Someone has to write the stories that appear in America's more than 7,000 weekly newspapers. Those people are staff writers, who contribute to a circulation of newspapers that, according to the National Newspaper Association, totals more than 50 million printed copies. Weekly newspapers are read by paid subscribers and those who pick them up free at local restaurants, coffee shops or other businesses. These community newspapers usually feature general local, arts, entertainment and lifestyle news.
The Task at Hand
Providing information, covering current events and highlighting important events for the reading public -- these are the primary responsibilities of staff writers. Also known as reporters, journalists and correspondents, staff writers pen most of the content in weekly newspapers. If you plan to become a staff writer, you'll develop hard news stories, long-form feature articles, investigative reports, news briefs and editorials. Staff writers research topics, conduct interviews with news sources such as community leaders, elected officials and local residents. Your editor will also assign articles and review your work.
Other Roles and Responsibilities
Staff writers also have a strong set of secondary skills. A written article is usually the end result of your efforts, but as a staff writer, you'll draw from many skills to help along the way. Staff writers must be able to find data, research information and understand assorted subjects. These interpretive and analytical abilities help staff writers convey news -- from the simple to the complex -- to readers. You also need to verify information and build relationships with knowledgeable sources, including experts and well-connected contacts who can share news leads. As relationship-builders and fact-finders, staff writers must be comfortable speaking with others and asking questions.
Staff writers must be able to buckle down and focus on the task at hand, especially if they are writing a story on deadline. At the same time, you must be able to balance this inward laser focus with an approachable demeanor. This means being a skilled communicator with solid people skills. Staff writers should also be objective -- willing and able to research and cover all sides of an issue -- without inserting personal beliefs and opinions. Persistence and stamina also help sustain staff writers through long days, overnight hours or exhaustive assignments when a lot of time or discipline is required to cover an issue or news event, from an election to a five-alarm fire.
Reporters usually have a bachelor's degree in communications or journalism, though some enter the field with a background in a related subject like English or political science. Internship or student newspaper experience can help prepare you for a career as a full-time staff writer. Additionally, staff writers may join a number of professional media and journalism organizations for networking, peer support, professional development and job-hunting assistance.
- National Newspaper Association: Community Newspaper Facts & Figures
- Atlernative Weekly Network: Who Is AWN?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: What Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: How to Become a Reporter, Correspondent, or Broadcast News Analyst
- Polka Dot RF/Polka Dot/Getty Images