People rely on professional busybodies to keep up with what’s going on around them. When those nosy professionals happen to be writers and also get a kick out of telling other people what they find out, they’re called journalists and they usually find work at newspapers and other media outlets. They’re reporters who keep the public informed about various topics. Some journalists have a “beat,” or area of expertise they cover, while others will write about anything newsworthy. Although areas of interest and writing styles may differ, journalists do share a number of unique characteristics.
Journalists are effective communicators. They know how to both talk and listen. When they’re trying to get to the bottom of a story, they ask the right questions and then wait and listen for the answers they seek. Once they get the lowdown from their sources, then they need to craft their stories with words their viewers or readers can understand. They have a responsibility to make the story clear through their words and pictures. Journalists typically love language and use that love of the written word to make their words interesting and significant to their audience.
Like a cat with a loose string, journalists are persistent and determined. They believe it is their duty, their obligation, to keep going until they get the truth in the open. Once they smell a story, they usually don’t stop until they find out everything there is to know about the topic. They don’t like being stonewalled and enjoy the fact that being a journalist gives them the right to poke around people and places that others wouldn’t think of going around. Journalists may get a reputation for being aggressive and pushy, but without this very basic natural characteristic of persistence, they would stop at the first roadblock and rarely dig for the real story.
Journalists are not opinion writers. As a matter of fact, it’s imperative that responsible journalists keep their own opinions out of their stories. They must be able to put aside their feelings and beliefs to record the actual events as they occur and to give each issue fair treatment. Journalists are not public relations pawns and do not provide news coverage just because an important advertiser requests it, for example. According to the Pew Research Center, journalists’ first and foremost priority is always to tell the truth.
At the same time, journalists typically are alert and organized in their way of thinking. Even before they start pulling that string to find out what’s on the other end, they often can see the trail and predict the path it’s going to take. Once they start on a story, journalists must be able to clearly navigate to the next step and get verification of their facts while following the leads as they come to light. They check their facts and don’t trust anyone without verification. This alertness and cognitive organizational ability make journalists ideal watchdogs for the public to stay informed.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."