By Frank Bolger - Last update

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Journalism is the practice of investigating, researching and reporting recent events, issues and trends to members of the public through various media outlets such as newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and online.

Journalists are generally associated with being responsible for hard current affairs reportage, but the varieties of journalistic endeavour are many: from celebrity gossip and fashion magazines to scientific journals and art periodicals there are plenty of exciting and rewarding opportunities for those with sufficient levels of ambition, talent and training.

Of course getting work at a news desk or having your freelance articles published (either in print or online) isn t easy. What differentiates the work of the amateur journalist from that of the professional is a commitment to quality. Trained and experienced journalists must avowedly adhere to certain standards and guidelines for instance, there must be some degree of language conformity in order to make news stories clear and comprehensible to readers; an ethical code of conduct is needed in which the truth is presented in an objective, accurate and conscientious manner (the recent phone-hacking scandal is an illustration of what can happen when this is not upheld); and there must also be a high level of awareness of the legal issues involved when putting potentially sensitive material into the public domain.

These are all elements that are covered in depth by even the most basic part-time Journalism courses, and they are essential to anyone wishing to produce high-quality content.

What s involved

Anyone without any prior experience who is serious about becoming a professional journalist may choose from among a range of introductory Journalism courses. Many such programmes will cover the fundamentals of the vocation and give students an insight into what a life in journalism entails.

For context, courses will often given students lessons in publishing history before progressing to training in media technology, editing, law, feature writing and page layout. Many introductory courses operate on self-study basis, so students can take absorb their journalism lessons on a flexible basis, at their own pace.

Those new to the principles and practice of journalism also have the option of enrolling on more thorough (yet still relatively short) Diploma-level Journalism courses. These will also be of huge benefit to individuals working in PR, marketing, and communications as they provide general instruction in the principles and practice of journalism. This generally includes training in key areas such as research methods, article preparation, media law & ethics, and broadcast journalism as it relates to TV and radio.

BA degrees in Journalism represent the next level of training and will appeal to those hoping to secure employment within the media. As these programmes are run over several years, students are afforded the chance to examine various styles of writing such as those found in sports, arts, travel, entertainment, or business journalism. This will be augmented with further instruction in using shorthand, copy-editing your work, story structure, interview techniques, and page design and layout. Some programmes will test and improve upon these skills through setting students the task of producing a magazine. This will give learners the opportunity to have their work published, as well as afford them the chance to gain first-hand experience of dealing with deadlines.

In addition to receiving training in producing print, participants on degree-level programmes will also develop their broadcasting skills and learn about basic lighting, sound and video recording techniques using industry-standard software such as QuarkXPress and ProTools. While these hands-on skills tend to be highly vocational in nature, some students may wish to go on to further study.

Part-time master s-level Journalism courses are generally run over a period of two years and are available to anyone with an honours primary degree in a related discipline. Many of the same areas are covered, though in greater detail. Some providers also offer their students the chance to take a step up the career ladder by organising work placements within established national and regional newspapers.

Anyone with an interest in a particular area of journalism also have the option of taking specific courses to meet their individual tastes. Dedicated Sports Journalism programmes, for example, will cover match reporting, sports journalism language, and online reporting. Other highly specific programmes include Journalism in the Digital Age and Journalism and Fiction Writing. Some courses may also be taken online.

Why do it

Having a Journalism qualification is now essential for those seeking to become professional reporters, whether within a company or freelance. However, all Journalism courses will allow students to enhance their writing skills, which will be of great benefit anyone working in areas such as public relations, marketing, publishing, web design and multimedia, or those who want to produce high-impact for publicity material, newsletters or websites for their companies.

What comes next

As mentioned above, part-time Journalism programmes can assist you in finding employment in a wide range of industries your chances of securing work within marketing, PR, research, academia, and publishing are greatly improved. Those with the right level of ability and application may also obtain TV & radio roles as presenters or news reporters.

At a glance

Beginner s courses offer instruction in the fundamentals of journalistic practice. They usually run from 10 weeks to 6 months. Part-time degree courses in Journalism run for up to 4 years. MA degrees in Journalism run for 2 years.

Frank Bolger

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