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What does an Online Journalist do?

By James Doehring
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An online journalist generates news content for distribution over the Internet. As in other forms of journalism, online journalists seek to answer the "Five Ws" of an event: who, what, when, where, why, and also how. Ordinary news content is typically in a written article format with an objective view. Opinion pieces and blogs can have a more personal angle on a story. Online journalists often work from home on a freelance basis.

A bachelor's degree can be a practical necessity for those aspiring to be an online journalist, though online journalism involves more educational flexibility than traditional journalism. Popular degrees for online journalists are communications, journalism, and a native language such as English. Hands-on experience in student publications can also be helpful for prospective online journalists. Building a portfolio of writing samples can help budding online journalists grab the attention of paying clients.

Before securing writing contracts, online journalists often write blogs to get the attention of the publishers and the general audience in their field of expertise. Blogs can be maintained on personal websites, pages dedicated to blogging, or professional news websites. In recent times, blogging has become a widely-accepted outlet for reporting and debating news and opinions. Many well-known public figures regularly contribute to some kind of blog.

After forming a collection of writing samples, an online journalist can seek contracts with news publishers. Working with publishers at a distance, or exclusively through the mail, phone, and Internet, is called freelancing. An online journalist may initially pitch an article idea to a publisher and later establish a contract with regular writing assignments.

Online journalists can work with a variety of kinds of news services. Many traditional newspapers publish online content, such as The New York Times and USA Today. Cable news networks, which primarily generate content for cable television, can employ online journalists for their websites. Some newspapers, such as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, publish online content only.

When online journalists are not promoting their material and seeking out new contracts, they primarily spend their time developing story ideas and producing articles. This may involve conducting research and interviews for their story content. It also may require locating photographs or working with a photographer to add images to the article. Online journalists must also make their articles grab the attention of online viewers, as they are usually competing with other journalists for an audience's attention.

Writing as a freelance online journalist can have advantages and disadvantages over more common types of jobs. First, working from home allows a journalist to set her own hours. It also can save on transportation and office expenses. Online journalists typically do not have set salaries, however. They are often paid based on what contracts they are successful in securing, which can fluctuate from month to month.

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Discussion Comments

By Markerrag — On Mar 07, 2014

Anyone looking into journalism as a career needs to be well aware of what publications are online and what is required of Internet-based journalists. Print journalism is still in horrible shape and continuing layoffs are proof of that.

Internet journalists are valuable in that good reporters have a couple of skills that most people lack -- they can actually write well, know how to investigate and realize the difference between news and opinion.

Journalism, as an institution, shouldn't change all that much although we have shifted from reading newspapers to pulling up articles online. Unless you've got unbiased reporters doing their jobs, what passes as "news" is merely a bunch of junk tossed out there by public relations guys, corporations and the government. There will always be a need for independent reporters who strive to keep the public informed of various goings on around the nation.

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