How to Become a Documentary Journalist

by Joe Kelly; Updated September 26, 2017
Many documentary journalists take photos for magazines.

Documentary journalists often investigate subjects in depth and report the news in a film, long article or series of photos, according to "Documentary Storytelling". Their duties and background are similar to that of other journalists. In order to report accurately on issues, documentary journalists must have dedication and experience.

Step 1

Attend journalism school. Many colleges have a journalism degree for people who want formal training. Journalism programs typically teach students interviewing skills and magazine writing, according to New York University. Programs differ according to each school, but classes help you learn the basics of documentary journalism.

Step 2

Practice writing professionally. Local media like TV stations and newspapers will help you get experience. Add the work from these assignments to your portfolio so you can move on to bigger, more well-known places. Some college newspapers and magazines are produced in classes by journalism students, like Olympic College’s Journalism 101 class.

Step 3

Get a journalism internship. Journalism internships are another way to get experience, and are a solid addition to your resume. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and generally require interns to learn and practice journalism in a non-academic setting on a part-time basis. For example, the Documentary Photojournalism internship at International Bridges to Justice lets interns travel to different countries to photograph local people. Colleges like the University of Texas list internships for students in a career bank and let them take the internship for class credit. Some schools require students to complete at least one internship, have a minimum GPA, or limit the number of internships taken for class credit.

Step 4

Apply for fellowships. These are monetary awards available to documentary journalists with some prior experience. The money is used to support living and working expenses for journalists. Some fellowships require applicants to submit an application that describes what they will document during their fellowship term. Award amounts vary according to the awarding organization, so read the rules carefully.

Step 5

Find jobs through networking. Contacting friends, former coworkers and classmates can lead to new documentary journalism opportunities. Networking is especially useful if you want to get ideas from other journalists, according to the Society of Professional Journalists. You can learn about new jobs and the industry by joining a professional journalism group. Some groups assign less experienced members to mentors who provide career advice.

Tips

  • Stay in touch with old sources since you may be able to use the same people for multiple stories.

About the Author

Joe Kelly has been writing since 2003, specializing in media, education, design and business issues. She has worked for magazines and other media. Kelly received a Master of Business Administration from St. Edward's University.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images