Tips for Career Advancement in Journalism

Career Advancement in Journalism

The sports journalism industry is both ever-changing and highly competitive, and people with interests of all different kinds can find work. To excel and stand out from the crowd, however, journalists need to take certain steps and focus on certain areas to advance their careers.

This article will explore some practical tips for journalists to boost their professional journeys. From continuing education to time management, here are some of the things aspiring journalists should keep in mind.

What do journalists do?

There are many different journalistic niches to consider, and tasks might vary from one niche to another, but there are a few universal tasks that hold true for all. The fundamental responsibilities of journalists are to research and write.


There are different levels of research that journalists conduct. Some specialize in research and conduct in-depth inquiries into difficult and unexplored topics while others focus on local events and spend time in local archives or interviewing local people. In all cases, research requires an abundance of time, patience, and determination.

Aspiring journalists should focus on developing their flexibility, open-mindedness, self-discipline, and persistence. All of these are necessary to successfully conduct research work. Maintaining those skills and checking for biases while researching take ongoing active effort. Journalists cannot just develop the skill and then never worry about it again, but rather continually refine it over time.

As a journalist grows as a researcher and masters the art of locating and interpreting facts, they need to draw conclusions from the information they collect. Sometimes this includes information that no one else has seen. In these instances, journalists rely on critical thinking skills to parse the data and interpret it for the masses.

Something that budding journalists discover is that not every lead pans out. Sometimes they dig into a topic and spend a lot of time and effort chasing down tangentially related rabbit holes only to discover there’s no story after all. While frustrating, this is simply part of being a journalist. It is the journalist’s responsibility to develop resilience to this type of disappointment so they can bounce back quickly and start looking into the next topic to cross their desk.

Finding the facts

The goal of any good researcher is to take an unbiased look into a specific topic or field to find the truth. If a journalist is writing a story on the President of the US and their impact on koala immigration, for example, they must set personal beliefs aside. If they start reading through information with a strong stance one way or the other, their bias will bleed into the information collected. This, in turn, turns objective facts into subjective opinions.

Conversely, writing subjectively about topics isn’t necessarily a problem for some journalists. Before they can form an opinion about the topic in question, however, they must first understand the facts behind it. Taking the same example from above, researchers must distill the information and opinions they read about the President’s approach to koala immigration reform into bare, indisputable facts. Once the information is uncovered, the journalist can make an informed decision regarding koala immigration and the President.

Keeping facts separate from opinion in the early stages of researching allows journalists to write compelling pieces, even emotional pieces, that ultimately relay the facts to readers.

Developing good habits

In addition to the basics of the research described above, there are two habits that effective researchers develop:

• Time management
• Record-keeping and organization

Journalists typically have deadlines to meet and can’t afford to miss them. No matter how detailed their research needs to be, they must have something ready to go when the deadline rolls around. Time management is crucial to research. Journalists who fall headfirst into stories and lose hours digging into the facts must develop some kind of schedule to keep on track and focused. This includes scheduling days effectively to earmark as much time to research and write as possible.

Other important elements of successful research are record-keeping and organization. Nothing is more frustrating than spending hours digging into multiple leads on a story only to lose important notes and throw out others. Writing a tight and accurate story requires organizational skills to not only keep the workspace clean and functional but also record facts and information clearly and concisely.


Writing goes hand-in-hand with journalism. With the exception of broadcast-only journalists, almost all journalists must be strong writers. This doesn’t mean that they must be gifted with flowery prose, but rather that they understand the basics of compelling writing and can create ‘hooks’ that interest readers and keep them engaged. Some of the hallmarks of journalistic writing include:

• Brevity and simplicity
• Factual and objectivity
• Precision
• Fairness and balance

As the main goal of journalistic writing is to reach as many people as possible, journalists must be able to write for everyone. They should keep things simple and straightforward, free of jargon and confusing sentences. Paragraphs should be roughly two to three sentences and sentences should be less than 20 words on average. Some paragraphs and sentences will be longer, and others will be shorter. That’s fine as long as the overall piece is easy to read and comprehensive.

Journalists tend to write about facts. To that end, they leave out as many adverbs and adjectives as possible as they sometimes insert opinions. Active verbs and specific nouns are preferable, and this also helps keep the word count down and sentences simple.

Precision-based writing refers to the words they use and the way they use them. Since journalists aim to reach as many people as possible, they tend to stick to traditional definitions of words.

Instead of using the word ‘kids’ to describe children, for example, journalists would use the term ‘child’ or ‘children’ because ‘kid’ also refers to a baby goat. The purpose of writing with precision is to create work that stands even as colloquialism changes and word meanings become more complex over time. When a journalist writes according to the dictionary, their meaning is much harder to misinterpret.

Finally, writing with fairness and balance is crucial to creating effective journalistic writing that provides the facts. When a journalist writes a story, they must ensure that both sides receive an equal amount of attention. When writing about a debate between the pros and cons of wearing caps indoors, for example, they should spend just as much time explaining the pros as they do the cons. Too much emphasis on one side could sway the reader to decide one way or the other.

In most cases, that’s not the journalist’s goal. They seek to inform, not persuade.

Education and skill acquisition

One of the best things a prospective journalist can do to advance their career in journalism is to set themselves up for success from the start. They can do this by acquiring the skills needed to stand out before they enter the job market. Taking their time and finding the right remote study program can help aspiring journalists in numerous ways before they ever step foot into the world of journalism.

Those already working as journalists can enhance their skills and online studying might be the best choice. This is a great way for journalists to learn more advanced techniques without disrupting their daily lives and requiring responsibilities to be placed on the back burner. For example, St. Bonaventure University (SBU) has options for those interested in becoming a sports journalist.

SBU’s MA in Sports Journalism is 100% online and can be completed in 18 months or nine terms. The curriculum covers vital topics such as journalism ethics, sports reporting, business of sports media, and the art of the sports interview. Graduates of this program have taken roles in leading media corporations across the US.

Once an aspiring journalist finds the right program, they are well on their way to earning some of the benefits that studying and gaining advanced qualifications:

• Empower individuals to unlock new opportunities.
• Fostering continuous growth.
• Development in professional journeys.

Unlocking new opportunities

When any individual spends time honing their craft and earns degrees or certifications in certain areas, they might find that more work opportunities surface. This is true in many kinds of careers, including sports journalism. Demonstrating expertise in a certain area naturally leads to work offers centered around that field. A sports journalist focusing on odds and statistics, for example, who has the education and resume to prove their expertise will likely receive work that relies on those skills rather than general journalism roles alone.

Once a journalist becomes known for work in an area of expertise, even more opportunities open up for them. Our example journalist goes from being the ‘odds and statistics’ guy, to being the ‘highly accurate odds and statistics guy with a proven history of accurate interpretations.’ This makes them indispensable for writing articles where even one mistake can tank a story and tarnish a reputation.

Journalists should focus on defining and refining skills in an area that interests them for the opportunity to expand work options beyond general journalistic work.

Fostering continuous growth

People who understand how important acquiring new information is will keep doing it throughout their lives. Graduates, regardless of their level of education or area of study, are more likely than non-graduates to place a lot of value on learning new facts and improving skills. This attitude naturally leads to continuous growth, which can help keep journalists on top of their game.

For example, take a journalist who focuses on highly technical pieces requiring lengthy interviews. Maybe they have been in the industry a while and believe they are good enough in face-to-face interactions to just stay the course.

Why fix it if it’s not broken? Well, some reporters remember how much their ability improved when they spent time actively learning about the latest best practices in communication and research. They constantly work to improve their skills and become more polished as a result. They are more likely to land more work and recognition than the journalist willing to stay the course.

Graduating with a thirst for knowledge and a desire for continuous growth grants journalists an advantage in the field.

Development in professional journeys

When a journalist knows more and is better able to express that knowledge than others in the field, they become more visible and, to some, more valuable. This, in turn, boosts their career and can give them all sorts of professional advantages.

Studying and continuous education are crucial to success as a journalist, regardless of their area of expertise. Those interested in a career that is custom-built for growth and success should consider investing in education. Specialized knowledge is always welcomed.

Effective networking

In addition to education and skill acquisition, effective networking can make or break a journalism career. While some may believe that everyone has the exact same opportunities, that’s not quite the case in reality. This is just as true in journalism as it is elsewhere. Connecting with established professionals in the industry, staying current with trends, and forging valuable relationships with fellow journalists as well are all steps that can significantly boost a journalism career.

Building connections

Building connections is possibly the most important tip. Journalism thrives on collaboration and if a journalist doesn’t know as much as they need to write a successful piece, they will reach out to people who can for more information and guidance.

Sometimes people in other industries entirely need someone to help with articles in their niche too, and they are more likely to look for people they know than to solicit hundreds of applications. When an individual has solid relationships with fellow journalists as well as industry professionals and beyond, they are opening their potential work pool exponentially.

To facilitate connections, journalists should consider joining professional organizations and associations, attending industry conferences and events, utilizing social media platforms, and seeking mentorship opportunities.

Staying current with trends

Something else networking can help with is keeping journalists updated about the latest news and trends in their area of expertise. Even if a journalist is focused on medical and health topics, they will still branch out to relevant (and irrelevant) fields.

A sports journalist, for example, might find that football news is very different from baseball news, but sometimes they are related. When stories involving both come up, they need to understand both sports to explain to readers how they intersect and why.

To do that, they need to reach out to experts in the field, but in a different niche, to fill them in. Reaching out to a contact who specializes in baseball reporting, for example, can help them understand the latest news in the baseball industry. They can then use that information for their own piece.

Become a sports journalist

For those who are interested in a successful career in journalism, a good education is the first step. There are many skills that can help them along the way that are passed on through education. Journalists should keep the tips revealed in this article in mind and start building their network as they study for advanced credentials, and they will soon be on their way in no time!

Amie has a love for numbers and holds a master’s degree in finance. When she’s not playing with numbers or words or pottering in the garden, you can find her in the kitchen roasting her own coffee beans.

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