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Reporters provide news to a public audience by way of TV, radio, print or the Internet. They work in a variety of settings varying in size. Work happens in the newsroom, in the field or anywhere else that a story can be researched. There are no formal educational requirements, but most reporters earn degrees in journalism and gain experience through internships. Median pay in 2011 was $34,870 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There are no official requirements for becoming a professional reporter, and different employers look for different types of candidates. That said, the job market is highly competitive, and it is common for aspiring reporters to have extensive education and experience. A bachelor's degree in journalism is a near universal starting point. Internships in which aspiring reporters gain experience in the field and the newsroom are also helpful. Many reporters build experience by assisting more established reporters. It helps for a reporter to have a portfolio of published articles or newscasts to present to potential employers that they get through freelancing, volunteering or school productions.
Some news agencies assign stories to reporters, while others will simply let reporters shop around for whatever stories they can find. In many cases, both approaches are taken. Reporters are expected to keep a close eye on current events in the field to which they are assigned, called a “beat.” Many reporters study big national papers like "The New York Times" or press services like AP or Reuters to find out what events are making the news. Some reporters look to smaller local papers or the Internet for underreported stories. Attending public or cultural events, reading the news and talking to informed members of the community are ways in which reporters can find leads.
Once reporters have a story assignment, they normally have a very limited time to investigate it as thoroughly as possible before they must report on it and publish a piece. News is a very competitive industry and reporters want to be the first to report on breaking news. During this phase, reporters do whatever they can to get the best and most thorough information possible that includes a variety of perspectives and opinions. Reporters strive for a range of views to present a rich and unbiased account of events. Attending press conferences, conducting personal interviews, observing events in person and doing background research for context are some basic ways in which reporters investigate their leads.
After reporters have compiled the information, learned the context of the story and received personal testimony, they have to assemble their findings into a coherent whole by writing the story. This can be a big challenge, as many news formats require the most concise possible version of the story, whether it's a word count limit, or a time limit in which the reporter can speak. In conveying the story to the public, regardless of what medium is used, reporters strive to remain objectivity, to give the public all of the relevant information and to strike a tone that is intriguing. Reporters have an ethical duty to communicate as clearly as possible to the broadest audience.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."