How to be happy in journalism if you hate being a reporter

A guide to some other journalism jobs for new graduates or disillusioned reporters.

Are you a reporter or j-school student who hates picking up the phone, hates working weekends or (gasp!) hates writing?

If you love news and loathe reporting, take heart: There are dozens of other ways to be a journalist than just traditional reporting roles. To start, here’s an introduction to seven other newsroom jobs:

Web producer

This is a great entry-level position if you just want to take a peek into the “backstage” of a newsroom. Depending on the newsroom, this job could involve everything from formatting stories or newsletters to writing headlines and tweets to building photo galleries (or likely, all of the above).

Being a web producer is an underrated job, says Alysha Love, who worked as a web producer at POLITICO.

“You’re sort of like the unsung hero,” says Love, who is now the deputy multi-platform editor at CNN Politics. “A reporter can write as much as they want to, but web producers are the ones who actually get it up on the website and make sure that people are actually going to see it and drive people to it.”

Being a web producer is good for lots of personality types, unlike some reporting jobs, Love says.

“If you don’t have the drive to be reporting all the time every single day, then these are great jobs that still produce journalism. Every tweet is a work of art and you’re still exercising creativity and thinking about headlines and social media, but you don’t have to be nearly as extroverted.”

One piece of advice from Love: “Be quick on your feet and be able to handle multitasking.”

Two job postings (for more in-depth job descriptions):
Digital producer, WUSA9, Washington, D.C.
Web production and multimedia intern, NPR’s Science Desk

Social media and/or engagement editor

These roles are relatively new in newsrooms in the past 5 years, and so the job descriptions are still in flux. In general, this person uses social media and other means (live blogs, events, creating stories or videos) to reach new readers and engage established readers in conversation. They also may be in charge of keeping track of what news is trending on social media, and looking at data about who is reading what content on the site.

“Really it’s making sure that people read the content that people in your company are putting their money and effort into,” says John Ketchum, engagement editor at the Center for Public Integrity.

One piece of advice from Ketchum: “Know every possible storytelling media platform that you can. Understand which stories will work best on which platforms.”

Two job postings (for more in-depth job descriptions):
Social media editor, MSNBC Digital
Community engagement and social media editor, The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss.

Graphics designer

Andrew Van Dam, a data visualization reporter at The Wall Street Journal, says his job is to “solicit ideas and data from reporters and editors and make it into something analytical and beautiful” that could go into the website or newspaper. Originally he was just building flat graphics (as images) but in the past few years he taught himself to code and now makes interactive graphics, too. Van Dam went from being a “classic text reporter” to a database reporter to a graphic designer.

“Once you have a beautiful database and you know how to manipulate it, you realize that the best way to show that data is almost always visually, not a 1,500-word story,” he says.

To learn about other kinds of design jobs (like print layout or web design for example), check out the Society for News Design’s Job Board.

One piece of advice from Van Dam: “Being a graphic designer, in my opinion, is not being an artist. It’s a skill set that almost anyone from any discipline can acquire, and you don’t need any predilection to the visual arts. Because of that, the only way to know if you’re into graphic design is to take a swing at it.”

Two job postings (for more in-depth job descriptions):
Assistant graphics editor, Scientific American
Digital graphic designer, Wall Street Journal

Developer

Developers in newsrooms do all sorts of work — reporting stories using databases, making interactive graphics, building search tools (and quizzes!), improving the structure of the news website or apps, and much more. Two quick examples of the kinds of projects developers can do in newsrooms are ProPublica’s searchable school segregation package and The New York Times’ election results page for the 2014 midterms.

“There’s definitely a spectrum among developer work from the more platform-level stuff to the more data journalism reporting stuff,” says Albert Sun, a developer at The New York Times. Sun started in journalism as a reporting intern, then worked as a graphics editor at The Wall Street Journal, where he began building larger interactive graphics projects, which led to his job at the Times on the Interactive News team.

If you have a reporting background and are thinking of learning to code — a skill combination that is very in demand — you can look at job postings for a sense of what technical skills to learn. (If even the names of the languages are foreign to you, here’s a great glossary by Hacks/Hackers, a group for journalists and programmers.)

One piece of advice from Sun: “Find interesting stories in large datasets.”

Two job postings (for more in-depth job descriptions):
News applications developer, The Huffington Post
Interactive news developer, The New York Times

Copy editor

If you could get paid to read your favorite website or magazine all day, does that sound like a dream job? Copy editors in newsrooms edit stories (and captions, and much more) to make sure they make sense, are accurate, easy to read, and correct in terms of spelling, grammar and style.

For Kelsey Hayes, senior copy desk chief at POLITICO Pro, being a copy editor just felt like a better fit for her than reporting.

“I’m very detail-oriented, and I’m very perfectionist, and I think being able to copy edit plays to that side of my personality, because you’re expected to be very, very precise, very detail-oriented.”

One piece of advice from Hayes:

“Start mentally editing everything you read — menus, signs, posters, anything — and that’s how you get used to it and teach yourself what to look for.”

Two job postings (for more in-depth job descriptions):
Copy editor, Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, N.D
Copy editor, The Gazette Company, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Video reporter/producer/editor

You don’t need a big expensive camera and fancy video editing software to do video journalism these days. If you like reporting but want less of a focus on writing, experiment with being video reporter. If you don’t like the whole talking-to-sources and hauling-equipment aspects of video reporting, there are also video editing/producing jobs in journalism.

Video is becoming more in demand at non-broadcast news outlets, even so far as The Huffington Post wants 50 percent of the content on its site to be video by next year, according to Ad Age.

“I think you’re starting to see some of the more traditional media think about how they can mess around with the video format,” says Joshua Barajas, reporter/producer at PBS NewsHour.

One piece of advice from Barajas:

“Your first year when you’re trying to learn video you’re just going to suck. You have to suck. There’s a big learning curve there.” But… “Find your little victories” and be patient.

Two job postings (for more in-depth job descriptions):
Video journalist, Syracuse.com
Video editor, Sinclair Broadcast Group

Editor (leadership)

You know that person who you file your story to? You could consider whether doing that sort of job would be a better fit for you. Editors can help conceptualize and edit stories, plan the direction of coverage or the whole company, mentor reporters and producers, budget resources, and more. (There are downsides too, like stubborn reporters, dealing with angry sources, and having to lay people off in bad times.)

Editors can have some weird titles. Here’s how Senior Multi-Platform Editor Dianna Heitz explains her role at CNN Politics:

“I head up the production side of things, which includes SEO, social, analytics, art selection, and running our day-to-day operations to make sure the site has a solid look and feel. I manage a team of four digital producers.”

Heitz originally wanted to work as a reporter, but found work as a web producer during the recession and soon saw the value in taking another approach to journalism.

“It seemed like the number of opportunities in that out-of-the-box not-reporter role was growing much faster than the market for traditional reporters,” she said. “So I stuck with the web producer position and then worked my way up through that.

One piece of advice from Heitz: “If you’re willing to think outside the box and take a chance on roles that are not traditional, you’re going to better position yourself for a lot of things. And if you decide to go back into reporting, the skills you have translate really well to reporting.”

Two job postings (for more in-depth job descriptions):
Business editor, San Jose Mercury News
Line editor, Al-Monitor

Job boards

· JournalismJobs.com http://journalismjobs.com

· Online News Association http://journalists.org/resources/career-center/

· Investigative Reporters and Editors http://www.ire.org/jobs/

· Society for News Design www.snd.org/jobs/

· National Association of Black Journalists http://nabjcareers.org/

· MediaBistro http://www.mediabistro.com/joblistings/

· NewsNerdJobs (out of date at the moment) http://newsnerdjobs.com

(Not an exhaustive list of jobs or job boards. Please chime in with more — add as comments or email me, juliahaslanger@gmail.com)

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