Current figures show that there are approximately 9,200 newspapers in the United States; 1,700 are dailies, most of which are evening newspapers, and the remainder are weeklies. The number of major dailies has declined in recent years; there are only about 35 newspapers with a circulation of more than 250,000. Despite declining numbers, newspapers rank as the third largest industry in the United States and employ 450,000 people.
Newspapers are usually organized around the following departments: news, editorial, advertising, production, and circulation. All provide job opportunities for communications majors. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the news and editorial sections.
The News Department
Within the news section we will examine careers for reporters and photo-journalists.
Reporters. A job as a reporter is viewed as a glamorous and exciting type of existence, summoning up images of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and probably attracts more applicants than any other spot on a newspaper staff. As a result, competition is stiff; reporters make up less than one-fourth of a newspaper s roster.
Reporting work is challenging and fast paced, with the pressures of deadlines and space allotments always looming over head. It's the ideal job for those who like to be one step ahead of the general public in knowing what's going on.
Whatever the size or location of the newspaper, the job of a reporter is to cover local, state, national, and international events and put all this news together to keep the reading public informed. News reporters can be assigned to a variety of stories, from covering a major world event, monitoring the actions of public figures, or writing about a current political campaign.
Photojournalists. Photojournalism is telling a story through pictures. And though it's a form of journalism in which photographs dominate over written copy, photojournalists need to have a strong journalism background. To accurately report the news, whether through photographs or copy, you need to be aware of what's happening in the world and why.
Being a jack-of-all-trades is the main requirement. Most photojournalists, whether working for a major or a minor newspaper, are expected to cover the exciting as well as the tame. Their assignments run from food to fashion, from spot news to sports to a wide range of human interest features.
Staff Writers. Staff or feature writers function in much the same way as news reporters, but are generally assigned a regular "beat," such as health and medicine, sports, travel, or consumer affairs. Working in these specialized fields, staff writers keep the public informed about important trends or breakthroughs in a variety of areas.
Contrary to some misconceived notions, feature writers are not assigned only fluff pieces. While a fashion writer might not do in-depth investigative pieces, a health and medicine writer often will. Nancy McVicar, for example, is a senior writer at the Sun-Sentinel a newspaper with a circulation of about one million in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She works for the Lifestyle section, which has a health page every Thursday, and her work has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize seven times. Several of her stories have won other prestigious national awards.
McVicar was the first to break the story on the safety issues related to cellular telephones. Her articles on the topic went out over the wire and also ended up on the television news shows "20/20" and "60 Minutes." The GAO (the General Accounting Office of the U.S. Government, which is also the investigative arm of Congress) was asked to do an in-depth report on whether or not cellular phones are safe, based on McVicar s stories.
Writers in every section of a newspaper can find a way to make an impact.
Section Editors. A job as a section editor is considered by many to be a plum position. Although there are exceptions, section editors have usually paid their dues as reporters or staff writers.
The duties involved depend in part on the section, but there are many responsibilities in common. Editors write articles or supervise the work of staff writers, making assignments, reviewing copy, and making sure atten-tion is paid to space requirements. They also attend editorial meetings and correspond with freelance writers.
Many perks are associated with some of the sections; travel writers get to travel, book editors get free books in the mail to read and review, sports editors get to go to a lot of the games, food editors get to eat, society page editors get invited to myriad social events, and so on.