A reporter’s job is not for the faint of heart. It requires a great deal of stamina, physical fitness, and unflagging self-motivation. Aspiring television reporters must be strong on perseverance, be able to look danger squarely in the face, be willing to work long hours, forego weekends, holidays, and special occasions, and be ready to be on the road at a moment’s notice. Television reporters gather information, investigate leads, and write and report stories “live” or “on the scene.” Occasionally they tape their newsstories, sometimes called “packages,” for a later broadcast. Reporters must be able to accurately compile notes, conduct interviews, determine the focus of a story, and quickly organize and complete a story. Because of the increased pace and efficiency of electronic news-gathering techniques, reporters are sometimes hard-pressed to properly complete their stories before they are called upon to go “live.” Reporters with good memory and poise who are able to speak fluently and extemporaneously will fare well. With violent crime rates up over the past several years, reporters must be both emotionally and psychologically stable so they can face and report from gruesome crime scenes. They are usually assigned leads to pursue by station assignment editors. Some reporters are given a specific “beat” to cover, such as police stations, city hall, or the courts. Others specialize in areas such as medicine, consumer news, sports, science, and weather.
While most reporters do on-the-spot news coverage, investigative reporters usually cover “long lead-in” stories that often take days or weeks of information gathering and, depending on the subject matter, may involve danger. News correspondents stationed in foreign nations at war or facing civil unrest place their lives on the line with every live report. These correspondents must not only learn how to maneuver through difficult situations to locate sources of valuable information but must also overcome language barriers, cultural barriers, and fear to get to that information.
A bachelor’s degree in journalism is the minimum requirement to get your foot in the doors of most broadcasting stations, but significant emphasis is placed on collateral experience and internships. Applicants must show college newswriting and demonstrate that they’ve had reporting experience on school newspapers or at college television stations. Additionally, extensive internship experience and a specialized degree in political science, economics, or business, plus a minimum of three to five years reporting experience, will substantially enhance one’s chance of being hired by a major market network.
Most on-air television reporters and anchors in major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco started out in small-town stations where they learned everything from the ground up. Though lacking the glamour and pay scale of big-city stations, these podunk markets are necessary proving grounds and great experience for any aspiring reporter.
Most television reporters advance by “network hopping,” moving from one large station to the next seeking more responsibilities, more exposure, and more money. For the disaffected reporter, there is always the talk show forum, a route that propels many reporters to either fame or infamy and, of course, overnight riches. With demonstrated oral and written communication skills in their favor, die-hard reporters often opt for positions as syndicated columnists with major newspapers, become authors, public relations specialists, editors, or college professors. “I went from newspaper to television reporting, winding up as a network news anchor in New York City,” says one twenty-year news veteran. “Now I host a daily wellness program on cable television.”