your high school or college newspaper, if it has one.

Read these books:

Or try to string for your small local paper. Then join your college newspaper. People will debate whether it's necessary to major in journalism. Some think it's a waste, but I think it's helpful because of the connections you make.

Get a couple internships under your belt in college, as it's another great way to get professional experience and make connections. Seriously, the best way is to just write as much as you can, and read stories from the best writers in the biz.

Do you need to go to journalism school to be a journalist?

No, but it will help a lot.

My experience in journalism school was a marginal benefit to my real-world experience. That is to say, very, very little of what I learned in journalism school actually applied to the work I do now. Maybe I took the wrong classes or went to the wrong school, or maybe I missed those critical courses by dropping out a semester or two short of a degree — hard to say for sure, but I’m skeptical.

My skepticism stems from working with fresh out of J-school grads, many of whom are very poorly prepared for the job but who are supremely confident in their under-developed abilities because their diploma says they know how to journalism. Many of these early 20 somethings, assured by their degree, are stubborn, have poor listening skills, and are exceedingly difficult to train.

The tools I use most frequently in my job were acquired either before j-school or on the job — how to pitch, how to distinguish between effective and ineffective in your own writing, AP style, a decent understanding of technology and secure communications, and an appreciation/understanding of ethics that I think can really only be learned from countless real-world trials with real-world consequences.

I would also add, the notions that journalism is dying and that there’s no job security and the pay is shit I think are largely myths. Sure, you can make more money in investment banking, but you can make an adequate/comfortable living in journalism.

Broadcast journalism producers in particular are in pretty high demand right now, as are audio/podcast producers. As for job security, at least from my perspective, it’s a little too secure. I’ve watched people who should have been fired continue working for months and even years after they should have been let go.

What are the pros and cons of being a journalist?

  • Pay can be low, demands can be high, good jobs can be hard to come by, deadlines can be a grind, and many will insist that they can do your job better than you. But I feel the pros are getting short-changed a lot.

  • As a journalist you get to be in the know. You get to ask lots of questions and get up in people's business, and they're generally okay with it. People will seek you out to tell you all kinds of interesting "news". You'll rack up a lot of twitter followers, a few gadflies, and possibly an enemy or two.

  • Sometimes you get the chance to meet (influential, famous, fun, etc.) people, or get access to cool places or behind-the-scenes scenes.

  • You get paid to learn about things that (hopefully) interest to you, and help explain them to others. Freelancing is usually an option for journalists.

  • And democracy, fourth-estate, and all that stuff too.

  • Journalism can be lots of fun.

Tips for teenagers and students who want to become journalists in the future

What advice would I give myself 5 years ago: READ, READ, READ, READ. Then when you're done reading, READ more. Then the next day, READ even more.

No matter what type of written journalism you want to get into, you will never become a better writer--and studies show this, several of them--if you don't read more than you write. Read everything, too--not just material in your field. Read comic books, fiction novels, magazines, books with collected writing from great writers.

Think about stories from a structural standpoint, not a sentence by sentence point of view. Many people can write good sentences, but that doesn't make you a good writer/journalist. Being able to tell a great story is more important.

Oh, and yeah, did I mention this: READ.

For every word you write, read 10-20. Currently, I'm at a weekly newspaper and write around 8-10, 600-word stories a week, so I try to read at least 60,000 words a week. And I've seen the improvement in my writing.

What's the difference between investigative journalism and stalking?

There are laws about where you're allowed to film, record etc, and depending where you are you often cannot do so without the subject's knowledge. Being a journalist also in no way makes you immune from harassment/stalking laws.

What people often think about is more like the kind of thing you see in fictional films rather than an actual journalist's day job! You might wait outside somewhere to try to catch someone for an interview/picture when they leave, but you'll only be interacting with them for a minimal time - and frankly most journalists have way too much work on to spend days on one subject!

How has investigative journalism changed since the Trump administration?

More money has flowed to investigative journalism since we started having Russians interfere with elections, special counsel investigations of our president who is engaging in unprecedented opacity, and flaunting of, for example the emoulments clause of the constitution.

So the money to do a proper investigation might not have been there under Obama.

Weirdly the folks who hated Obama didn't fund investigation, because shouting jackasses on am radio seem to do the job much more efficiently with their target demographic.

Why are journalists writing clickbait headlines?

Sometimes journalists have to be bombastic in order to convince less sophisticated folk to sink into deeper more complex stories. It might surprise you to know the typical newspaper article is written at a fifth grade reading level.

Sometimes journalists have to be bombastic in order to convince less sophisticated folk to sink into deeper more complex stories. It might surprise you to know the typical newspaper article is written at a fifth grade reading level.

A blog post has lower information density and word complexity than that. And Reddit typically boils those down even further. So of course a journalist trying to reach the greatest number of people possible warning them about children being drugged in internment camps is going to use bombastic language in order to convince as many people to engage as possible.

When the issue is / CHILDREN BEING DRUGGED IN INTERNMENT CAMPS / easing off on the pedantic dial is probably worthwhile.

Is it difficult to become a nomad/international journalist?

The thing is that most of these things will be specific to the country you're going to. To be honest it comes across as a bit naive to think you'll just travel around the world and that your beat is 'anything international' - you do really need to put the planning in and get to know the specifics for each place.

No one can really do that for you. But for most countries, yes you will need a work/journalism visa for that country and you could get in trouble if you work on a tourist visa. It may be harder to get visas if you're not attached to a company/outlet, but again it's all dependent on where you're going.

You could get yourself in real hot water if you try to work as a journalist somewhere without the right visa, and it's better for you to find that out now than then. I think it's great you want to travel, but don't go into this unprepared.

Is it realistic to become a war reporter?

No responsible outlet should hire a rookie to go into conflict zones. You should have hostile environment training, bomb-ass insurance, and plenty of experience in lower-key situations. The reality is most people are going all in on this for all the wrong reasons.

Believe it or not, wars aren't actually for bored privileged young white guys to feel like they're living -- it's a whole lot of civilians getting fed a shit sandwich and the last thing they actually need is some rich kid with an SLR doing some on-spec wannabe gonzo shit for Vice.

Market yourself? I'd have another suggestion of what you might ought to consider doing with yourself. If you want bang-bang, join the army, or just seek therapy and skip the army step altogether. If you're serious about becoming a journalist, become a journalist.

Would a journalistic license help to fight against fake news and political propaganda?

I think it's a good idea and it would help, so long as this organization were self-policing and not in any way tied to the government or specific companies. Also, there'd have to be buy-in from much of the industry.

It would help people tell the difference between "real" journalists and "citizen" journalists. Anyone can commit an act of journalism, just like anyone could theoretically give solid legal advice. But a lawyer stands to lose a lot if he/she does something wrong and gets caught.

It would also force some organizations (ahem, tv news) and some journalists to unfuck themselves. Journalism is a competitive business that leads people to do things that are unethical. If you're in college you'd get an F or get kicked out of school. In the real world, nothing happens unless you're pulling a Jayson Blair. More journalists need to be responsible with their work, and right now there often aren't clear incentives to change their behavior.

Can you explain what was the deal with Panama Papers?

People who don't want their governments to know about their wealth need to do something with it that doesn't have their name attached. Sometimes the reasons are legitimate (Venezuela might kidnap your children if it knows you have a ton of money, or you want to hide it from your ex-spouse), but other reasons are not (tax evasion, money laundering, etc.).

But you have to do something with your money other than having a pile of cash, right? You still want to invest it in the stock market, use it as collateral for loans for your business, buy a yacht, whatever. So one thing you can do is open a "shell company" that doesn't have any real business activity or employees, just an organization on paper. Then you (the rich person) give your assets to your new company.

In Panama, the documents that set up your company generally didn't (maybe still don't?) need to list the name of the owner of the assets, just the name of the "President" and "Secretary" and that sort of thing. Those officers can be anyone, such as the lawyers who help create the new company. They agree with you to run the company at your instruction. This is exactly what was done by a law form Mosack Fonseca ("MF").

The Panama Papers consisted of a HUGE trove of documents from MF describing not only the presidents and secretaries of all these paper companies but also the true owners--the names of the rich people.

With these names released, and the other connections mentioned in the documents, the governments of the relevant countries could start investigating whether these people had properly reported and paid tax on the assets stuffed into these companies.

In several cases, prominent politicians were caught up in this mess, including the PM of Iceland, who I think later resigned. It can take a long time to sort through the data and investigate whether the arrangements were legitimate, which is the process we're in now.

What to do when journalism doesn't work out?

I know the feels.... I graduated from one of the top journalism schools in the U.S. and at the height of the economic repression, so finding a job at the local newspaper wasn't going to happen. I worked my way up in the Internet Marketing world, and still do a lot of writing and have writers under me that I have to edit.

I studied more photojournalism, and was hoping to take that route, but after college, with no money and no insurance, I had to give up that dream for a little while.

It seems like everyone I went to J-school with is not doing too much with their degree, but I've found stability in the Internet Marketing field and is still along the same lines of what I've learned from school.

Why are people saying that journalism is dying?

It's probably because it's not a very good "salaried profession" with decent healthcare, benefits, and the ability to retire one day.

I think this is why journalism is dieing, because the skill ceiling keeps increasing but not with pace of salary. Like we're expected to research, video, photo, write and speak and use social media for $15 an hour, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This makes the career a good starting point for young kids who focus on the fluff stories that get the clicks or even worse part-time reporters who don't know how to do proper research.

Another aspect is — Unless it's a national news story I've noticed is (1) most journalists feed entirely off of police reports ("police said..", etc) and (2) when the subject of the story refuses to comment, that's it, they don't dig deeper or start doing background research.

Stories were handled a whole lot differently in the 1970s and earlier when news editors were in competition with another and were able to pay more for talent.

If you want to become an investigative journalist you have to answer yes to all these questions

As a former aspiring journalist, these are some questions I considered.

  • Can you live with the ethical constraints of the media environment?
  • Can you work under the conditions of constant deadlines?
  • Are you a resourceful and independent person?
  • Are you thick-skinned enough to be rejected?
  • Are you willing to forgo a stable routine?

If you're saying now to any of these, choose a different profession.

The dark side of daying/marrying a journalist

My friend is married to a full-time pro journalist and she agreed to chime in here anonymously:

  • The hours are awful. Absolutely awful. Just.... for those of you who are married to a journalist (breaking news, politics, national), just be prepared to be a single parent. They just aren't around for much in the evenings. And they are always on their phones-- so it's like they're working all the time. Also-- your weekends are never free as they are always somehow working. And if you really want them to get away, you have to force them to go to boonies so that they can't check their email as often.

  • Everything is about their passion for their job. Which is great. They can go screw IT then. And if you question them about possibly just maybe changing their job, it's like asking them to commit murder. Forget it. Because when you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. YAWN. Except your spouse has to make up for you.

  • The sex suffers too. To clarify-- I am married to his job. I'm a slave to his schedule. He wants to have sex with me when the kids are around, or I'm trying to sleep, or when we have like 4 different family members in the house because we never can get it on because he works during the magic hours. I'm so tired of being frustrated by this, but it's effing frustrating. So yes, I am married to his job as a result. He got upset when I told him I had to get new vibrators recently... because having two seconds of sex once a week is somehow good enough for him and it's astonishing how this isn't good enough for me? Huh. Don't see how that could be a problem.

  • He misses out on a lot of the kid stuff. Quite literally everything. Movie nights, game nights, making dinner eating dinner-- he just isn't there. Soccer ballet- forget about it. Most of the time he is working while he eats too, which is annoying. Way to teach positive screen time habits, DAD!

  • The pay is small. I make 50% more than him and 3X more than most journalists. This is a small thing if Number 3 was better, really.

  • They care about the job first. He doesn't give AF about how this effects my quality of life. Recently, I told him that I had to do this this and this, and he was like: "Oh, this too will pass." Wait a minute-- me working a 24 hour shift to compensate for your breaking news is somehow a temporary thing? Because I assure you, it is not. IT IS NEVER a temporary thing. IT IS PERVASIVE AND ALL ENCOMPASSING and it happens all the time.

  • They have odd hubris. He thinks he's smarter than me. In a way, I have to agree with this in part because somehow I got duped into marrying him. Jesus. But the assumption of stupid things that he gets wrong (just common sense stuff) vs. his random knowledge is just annoying.

So yes. I have lots of regrets marrying a journalist. If you are dating a journalist: be forewarned. The sex gets worse with age and they are just never around because news > your relationship. It may not happen now, but it will happen. And it will suck.

I think if he would go into PR-- where the hours are more regular-- it would be better. He's not an awful person. It's just that the job is not conducive to a stable family life or marriage. And his job was definitely not a big deal when we didn't have kids. And now that we have kids, divorcing a person because you hate his job seems really trivial.

Anyone looking into journalism should really take a moment and think to themselves whether or not it's worth it to get married and risk hurting your loved ones by constantly having to work. Whether or not you are willing to forgo having kids for your career or willing to change careers when you have kids. Because journalism regrets will sneak up on you.

I'm not the only spouse with this issue (so much wine to be had to bitch about this) so you should know the truth, even if it means that I have to write about it here.

How my journalistic studies went

Seriously. If you start working hard well before the capstone you can get a lot out of the program. BUT YOU HAVE TO DO THINGS. The program itself is not important. You have to write and make stuff and get internships and do things on your own time. I understand that compared to a major like Accounting you don't leave j-school with everything you need to fall into a job.

You can make a place for yourself in the field if you are really, really good, with or without a degree. And there are lots of degrees that are the same way. You're not going to get a job as an actor if you are a theater major but you were never in any shows or films besides the ones that were required. Some people never went to school for acting and are great at it, but so are some people that went to school. Who's to say the education was a waste if they got something out of it?

You can definitely get a more marketable degree for the money. But as far as preparation, if you were an average writer before, the coursework will help you improve. Arguably, if you were only an average writer before, you shouldn't be a journalist, but I believe in self-improvement and choosing your own path.

I improved my skills during the program to be sure, and I never would have tried a lot of the things I did without the prodding of my professors, who I probably never would have met if I hadn't at least started the program. There are days when I feel like my degree was a waste, but then I remember how before I got to school I didn't know how to take a picture or cut a video or write an enterprise story. I can do all those things now and I definitely wouldn't have been able to do it without some sort of instruction/feedback from a mentor, and good luck finding someone who just wants to teach you stuff for free. (I get that the internet is a thing but you need real relationships.)

I have a part-time job in a different but related field and I manage to find freelance opportunities. It's not everything I dreamed it would be, but fucking nothing is.

Just because you don't think a major is worthwhile for you personally is not the institution's fault. Sure you can get the equivalent experience another way, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't still offer the program for people who are willing to do it and think it will help them to build skills, even if you happen to think there are better options.

The skills, believe it or not, are transferrable. And just like you can (and should) develop journalism skills outside the classroom, you can just as easily learn to code, or read up on politics, or take on another interest that will help you in your career.

My tips for adult that want to become journalists without going to j-school

I majored in journalism and in hindsight, wish I had not. I didn't go to a great program, so bear in mind that a top tier J school - like any top school - has a much better chance to pan out some good connections, better training, and help you assemble a worthwhile portfolio to showcase. I think I fell out of love with the idea too late to switch majors, but I can trace a lot of it back to me being a clueless 20-year-old dumbass who didn't take school very seriously.

First, know that establishing a career down any artistic/creative avenue is not easy. I recall very vividly a day - sometime after the crash, when my reporting teacher penned an article in our city paper about the collapse of the journalism industry. His advice after we grilled him in class was: wait it out, go to grad school, good luck. There are no guarantees in life.

I was usually on the photojournalist side of the newsroom, but what helped me hit quotas was developing a lot of sources. On slow weeks I'd wander around town and pop into various offices to chat and see what was going on. Most of the time I was just looking for feature photos since I had already received assignments at the budget meeting, but I'd keep an ear out for good story ideas for the reporters too. Schools are full of cute kids and teachers who are trying new programs. High schools allow for more profile pieces on individuals or write-ups about things the theater kids are developing. Police and fire usually want to show off their new toys. City parks department usually are planting trees, fixing parks or working on something or other. Businesses are expanding or remodeling and love the free publicity. Churches are putting on bake sales or organizing mission trips. If there's an art gallery you can do a profile on one of the artists, they usually have colorful stories and make for good interviews.

That said, despite having a lot of sources and being known around town there were still weeks where I'd owe more photos than I had and be forced to submit something that I felt everyone knew was filler at best. So in my experience that feeling of "I'm a fraud!" is always lurking, it just gets a little quieter when you submit something you're proud of.

If you do go into a J school, the final return draws a direct line to the effort you put in. From my experience, journo grads were expected to know how to fill multiple roles for a media outlet, from writing and copy editing, shooting and editing video with narration, laying out pages and designing infographics, rigging SEO, even some work in marketing. Writing ability and "story telling" is an important foundation but only one aspect of the profession itself. No one skill is going to get you a job, no one job is going to focus on one skill, but demonstrating a bundle of skills will really help your chances. Even then, there are way more writers than jobs and the pay isn't going to blow you away, but if you're self-motivated there are many outlets for your work.

If you want to be a writer, start writing. Start a blog, pick something that you're really into and build a body of work. Read the AP style guide, get some text books on news writing and editing. You can pick up a lot of the base knowledge that a school would sell to you on your own. However paying for a school will give you access to an established organization, mentors, connections and structure to help you develop multiple abilities in tandem - all very useful. The choice depends on how you learn. I benefit from structure, but some people are very good autodidacts.

Some of the best journalists don't have degrees in journalism. If you really love it, do it. You'll find a way to make it work. If you try it and hate it, go to law school. You won't know until you try.

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