Q: I’m 42 and for the last five years I’ve been working full time at three smaller daily newspapers, the most recent as a government reporter for two years. Prior to that I spent 10 years away from journalism in several jobs after stringing for a daily and working for a computer magazine for a couple years. I also interned twice in DC during college.
My goal from day two or three upon returning to journalism was to write editorials. I want to end up at a major metro, but am willing to start small. My question is how do reporters make the leap from full-time reporting to full-time opinion writing?
A: While there are a lot fewer editorial writers than reporters at any newspaper, the leap is not a difficult one. Most editorial writers seem to come from the reporting ranks.
In most cases, they make the transition while staying at the same paper. It is not impossible, but unusual, for a reporter to switch to editorial writing and to change newspapers in one move. Generally, an editorial page will hire someone elseâ€™s editorial writer or turn one of its own reporters into an editorial writer. Occasionally, an editorial writer can come from another desk, such as the features department or the copy desk.
So, your first step should be to get to a newspaper that has an editorial page you aspire to work for. You might use your reporting experience to first move to the right newspaper. Then, use good writing to get to the Ivory Tower.
Most editorial page editors are looking to hire people who can be productive and who can consistently write clear and compelling pieces on a wide variety of subjects. Demonstrating those skills as a reporter is a prerequisite for an editorial writerâ€™s job. Look for a newspaper that is familiar with cross-training. That is, a paper that will let you pinch hit for vacationing editorial writers, so that you can get a feel for the job or a chance to show your stuff. If your current paper offers that kind of opportunity, that would be a good way to start.