3 minute read

Columnist Job Description, Career as a Columnist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, or mass communications

Salary Median: $34,000 per year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Columnists write or edit copy for a regular column in a newspaper. They share information of public interest and offer opinions to their readers. Usually each column has a specialized area of interest, like politics, sports, religion, fashion, or personal advice. Columnists are distinguishable by writing style, which allows them to grow a dedicated readership. A columnist must always deliver a unique and interesting column in order to keep readers hooked.

Even though columnists do not abide by the rules of unbiased reporting, their job is not far removed from that of a reporter’s. Prior to communicating news through their columns, columnists have to research and investigate local, national, and international events; interview people; and fact-check news and interpret it in a way that makes the news both an informative as well as an enjoyable read. It is extremely important for columnists to be aware of journalism laws and ethics and to possess the cultural sensitivity to deal with a diverse group of people.

Education and Training Requirements

There is no specific academic qualification necessary for this profession. Becoming a successful columnist usually takes a lot of hard work and experience. It is beneficial to have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, or mass communications. A lot of employers also recruit candidates with a liberal arts education or those with specialized knowledge in a particular field.

Formal hands-on training or a background in reporting is important for those who wish to become columnists. It is a good idea to start out by working for high school or college publications. A lot of newspapers, universities, and professional organizations offer assistantships and scholarships to students of journalism. These programs offer the opportunity for writing students to work with and learn from experienced professionals.

Getting the Job

Entry into this profession can be a little difficult since the majority of newspapers and other large periodicals prefer working with experienced columnists. Most columnists begin their careers as copy editors in small publications or local newspapers. They are given general assignments and have to work their way to getting published as a columnist. Job opportunities for entry-level positions in local organizations are often advertised in newspaper classifieds and career sites on the Internet. A lot of sites publish the work of recent graduates, and this freelancing experience can prove useful in obtaining future full-time employment. In addition, colleges and universities have placement services through which candidates can find suitable employment, or those interested in becoming a columnist for a particular publication may approach that periodical directly.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

In order to excel as a columnist, it is necessary to constantly read and write, developing column-writing skills over the many years it takes to build a reader base. With suitable expertise a columnist can move into publishing, editorial, and production positions. Since they work in an extremely competitive field, columnists may consider taking lateral careers in advertising copywriting, technical writing, media consulting, or public relations. Some columnists shift to fiction writing, screenwriting, or educational writing.

The job market for columnists is predicted to grow by two percent in the next 10 years. Since the industry is dependent on advertising revenues, the general economic condition is likely to influence job prospects. Employment opportunities for beginners are expected to be better in smaller or online publications.

Working Conditions

Columnists work in a variety of settings. Their job profile involves both indoor and outdoor work and a significant amount of traveling, even to foreign nations. The newspaper offices are generally comfortable, well-lit, and spacious. On the other hand, outdoor work can be stressful, particularly if it needs to happen at the scene of a crime, natural calamity, or political uprising. Meeting new people is a definite part of being a columnist. Working hours are likely to be irregular, and columnists need to meet strict deadlines.

Where to Go for More Information

National Society of Newspaper Columnists
P.O. Box 411532
San Francisco, CA 94141

Newspaper Guild
Research and Information Department
501 Third St. NW., Sixth Floor
Washington, DC 20001-2797

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208

Salary, Earnings and Benefits

The median salary of columnists in the United States is around $34,000 per year. Entry-level salaries are in the range of $17,000 to $19,000, while those with a fair amount of experience can expect to earn around $69,450 per year. However, since the salaries depend greatly on one’s experience and place of employment, it is not unlikely for columnists with large publications to earn upwards of $76,000 annually.

Columnists enjoy regular benefits like paid leaves, vacations, and health insurance. Those in government agencies are also entitled to pension plans. Additionally, employers pay for columnists’ travel, and these writers also have some flexibility in adapting their work hours to their personal schedules.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts