Blog,  Journalism

What is a typical day for a journalist?

The answer really is that it depends. 

It depends on whether you work in house at a publication or as a freelancer. It depends on the type of publication you work for and exactly what stories you are responsible for as a journalist. It depends on how often you publish and how you would usually find the stories that you cover or how you talk to the people you report on. 

Early mornings

If you work in radio on either the news reading, hosting or producing side, chances are you need to get up really early if you have a morning shift of any sort. Ditto TV if it is the same broadcaster. 

Some papers involve early mornings as well. It depends very much on whether you are writing for a daily or weekly paper and what you are covering. 

Because I was both covering politics AND writing for a daily paper, though ten am was about the time I was expected to be in the office, I often had to be there at eight am to pick up a photographer and head to a press conference of some sort.

And because it was a daily paper, I often went home at midnight after writing and occasionally subbing articles especially since there was an election on.

Editorial meetings or in their absence a whiteboard

Often one of the first things you do once you get in the door is have an editorial meeting that all the reporters are required to attend. 

The frequency of this meeting depends on how often the organisation publishes news in any form. If it is a daily paper, it will often be daily. 

Sometimes this is a quick chat if the paper only has a small number of staff. Sometimes it is over and done with because everyone has worked there for so long that they know what to do and can breeze through such meetings. 

If you work in radio on set programs, all those involved including producers and hosts will meet once or twice week to organise a schedule of guests and stories. If you work on the news end for radio, it is far to hectic and you are generally updating your colleagues on the go and getting a handover from the person on the shift before yours as you make sure you have news scripted and voiced and ready to go within a few minutes so that the news at the top of the hour every hour is as up to date as possible. 

That’s where newswires come in handy so you know what happens if you keep constantly refreshing the newswire feed and can script a story straight away. 

Often your meetings are not to plan anything specifically but to update people about what has been happening.

Keeping up with the news

It can mess with your state of mental health but often the first thing you have to do before anything else or any meetings is to catch up on the news that has happened while you were asleep and start thinking of what stories you can cover that are related. 

Different journalists will do this in different ways – however it works best for them. Some will read other papers or go on Twitter. Others will turn to streaming radio as I prefer to do so that they can listen while they are getting ready for their day. Some will turn the TV on.

Journalists who have to cover very specific subjects will update themselves however works best for the sort of news that they cover and be very specific about what is happening in their patch but also try to be updated on what is generally happening news wise. Sometimes this means Google Alerts on a particular topic for example. 

This often isn’t a one time thing during the day. Journalists have to have their ear to the ground constantly and it can be exhausting.

What else?

The rest of a journalist’s day often consists of sitting behind a computer screen or some screen of some description and going a bit crosseyed. 

It will mean researching stories, calling people up to interview them over the phone or set up in person interviews, then writing stories to meet deadlines, sourcing and captioning images and sometimes subediting other articles. 

Sometimes it means translating from one language to another which can happen if you work in a company or general country or location that operates with several different languages. 

Sometimes it can also mean having to do data analysis and stare at numbers till they make sense. Or having to edit video or audio for broadcast and record or film events or create voiceovers. 

Sometimes it is making sure everything that needs to be uploaded onto the website is done and done properly.

Sometimes it involves sorting your makeup out so you can sit in a chair and read the news.

Or investigative work of some sort. Or an event you need to attend. Photographs and video that you need to take. If you are a science journalist, it could mean reading scientific articles or research papers. If you cover music or TV you may have to listen to albums or watch shows. 

Court reporters will have to head to court to cover cases and talk to those involved as well as law enforcement agencies. Sports reporters will have to attend games, talk to commentators and teams and be able to discuss what is going on. 

So it will differ but there are a lot of things that will be much the same.

 

It's also different if you are a freelancer

Some of the same things apply.

But your editorial meeting may be with yourself as you decide what stories to pitch. 

And you will need to be up to date on the news because it is only you in the editiorial meeting trying to come up with stories. There are no colleagues to bounce ideas off. 

And you have to interview, write, edit, do any photography or audio or video work, research and submit it all. And then put a different hat on and do accounting and invoice for your work. And then do some marketing to get more work. 

So your day will vary more if you are a freelancer. You might have several different clients all of whom want work covering different topics, publishing at different schedules and paying differently. Your routine and times may differ from the next freelancer on the list.

So it really does depend on what you specifically need to do as a journalist. But it is hard and you are often in front of screen and often need to talk to people and then get the truth of what is happening out there as accurately as possible and as clearly as possible. 

It is not easy. But there is nevertheless a very strange love of it that persists.

Some things I have done during the course of a day as a journalist

  1. Accidentally bypassed security at a press conference
  2. Moved from one event to another nonstop for most of a day fuelled only by cups of tea at each one of differing quality
  3. Argued about the statistics of a story with another journalist very loudly outside a venue
  4. Translated an entire election campaign speech for an inside spread with some help only to find that the editor had an English version sent to him anyway
  5. Written stories on my mobile and emailed them through while at the event I needed to cover because I knew traffic back to the office would be bad
  6. Filed a story for radio via phone from a rural area outside the city only to have it not get run
  7. Argued with a source that they could not edit my story
  8. Written up the questions for the host on an interview program
  9. Stood in the middle of the highway to film a piece to camera for TV
  10. Put together an entire business news program, footage and all, only to have it scrapped

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

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