Skills Journalist in Canada

Find out what skills you typically need to work as a journalist in Canada. These skills are applicable to all Journalists (NOC 5123).

Skills and knowledge

The following skills and knowledge are usually required in this occupation.

Essential skills

See how the 9 essential skills apply to this occupation. This section will be updated soon.

  • Review notes they have taken at meetings, presentations and interviews for information such as factual details, their own and others' impressions, quotes and sequences of events. They rely on these notes to create accurate and interesting news stories, magazine articles and editorials. (2)
  • Read short text passages in forms. For example, they read descriptions and instructions in program content forms and government request for information forms. (2)
  • Read letters and e-mail from members of the public to gather ideas and background information for news stories and magazine articles. For example, they may read letters and e-mail in which people recount personal experiences that may be of interest to the general public. (2)
  • Read press releases announcing upcoming events from a wide range of organizations. (2)
  • Read news stories, features and articles in their organizations' archives and in other publications to develop story ideas and to research specific topics. They may read archived stories for information related to current events they are researching. For example, a journalist may read archived news articles about provincial funding of health care to place an announcement of new spending in context. (3)
  • May read articles in trade publications for journalists such as Editor and Publisher and the Columbia Journalism Review. For example, they may read articles which profile leading personalities, present new methodologies and discuss current issues in journalism. (3)
  • May read users' manuals for instructions on how to operate equipment such as digital cameras, tape recorders and computer software. (3)
  • Read a wide range of reports when conducting research for news stories, magazine articles and features. For example, they may read scientific reports which compare carbon emissions from different sources, coroners' reports on the causes of abnormal deaths, research papers on immigration and employment levels and reports on a variety of topics issued by the United Nations and various non-governmental organizations. They read these reports to locate facts, identify themes, analyze for biases and contradictions and judge the validity of conclusions for the purpose of developing credible news stories, articles and editorials. (4)
  • Read legislation, court judgements, requests for proposals and contracts. For example, a reporter reads legislation on environmental standards and legal briefs on pollution cases when researching a series of news stories on pollution charges against particular industries. A political columnist may read a provincial government's Speech from the Throne to prepare commentary about potential effects for various interest groups. A court reporter may read a lengthy Supreme Court decision to write a commentary on the constitutionality of a drunk driving charge. An investigative reporter reads requests for proposals and contracts for large public works projects when developing a story on government accountability. (4)
  • May read literature such as books, plays and poems to review them for audiences and to prepare for interviewing the authors. They may study the content and structure of literary works to comment on their intellectual and aesthetic merits. (5)
Document use
  • Observe directional and hazard signs at their own work places and in the course of travelling to and from reporting locations. For example, they may look at identification signs in production rooms, read road signs to locate events they are covering and observe warning signs at crime and accident scenes. (1)
  • Locate data such as names, dates, times, locations and descriptions in lists and entry forms. For example, they may scan lists of compact discs to be reviewed and lists of officials attending events. They may scan court dockets for the times, locations and descriptions of cases to be tried. They may review disclosure forms to ensure all required information is included. (2)
  • Locate data in tables. For example, political and business reporters may examine the budgets of governments and corporations for data such as line item expenditures, revenue sources and variances between budgeted amounts and periodic year-end projections. Movie reviewers may study film festival schedules for titles, descriptions, screening times and venue locations to plan which films to see. Broadcast journalists may scan production schedules for data such as program items and the sources, durations, start and end times and the names of personnel responsible for news items. (2)
  • Enter names, dates, titles, descriptions and other data in entry forms. For example, they may complete request for information forms, media registration forms and expense claims. Self-employed and free-lance journalists may complete invoices for work performed. (2)
  • Locate data in graphs. For example, science journalists may study graphs of contaminant levels in water bodies and disease rates in different populations. Broadcast journalists may interpret sound wave graphs to identify audio edit points. (3)
  • May interpret documents associated with specialized subjects which they cover. For example, journalists who write about architecture and real estate may look at architectural drawings of public buildings such as art galleries and municipal halls. Reporters for home and leisure magazines may look at floor plans for homes and condominiums. Journalist covering sports may review engineered drawings for bobsled, luge and speed skating arenas in order to describe their features and critique their construction. (3)
  • Write reminders for events to cover and contacts to call. (1)
  • Write notes during events such as meetings, press conferences, interviews, debates in the legislature, court cases and arts performances. They record factual details, impressions, quotes and sequences of events. They write notes that can be used for creating news stories. (2)
  • Write letters and e-mails to co-workers, colleagues and members of the public. For example, they write letters to request interviews with politicians, artists and experts in various fields. They write e-mail messages to their superiors to report on the progress of ongoing work and to confirm deadlines. They write letters in response to comments and criticism from their audiences. Print journalists may write e-mails to co-workers and colleagues to request and provide criticism of the content and style of news stories, columns, editorials and features. (3)
  • Write short news stories. For example, they may write brief stories about breaking news events such as fires and car accidents. They present the facts using a pyramid style in which they place the most salient facts first and follow with details of decreasing importance so that these can be edited out without affecting the meaning of the story. Broadcast journalists may write short news stories that can be read in two to three minutes They may reformat longer stories for broadcast purposes. They may condense complex information into concise points that can be easily understood by listeners and viewers. (3)
  • May write scripts for news presentations. For example, they may write scripts that introduce and knit together the numerous story items which make-up news broadcasts. (3)
  • May write proposals and 'concept pitches' for editors and producers. For example, they describe content and approaches for proposed news stories, feature articles and special interest programming. They outline the appeal of proposed projects to audiences, publishers and broadcasters. They write synopses and describe novel approaches that will enhance audience appeal. They may also present cases for extra funding and staff support. (4)
  • May write columns, reviews and editorials. They present commentary and critiques which present their own opinions and analyses of current events. They write using unique styles and points of view that allow audiences to identify their personalities and backgrounds. For example, columnists who have been influential figures in politics, business and social activism may write pieces characterized by audiences as leaning to the right or left. Arts reviewers may write retrospectives of artists' lives. They may present their own interpretations of artists' achievements and assessments of their influences on other artists. (4)
  • May write longer articles and news stories that explore topics in depth, draw on extensive research and capture the drama of events. They may write human interest stories using a narrative style that portrays emotional nuances and engages the sympathy of audiences. They may write investigative articles about controversial topics such as conflict of interest by politicians, pollution by industries and contravention of civil rights. For example, an investigative reporter writes a series of articles about environmental pollution by various industries. The articles not only recount events but also integrate the complexities of contradictory regulations, disputes over which level of government has jurisdiction, scientific evidence and opinion and the strengths and weaknesses of court judgements. (5)
NumeracyMoney Math
  • Calculate amounts for travel reimbursements. For example, they may calculate costs of transportation, meals and accommodation for covering out of town events. They calculate amounts using per diem rates for meals and incidentals and per kilometre rates for the use of personal vehicles. (2)
  • May calculate amounts for invoices and cost projections. They may calculate billing amounts using per word and per column inch rates. They may calculate applicable taxes. (3)
Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math
  • May schedule program content. For example, television journalists may build news broadcasts by sequencing multiple news stories of varying durations and inserting scripts which tie the stories together. They adjust these schedules as late-breaking news happens and as expected news items fall through. They edit scripts to ensure that programs precisely fill allotted times. (3)
Measurement and Calculation Math
  • May measure lengths of time taken to read news stories, commentaries and other script elements. (1)
  • May calculate numbers of hours they spend on reporting and writing projects. (2)
  • May calculate lengths of news stories and articles in column inches. (2)
Data Analysis Math
  • Verify data reported in news stories, commentaries and magazine articles. For example, a reporter may compare dollar amounts presented by event organizers with those stated in construction contracts. (2)
  • May calculate production statistics. For example, they may calculate the average number of news stories they submit weekly and calculate distributions of news story topics presented by their organizations. (2)
Numerical Estimation
  • Estimate numbers of people at events such as meetings, political demonstrations and arts performances. (1)
  • Estimate times required to complete tasks such as attending events, scheduling and conducting interviews and writing stories. Broadcast journalists also estimate how long it will take to wrap up live interviews. (2)
  • May estimate jail terms, vote counts, building costs and other quantities. For example, a journalist may estimate the probable jail time an offender will serve given the offence and terms usually served for similar offences. (2)
Oral communication
  • Discuss ongoing work with co-workers and suppliers. For example, they confirm deadlines with editors, exchange news updates with newsroom team members, inform technicians of story tags and lengths and listen to instructions from studio directors. They order books and compact discs to review and arrange travel and accommodation for coverage of out of town events. (1)
  • Discuss the technical aspects of writing, editing, publishing and broadcasting with co-workers and colleagues. For example, they may discuss the editing of news stories and magazine articles with editors. They may debate ideas for news stories and television programs with producers. (2)
  • Listen to live and taped presentations such as speeches, debates, panel discussions, interviews, concerts and poetry readings. They listen to gather specific details, identify themes, generate ideas for articles, reviews and commentaries and select effective quotes. They also listen for gaps, ambiguities and contradictions that require further research. (2)
  • Interview politicians, police officers, subject matter experts, public relations professionals, members of the public and other informants. They communicate with these people to gather and confirm information, seek leads and secure interviews. For example, they may speak with officials in police and fire departments, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canadian Secret Intelligence Service and municipal governments about events such as bomb threats and chemical spills in their areas. They ask the 'who, what, where, when, why and how' questions and listen carefully to determine if further probing will produce more details and leads. They may also question eye witnesses, speak with scientists and bomb disposal experts and negotiate with secretaries and communications directors for access to interviewees such as politicians and company presidents. They may communicate with expert informants to stay abreast of current activities in the beats they cover. (3)
  • May present news and feature stories on-air. For example, journalists who work in broadcast media present news and commentaries orally. They communicate in an authoritative and engaging manner in order to command the attention of large viewing and listening audiences. They may improvise dialogue with co-workers to fill in the time before sign-off. They may speak extemporaneously during panel discussions and live coverage of events such as elections. (3)
  • May discuss the risks and consequences of publishing news stories, features and editorials with lawyers and managers. They describe in detail the steps taken to obtain accurate information and representative viewpoints. (3)
  • May give presentations and participate in workshop discussions at professional conferences. For example, a music reviewer may make a presentation on trends in jazz at an International Jazz Association conference. (3)
  • May conduct on-air interviews with people such as leaders in political, social and cultural arenas. They must speak clearly and in an engaging manner and ask questions that elicit informative, revealing and entertaining responses. Journalists may also be the subjects of interviews. They need to think quickly and draw on considerable background knowledge to communicate with poise and credibility. (4)
ThinkingProblem Solving
  • Discover factual errors in stories prior to and after printing and broadcast. They contact editors, printers and technicians to make changes before final production if possible. If it is too late, they follow their organizations' procedures for issuing corrections. (2)
  • Receive complaints from audience members about story content and tone. They acknowledge the audiences' concerns, explain the reasons for their presentations and offer to make adjustments if appropriate. For example, a journalist finds that organizers of a festival are unhappy that the journalists' article critiqued various artists without covering the festival experience as a whole. The journalist suggests options such as writing a small article about the festival for the weekend paper. (2)
  • Experience difficulty completing job tasks planned due to failures in equipment. For example, they may find that tape recorders and digital cameras fail during events. They try solutions such as consulting equipment manuals, taking more detailed notes and arranging for follow-up interview appointments. (2)
  • May face hostile interviewees and crowds when covering volatile situations. For example, a reporter covering a shooting finds that bystanders are angry because they feel the shooting was racially motivated. Eyewitnesses refuse to be interviewed and the reporter receives insults and threats. The reporter tries to calm the crowd by telling them their viewpoint should be voiced, discreetly obtains phone numbers from people who appear ready for interviews later and moves away from the area of danger. (3)
  • May have news stories, commentaries and program concepts rejected by editors and producers. They acknowledge areas of weakness, point out areas of strength and seek suggestions for improvements. In some cases, they may diplomatically suggest that the scope and focus of assignments had not been clearly communicated. (3)
  • May be sued by people mentioned in news stories, commentaries, feature columns and critical reviews. They review meeting logs, notebooks, tapes and other documents to check that their facts and reporting procedures were correct. They also consult with managers and lawyers to identify risks, faults and best solutions. (3)
Decision Making
  • Choose news sources and informants. For example, they may foster relationships with local businesspeople according to their reliability and the range of information they can provide. (2)
  • Decide to start, delay and cease work on news stories, commentaries, reviews and editorials. For example, a reporter may decide to stop pursuing a news story because information is insufficient or unverifiable. The reporter considers whether alternative news items can be developed and asks editors for approval to pursue alternatives. (2)
  • Decide to seek help with subjects on which they lack expertise, such as seeking the help of business writers and accountants in analyzing complex budgets for investigative stories. They risk weakening their professional reputations with colleagues and co-workers by not making the proper decision. (2)
  • Select topics to propose for news stories, features and reviews. They consider the numbers of people who may be interested in the topics and their access to relevant information and interviewees. For example, after doing a news story on the discovery of mould in local schools, a journalist proposes a series of articles on the environmental health of schools. The reporter supports the idea because public reaction to the event is intense, there are a variety of reports and studies available and the reporter has a network of contacts within school boards and health ministries. (3)
  • Select questions to ask during interviews. They select questions that will elicit relevant facts, clear explanations, genuine emotions, stimulating insights and concise yet revealing quotes. They consider the roles of interviewees in events, their qualifications and their varying communication abilities. They adjust their choices according to the focus of the stories and interviewees' responses. (3)
Critical Thinking
  • Assess the credibility and accuracy of information they receive. They examine the qualifications of information sources and the reliability of the information they provided in the past. They analyze the relationships that sources have with various organizations and interest groups to detect possible biases. They also verify the information with alternate sources. (2)
  • Judge the mood of interviewees. For example, they listen to interviewees' responses, observe their body language and draw on their own experience and intuition to determine if more pressure can be applied to interviewees in order to obtain further information without losing the cooperation of the interviewees. (2)
  • Assess the clarity, accuracy and balance of news stories and feature articles before submitting them. They check that all relevant information has been presented coherently and that the language used is appropriate for the subject matter and audience. They may ask assistants to verify facts using reliable sources. They confirm that varying points of view have been included and that personal biases have not unduly affected the emphases of news stories. (3)
  • May evaluate the quality of things such as books, plays, musical performances, restaurants and wines when writing reviews. They apply their own preferences and the aesthetic, intellectual and professional criteria established by experts in relevant fields. For example, music reviewers may assess concert performances using criteria such as tempo, dynamics and novelty of interpretation. Food writers may assess the freshness of ingredients, the visual appeal of presentations and the efficiency of service in restaurants. (3)
  • Assess the costs and benefits of publishing and broadcasting controversial and sensitive material. For example, they may assess the costs and benefits of including racist remarks, details about child molestations and the possibility of criminal charges against public officials in news stories. They weigh their mandate to inform the public against the risk of offending and harming individuals and incurring legal liability for damages. They consider the extent the material is needed for the clarity and balance of news presentations and the likelihood that competitors will present the information first. (3)
Job Task Planning and Organizing

Journalists organize their own tasks to meet hourly, daily and longer-term deadlines. They plan job tasks such as attending meetings and events, conducting research and interviews and writing and presenting news stories, commentaries and features. They generally have several projects at various stages of development. Their schedules are frequently interrupted by breaking news. They must remain flexible to respond quickly, capitalize on reporting opportunities and meet deadlines. (3)

Significant Use of Memory
  • Memorize scripts for live presentations.
  • Remember the names and titles of important political, business and community figures in order to address them properly.
  • Remember questions to ask when interviewing subjects.
  • Remember facts, names, terminology and sequences of events.
Finding Information
  • Find leads and tips for news stories and feature articles by interviewing witnesses to crimes, politicians and other informants, by reading press releases, court case transcripts and other documents and by talking to colleagues. (3)
  • Find information about public administration and finance. For example, they may search federal government publications provided by Info Source and speak with officials in government departments. They may submit multiple applications under Access to Information legislation to obtain needed information. (3)
  • Find information about news events, people in the news and other newsworthy topics. They use libraries, Internet search engines and search alert services to locate information. They read newspaper and journal articles, books, reports, websites, press releases, requests for proposals and contracts. They listen to audio recordings and view video selections. They interview key players in events such as eyewitnesses, officials, crime suspects and crime victims, politicians and public relations directors. They may also obtain explanations and commentary about specialized fields from experts such as professors and members of policy institutes. (4)
Digital technology
  • Use word processing. For example, they may use word processing software such as Word, ClarisWorks and TextEdit to write, edit and format news stories, feature columns and other texts. They may also use news industry-specific software such as Adobe IN-Copy, Quark CopyDesk and Electronic News Processing System, to write, edit, track changes and format news copy. (2)
  • Use communications software. For example, they use e-mail programs such as Outlook to exchange e-mail messages and attachments with co-workers, colleagues and informants within their communities. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they access information on their organizations' intranets. They may use browsers such as Internet Explorer to locate information on the Internet. (2)
  • Use databases. For example, they maintain databases of media contacts and access story files in in-house archives. They may use database software such as Access and FoxPro to create databases and for data such as political party members and government job appointees. They may use single purpose database software such as Maximizer to manage databases of contacts, letters and notes. (3)
  • Use graphics software. For example, they may use photo editing software such as Adobe PhotoShop to resize and enhance photos taken by digital cameras. They may also convert digital image formats for publication in different contexts. (3)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they create spreadsheets to record data such as hours worked on various projects and to generate graphs of data. (3)
  • May use other software. For example, broadcast journalists may use a variety of software designed for audio and video news production. Television journalists may use the Electronic News Processing System to enter and locate data in news program scheduling templates. Radio journalists may use Newsboss and Dalet to edit and assemble audio clips. They may use Cool Edit Pro and Adobe Audition to record and edit audio clips and to convert analog audio files into MP3 format. (3)
Additional informationOther Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Journalists spend much of their time working alone on tasks such as conducting research, covering events, interviewing informants and writing news stories, features and editorials. They may coordinate and integrate job tasks with other reporters and editors to develop ideas for news presentations. Broadcast journalists generally work closely as a team with studio staff when recording and broadcasting programs. They may assign tasks to co-workers such as camera operators and sound technicians. (2)

Continuous Learning

Journalists acquire new skills and knowledge by speaking to editors, co-workers, colleagues and the people involved in the events they cover. They also learn through reading widely. To expand their skills, they may take workshops on topics such as investigative journalism and the operation of new digital equipment. For example, they may learn about web publishing technology in order to file audio and video clips on-line. Journalists may participate in learning opportunities provided by professional organizations such as Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists. (3)

Labour Market Information Survey
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