There’s a lot wrong with journalism these days. Objectivity has been replaced with blatant bias. Integrity has been lost to advertising dollars and sponsorships. Fact-checking and research are dead skills. True journalism is a dying art.
If you want to be a journalist — whether for news, sports, food, or whatever other topic — then there are some important things you need to know before diving in. And while you’d benefit greatly by attending journalism school, maybe you can’t afford to right now.
Fortunately, the Internet is chock full of free resources for learning journalism. Here are some of the must-read (or must-watch) materials that you shouldn’t overlook or miss.
Texts and Books
Ethics is arguably the most important aspect of journalism — more so than writing, editing, interviewing, etc. After all, what is journalism? According to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), journalism is:
The free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough.
And that simply isn’t possible unless you, the journalist, approach each piece with an ethical mindset that promotes integrity above all else. That’s why the SPJ has a free Code of Ethics available online that you can reference at any time from anywhere.
According to the SPJ, ethical journalism adheres to four principles:
- Seek truth and report it.
- Minimize harm.
- Act independently.
- Be accountable and transparent.
Check out the full Code of Ethics to learn more. You can even download it as a handy PDF for print-outs.
Here is a free PDF handbook by Deborah Potter, who founded NewsLab (an online resource center for journalists) and taught journalism at The Poynter Institute. She’s even been a correspondent for CBS News and CNN.
In short, she knows her stuff — and as you read this handbook, you’ll realize that she really knows her stuff. This 68-page PDF document covers seven critical aspects of modern journalism:
- What Is News?
- Getting the Story
- Telling the Story
- Editing the Story
- Broadcast and Online
- Specialized Journalism
- Ethics and Law
Overall, it’s easy to read but densely packed with useful tips, concepts, and guidelines for being a great independent journalist in this era of fast information. Download the free PDF while you can!
Writing for Success is a textbook that’s 100% free to download and read. It starts with the basics and takes you through the most important bits of the English language, eventually leading you towards critical thought and careful selection of which words to use when writing.
This book isn’t just about mastery of the language itself, but the ability to use language to convey what you really mean. Words are the only tools available to journalists, so it makes sense to sharpen those skills as much as possible, right?
Writing for Success is available in five formats: PDF, EPUB, MOBI, WXR, or web online.
Communication Theory is one of the featured books on Wikibooks, which is an online repository for open-content textbooks across all kinds of topics. Some wikibooks are incomplete or lacking in good content, but this one is absolutely spectacular.
In short, Communication Theory explores various theories on how humans share, encode, and decode what they know, what they need, and what they expect from each other. It’s not a book specifically about journalism, but the concepts within will prove useful to any good journalist.
However, be warned that this book is dry, dense, and tough to get through. You may want to put it towards the back of your reading list. Communication Theory is also available in a printable version and a PDF version.
The BBC Academy [No Longer Available]
Did you know that the BBC has a free online library of resources for people interested in learning about journalism, broadcast, and production technology? Despite how you might feel about the BBC itself, these resources are incredibly useful for any budding journalist.
The Journalism section is broken into seven main sections:
- Skills (e.g. interviewing, reporting, writing)
- Subject Guides (e.g. religion, military, science, sport)
- Law (e.g. courts, copyright, privacy)
- Values (e.g. impartiality, truth, accuracy)
- Safety (e.g. hostile environments)
- Getting a Job
- BBC’s Style Guide
Every entry is a short and concise article with an accompanying video. Is it a legit replacement for journalism? Not even close, but it will teach you a lot of good things and give you a smart starting place for further research.
News University is a free online resource run by The Poynter Institute, which is a non-profit school specifically geared towards journalism. The Poynter Institute is actually the owner of the Tampa Bay Times, so everything you see here is based on real expertise and experience.
There are two ways to take advantage of News University. First, check out the available Journalism and Training Resources that cover tips and articles related to reporting, writing, editing, etc. Second, enroll in one or more of the University’s free webinar courses.
The webinar schedule is constantly updating with new courses, but some are available year-round. For example, the Cleaning Your Copy course is self-directed and very useful for new journalists.
News College is a simple website with a lot of brief but useful tips ranging across multiple areas, including reporting, writing, editing, story hunting, and more. It isn’t being actively updated at this time, but you can still use it as a kind of archive for journalism tips.
Again, a lot of the tips and articles are short and succinct, so I wouldn’t use this website as my only source of knowledge and training. However, it makes for an awesome long-term reference of tips. Just bookmark it and come back to it from time to time to refresh yourself on the basics.
The Knight Center for Journalism is a special program at the University of Texas at Austin that aims to train and empower journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean. In short, it wants to help raise the ethical and professional standards of journalism.
While the program has offered distance learning opportunities in the past, there hasn’t been one since 2014. Instead, the best way to take advantage of this site is to visit the digital library of free books where you’ll find a handful of books that can be downloaded free of charge.
LEARNO is a new online learning platform that launched in late 2015. It’s still new so don’t expect much from it in terms of selection, but it’s noteworthy because it currently has four courses — all related to journalism — that are all free.
The four courses are:
- Verification: The Basics
- Google Search for Journalists
- Managing Data Journalism Projects
- Doing Journalism with Data
All four courses together run close to 500 minutes in length, which is a hefty amount of content to get for free.
Where Else to Learn Journalism Online?
The Internet is a deep and vast resource and we’re aware that there are probably dozens — maybe even hundreds — of other free resources and courses for learning journalism online. You may even want to check out the courses on Udemy or these other online course sites.
And don’t forget that journalism is more than just CNN and BBC these days. Citizen journalism on social media is becoming more and more prominent, and these skills can help you improve in that way as well.
Did you find these online resources useful? What other sites are good for learning journalism online? Is journalism school necessary? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!