Political reporters gather and analyze information about current events in government and politics and broadcast their reports on radio and television stations. Newspapers and magazines also employ political reporters. For more information on careers in print journalism, see Political Columnists and Writers. Radio and television reporters, news analysts, and correspondents hold approximately 16,350 jobs in the United States.
Political Reporter Career History
Instantaneous worldwide communication first become a reality in 1895 when an Italian engineer named Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated how to send communication signals without the use of wires. In the early 1900s, transmitting and receiving devices were relatively simple, and hundreds of amateurs constructed transmitters and receivers on their own and experimented with radio. In 1906, Reginald A. Fessenden achieved two-way human voice transmission via radio between Massachusetts and Scotland. Small radio shows started in 1910; in 1920, two commercial radio stations went on the air; and by 1921, a dozen local stations were broadcasting. By 1926, stations across the country were linked together to form the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). Four years later, the first radio broadcast was made around the world. Radio, along with newspapers and magazines, served as the primary source of news for Americans in the pre-television era.
Modern television developed from experiments with electricity and vacuum tubes in the mid-1800s, but it was not until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt used television to open the New York World’s Fair, that the public realized the power of television as a means of communication. Several stations went on the air shortly after this demonstration and successfully televised sporting events and the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1940. The onset of World War II limited the further development of television until after the war was over.
Since television’s strength is the immediacy with which it can present information, news programs became the foundation of regular programming. Meet the Press premiered in 1947, followed by nightly newscasts in 1948. In the 1950s, the Federal Communications Commission lifted a freeze on the processing of station applications, and the number of commercial stations grew steadily, from 120 in 1953 to more than 1,500 broadcasting television stations in the early 2000s.
It was in the 1960s that television’s power became most apparent: together the country mourned the death of President Kennedy; witnessed the murder of his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, by Jack Ruby, and formed opinions on the Vietnam War based on live TV news footage and commentary from political reporters.
In the following decades, political reporters continued to play a pivotal role in educating the public about important news events, including Watergate, the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, the Persian Gulf War, the impeachment hearings of President Clinton, the contested presidential election of 2000, the government’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and countless other political issues of local, regional, national, or international importance.
Political Reporter Job Description
Political reporters collect information on newsworthy events of a political nature and prepare stories for radio or television broadcast. Typical stories that a political reporter might cover include an election campaign (e.g., candidate debates, rallies, conventions, and speeches); a debate between Democratic and Republican state legislators over a controversial gun control bill; a ghost payroll scandal at top levels of government; the controversial closing of state-run hospitals by elected officials; an antiwar demonstration on the steps of Capitol Hill; and a president’s speech to the United Nations urging sanctions against a country that is purported to be developing weapons of mass destruction.
Political reporters may present stories that simply provide information about local, state, national, or international events, or they may present opposing points of view on issues of current political interest. In this latter capacity, the press plays an important role in monitoring the actions of public officials and others in positions of power.
Political reporters may receive story assignments from an editor, producer, or news director or as the result of a lead, or news tip. Good political reporters are always on the lookout for story ideas.
To cover a story, political reporters gather and verify facts by interviewing people involved in or related to the event, examining documents and public records, observing events as they happen, and researching relevant background information. Political reporters generally take notes, use a tape recorder, or shoot footage using a video camera as they collect information. TV reporters may shoot the footage themselves or bring a camera operator to the scene. Radio reporters typically work alone on the news scene, though they may be assisted by engineers. It is important for radio and TV reporters to understand the latest video and audio equipment.
After taping an interview, the political reporter will then review the material and determine which information is most significant to the story, as well as edit the material and incorporate any other information he or she has obtained, according to the time allotted for the report. The TV political reporter looks for the most interesting quotes from the interview subject, and the most relevant visuals and sounds. Often, political reporters go live to the scene; the reporter will then introduce the news segment during the newscast and answer questions from the anchor about the story. Political reporters who work for radio stations do not have video to help them tell the story. They must rely on audio and their ability to paint a vivid picture of the newsworthy events.
Political reporters may have specific areas, or “beats,” to cover, such as a presidential campaign, city hall, or the state legislature. Most reporters only report on that day’s news, but, in some cases, a reporter may spend several days with a particular news story, such as on a news magazine program. An investigative report might also be broadcast as a series within a daily newscast.
Political reporters in small radio or television markets may be required to cover other aspects of the news in their communities. They may also take photographs and help with general office work. Television political reporters may have to be photogenic as well as talented and resourceful: they may at times present live reports, filmed by a mobile camera unit at the scene where the news originates, or they may tape interviews and narration for later broadcast.
Many broadcast companies, large newspapers, and magazines have one correspondent who is responsible for covering all the news for the foreign city or country where they are based. These reporters are known as foreign correspondents. They report the news by satellite, pre-recorded videotape, telephone, fax, or computer.
Political Reporter Career Requirements
High school courses that will provide you with a firm foundation for a political reporting career include English, journalism, political science, government, history, social studies, communications, typing, and computer science. Speech courses will help you hone your interviewing skills, which are necessary for success as a reporter. In addition, it will be helpful to take college prep courses, such as foreign language, math, and science. Working for your high school newspaper or radio station will provide you with valuable experience interviewing, editing, and writing. Also, become familiar with video and recording equipment by working for your high school’s media department.
You will need at least a bachelor’s degree to become a political reporter, and a graduate degree will give you a great advantage over those entering the field with lesser degrees. Most editors prefer applicants with degrees in broadcast journalism because their studies include liberal arts courses as well as professional training in journalism. Some editors consider it sufficient for a reporter to have a good general education from a liberal arts college. Others prefer applicants with an undergraduate degree in liberal arts and a master’s degree in journalism.
More than 400 colleges offer programs in journalism leading to a bachelor’s degree. Of these 104 are accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. In these schools, around three-fourths of a student’s time is devoted to a liberal arts education and one-fourth to the professional study of journalism, with required courses such as introductory mass media, basic reporting and copy editing, history of journalism, and press law and ethics. Students are encouraged to select other journalism courses according to their specific interests.
Journalism courses and programs are also offered by many community and junior colleges. Graduates of these programs are prepared to go to work directly as general assignment reporters, but they may encounter difficulty when competing with graduates of four-year programs. Credit earned in community and junior colleges may be transferable to four-year programs in journalism at other colleges and universities. Journalism training may also be obtained in the armed forces. Names and addresses of newspapers and a list of journalism schools and departments are published in the annual Editor & Publisher International Year Book: The Encyclopedia of the Newspaper Industry (New York: Editor & Publisher) which is available for reference in most public libraries and newspaper offices.
A master’s degree in journalism may be earned at approximately 120 schools, and a doctorate at about 35 schools. Graduate degrees may prepare students specifically for careers in news or as journalism teachers, researchers, and theorists, or for jobs in advertising or public relations.
A reporter’s liberal arts training should include courses in English (with an emphasis on writing), political science, sociology, economics, history, psychology, business, speech, and computer science. Knowledge of foreign languages is also useful.
In order to succeed as a political reporter, you must be inquisitive, aggressive, persistent, and detail-oriented. You should enjoy interaction with people of various races, cultures, religions, economic levels, and social statuses. You should have a strong interest in the political process and the complexities of government.
Exploring Political Reporter Career
You can explore a career as a political reporter in a number of ways. Working on school radio or television stations and newspapers will provide you with experience as a reporter. You can also try to find part-time work or internships with smaller radio and TV stations or newspapers, which will allow you to observe political reporters and other journalism professionals at work. Finally, contact a local political reporter and ask to spend a few days shadowing him or her to get a sense of the work involved.
Approximately 16,350 radio and television reporters, news analysts, and correspondents are employed in the United States. Newspapers, magazines, book publishers, and wire services also employ political reporters.
Four major television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) offer daily news coverage of events of national interest; there are also cable channels (such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News) that provide around-the-clock news information. With bureaus in Washington, D.C., New York, London, and other cities, the networks and cable channels provide job opportunities for many political reporters. These positions are highly competitive, however; most broadcast reporters work in cities all across the country for network affiliates, local cable news channels, or radio news stations.
Experienced political reporters are in demand throughout the country, although large markets employ the highest number of political reporters. Positions are usually advertised in the local newspapers, or on the job lines of broadcast stations. You may have to submit tapes of your work along with a resume; you should also be persistent in getting your work reviewed for consideration. By doing an online search of broadcasting job listings, you’re likely to locate a number of Web sites with descriptions of available positions. You can also find positions in this field through your college’s career services office.
Political reporters may advance by moving to larger radio or television markets, but competition for such positions is unusually keen. Many highly qualified political reporters apply for these jobs every year.
Within a local TV or radio station, a reporter may eventually move on to another area of broadcasting, such as directing or producing a newscast. Reporters also become anchors, who are better paid and more prominent in the newscast. Many more people are employed in sales, promotion, and planning than are employed in reporting and anchoring.
A select number of political reporters eventually become columnists, correspondents, editorial writers, authors, editors, or top executives. These important and influential positions represent the top of the field, and competition for them is strong.
There are great variations in the earnings of reporters. Salaries are related to experience, the type of employer for which the reporter works, and geographic location. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median salary for news analysts, reporters, and correspondents was $42,810 in 2005. The lowest paid 10 percent of these workers earned $20,610 or less per year, while the highest paid 10 percent made $145,600 or more annually. Reporters and correspondents who worked in radio and television broadcasting had mean annual earnings of $67,210 in 2005.
Political reporters work under a great deal of pressure in settings that differ from the typical business office. Their jobs generally require a five-day, 35- to 40-hour week, but overtime and irregular schedules are very common. Political reporters, especially those who are employed by 24-hour news networks, may work early in the morning or late in the evening to report breaking news stories.
Political reporters work amid the clatter of computer keyboards and other machines, loud voices engaged in telephone conversations, and the bustle created by people hurrying about. An atmosphere of excitement prevails, especially as broadcast deadlines approach.
Travel is often required in this occupation, and some assignments may be dangerous, such as covering wars, political uprisings, demonstrations, and other events of a volatile nature. Other assignments, such as covering a state legislature while it is in session, may require the political reporter to reside in the state’s capital for several months at a time.
Political Reporter Career Outlook
Employment for all types of reporters and correspondents is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Applicants will face strong competition for reporting positions in major broadcast markets. For beginning reporters, stations in smaller markets will provide the best opportunities. Occasionally, a beginner can use contacts and experience gained through internship programs and summer jobs to obtain a reporting job immediately after graduation.
Poor economic conditions do not drastically affect the employment of reporters. Their numbers are not severely cut back even during a downturn; instead, employers forced to reduce expenditures will suspend new hiring.
Technology has a big impact on the way news is reported. The development of satellite technology and portable video cameras have revolutionized broadcast journalism over the last 25 years, and new developments over the next 25 years will likely have the same powerful effects. As the Internet competes for TV’s viewers and radio’s listeners, look for newsrooms to make better use of the technology. Already, many radio stations are broadcasting over the Web, and many TV stations have Web pages that feature up-to-the-minute local news coverage.