Tips on careers in journalism from NPR correspondent David Folkenflik

80,000 Hours is a non-profit that gives you the information you need to find a fulfilling, high-impact career. Our advice is all free, tailored for talented graduates, and based on five years of research alongside academics at Oxford. Start with our career guide.

David Folkenflik

David has been NPR’s media correspondent since 2004, and before that spent over a decade at the Baltimore Sun. He has won numerous awards for journalism, and is the author of Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires.

I had the chance to meet him at the 4th annual Nexus Global Youth Summit, where we chatted about careers in journalism for people who want to make a difference. Here’s the notes I made on the key takeaways, which I ran past David before publishing for edits (and are entirely his own views).

  • If you want to get a job in journalism, apply to any news organization that interests you, including all the major media organisations. Set some priorities – pay, location, size of organization, type of work, etc and select among them based on your top several priorities once you’ve got offers. “I applied to over 70 organisations. I got two offers, only one of which paid more than $10,000, so I went with that!”
  • Previously the route into the industry was to get a job at a local news station or paper. But the local news industry has shrunk significantly in recent years, so it’s a lot harder to advance from these positions today.
  • Build a personal library of content on Tumblr or some platform where it’s relatively easy to build a site. “There needs to be something out there you can link to.”
  • If you’re still in college, what should you do next? Start writing and reporting on the side to test yourself out, and to start building your portfolio.
  • How competitive is journalism? “You need to really want it; that’s the major filter.” It’s not a career you should drift into, but if you’re motivated, you’ve got a decent chance.
  • Although the industry is changing rapidly, it’s not high risk if you’re young and don’t have a mortgage or other family obligations. And if you do, it can still be rewarding.
  • Journalism is a good path if you want to effect social change, but that change may be defined quite differently than it would be at a philanthropy or advocacy organization. Providing good information and analysis is a public good in itself. You’ve also got a public platform to promote neglected concerns. And there’s been a renaissance of new news outlets that openly embrace advocacy and point of view journalism.