What hiring editors look for in reporters today

With graduation ceremonies planned around the U.S. this month, it’s a good time to look at what skills these newly minted cub reporters should have mastered during their college incubation period. The best of them will have several internships under their belts and job offers already in their hands, and the rest — the majority — are likely scanning the job boards now in search of the perfect first job, or really, any journalism job.

Below is a quick analysis and completely unscientific survey of current job posts with words such as reporter/journalist/writer in their title. (I scanned about 50 or so active job posts from the past week or so in my overview.) For some jobs, I went a little outside those titles because they looked interesting or relevant. Also, I didn’t disqualify jobs that say they want a few years experience. To be honest, sometimes those jobs do hire recent grads, and there wasn’t an abundance of jobs squarely aimed at new grads (sorry, guys). Also, it’s important to know what the next job requires when you’re looking for your first job — that way, you know the now job is headed in the right direction. So, here’s what your future bosses want you to master before your cover letter lands in their inbox, based on their job ads:

In the category of skills every journalist should have, which go without saying…

  • Ability to work in a fast-moving, sometimes stressful environment with extremely tight deadlines (here)
  • Candidates must have strong reporting, writing and editing skills, and a broad understanding of state, national and international news perspectives. (here)
  • Duties include pitching story ideas, researching and reporting, and writing concise, pithy articles on a rapid deadline cycle (here)
  • The successful candidate will need to feel comfortable working offsite and at odd hours. (here)
  • You must be willing to take on controversial topics. (here)
  • We want someone who can handle it all — breaking news, the daily ins and outs of court coverage, enterprise and investigative stories. (here)
  • They should have a passion for uncovering the truth, a love of storytelling and a desire to make a difference. (here)


In the category of things you meant to learn but may not have (and if you did, thank the editor/professor/friend who helped and/or forced you do so)…

  • Flashing headlines from event sites – before the competition — is part of this job. The reporter will also need to be able to pull together features while on the road. (here)
  • Experience with photography, video, the Web and social media would be a plus. (here)
  • Only candidates with experience using several online databases (Lexis-Nexis, Factiva, Accurint, etc.) and the Internet for research purposes will be considered. (here)
  • We’re intent on finding someone who can also assign and help shape multimedia content, including video and podcasts. (here)
  • Experience in multiple formats, especially video, is a plus. (here)
  • Must be able to develop story ideas, take photographs, design pages, develop sources, prepare website updates, and work in a small office environment. … Experience with Quark and Photoshop is required. (here)
  • This position is responsible for daily online posts, uploading other content, and otherwise curating Web content. In addition, it entails writing original feature articles for print, producing short videos, and editing contributed articles. (here)
  • Demonstrated skills in the selection and cropping of news and feature photographs. Familiarity with photo editing software. (here)


In the category of relatively unique or specialized requests that will narrow the field quite a bit (these are not really aimed at the newbies)…

  • A graduate degree or a law degree is appreciated. (here)
  • Training in business, finance, economics or tax and accounting. (here)
  • This candidate must be immersed in pop culture … and have extensive sources in the entertainment industry. (here)

OK. So I could go on and on like this with the job post. But here are the takeaways…

  1. More is better. The more varied skills, education and years of experience you have, the more jobs you can apply for.
  2. There are jobs that don’t require you to know multimedia, but there are also lots of them that five years ago required only writing and reporting and today demand skills with a camera and recorder. Competitiveness, savvy and grace under deadline pressure are necessary traits in any good reporter and were only made more important by the fact news reporters now compete with bystanders and bloggers. Prepare accordingly.
  3. Specialization (pop culture, finance, politics, science — whatever it is that floats your boat) can help you land your dream job. Think about that when you take your first job, because that job both opens and closes some doors. Your out-of-the-gate decision can lead you to places you didn’t dream of, for better or worse.
  4. The willingness and ability to try new things is more important than knowing a specific technology. Few ads spelled out the specific software they wanted candidates to know, instead wanting a familiarity with a CMS, photography, video, postcasts or design principles.
  5. Be willing to move, especially if you’re not in a big city whose name starts with either New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. or Chicago. Chances are you’ll need to move either to one of these biggies or to a place you’ve never heard of to break in. There likely aren’t many (or any) jobs in the city where you currently live. Half the fun of journalism is discovering new places. Embrace it!

Your turn: Were there things you wish your job description had mentioned and didn’t? Or on the flipside, were there requisites that weren’t really needed after you were hired?