To explore the journalism aspect of this career while you are still in high school, join your school's newspaper staff. As a reporter, you will have the experience of researching, interviewing people, and writing articles on deadline. If you do layout work with the computer, you will gain experience using publishing software such as Adobe InDesign. Another way to explore your interest in writing is to join a local writing group. Your high school, local library, or community center may sponsor writing groups; in addition, these groups may be advertised in the local newspaper. Contact your local newspaper to arrange for an information interview with a journalist there. If the newspaper has an online version, ask to speak with someone who works on the online publication. During the interview you will have the opportunity to ask a professional what the best parts of their job are, what type of education and experience he or she has, and other questions that interest you.
To explore the computer and Internet aspects of this career, surf the Web on a regular basis to check out sites and read their content. Join a computer users group at your school or in the area. If your high school has a Web site, volunteer to update the site periodically with reports on school news and events. You could also work on updating the information posted on the Web sites of other organizations you are involved with, such as your church, temple, or mosque.
If you have a particular interest in a subject or hobby, write some articles and submit them to an appropriate Web site for publication. Many Web sites do not pay for unsolicited material; however, getting an article published is an excellent way to break into the field and also to determine if an online journalism career is something you wish to pursue.
The work of online journalists is published on Web sites in online publications. They may write articles for e-zines (online magazines), press releases that are posted on company or association Web sites, or stories for online newspapers. The online journalist must pay special attention to the tone and length of an article. Few readers will scroll through screen after screen of text. The online journalist must be able to write in a style that provides news while engaging the reader's interest.
While online journalists do not need to be computer geniuses, they do need to know which computer and Internet tools can make their articles more interesting. Frequently, online journalists incorporate highlighted keywords, lists, pop-up boxes or windows, and hypertext links in their articles. These items make the articles visually appealing and easy to read. In addition, such things as hypertext links and pop-up windows allow the journalist to include a depth of information in articles that might otherwise be short and superficial.
Online journalists work for publishing companies of various sizes. These companies may be businesses that have been built solely around Web journalism, such as the e-zine Salon, or they may be traditional publishing companies that have also developed a Web presence, such as the New York Times or Entertainment Weekly. Online journalists may also work for news organizations, research firms, and other businesses that have Web sites where articles are published. Some online journalists are full-time salaried employees of companies, while others may work on a freelance basis. As a freelancer, the online journalist runs his or her own business. The freelancer may get an assignment from a company to write a particular article, or the freelancer may write an article and then attempt to sell it to a company for publication. To write an article to sell to a company for publication, online journalists must research the topic, find out what other articles on the subject have already been published, decide on the marketability of the article idea, and write about the topic in a new and interesting way that will make the article stand out from others. Freelancers also need business skills to keep track of their finances and market their work.
Both freelance and salaried online journalists must be organized and able to work under time pressures. The deadlines for online journalists can be similar to those for print journalists. Some articles are time sensitive; this is especially true for those working for news organizations. Deadlines will be tight, particularly since readers turn to Web sites expecting to find the most up-to-date information possible. Many people working in online writing view the speed at which an article can go from the concept stage to the published stage as an asset.
One drawback to the online journalist's career is that many Internet companies are not well established, and thus job security is minimal. However, for those writers interested in being on the cutting edge of technology and having their writing available to millions, the online journalism field is the right place to be.