5 Characteristics of a Successful Journalist

  • High Ethical Standards
  • Curiosity
  • Masterful Interpersonal Skills
  • Detail Oriented
  • Persistent

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in journalism, perhaps you’re wondering if you have the characteristics of a successful journalist. Are you cut out for this job? Is this a job that would come naturally to you? Read on to discover five of the most essential character traits common to prominent journalists in the field.

High Ethical Standards

Every journalist brings preconceived notions and biases to the stories they report. This tendency towards bias affects even the best journalists. The most successful journalists are able to look beyond their own biases to get to the essential truths that are central to the stories they report on. According to the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists, their members are compelled to facilitate an open and civil exchange of viewpoints, even at times a journalist finds a particular viewpoint repulsive.

According to The Conversation, successful journalists are also proactive about disclosing conflicts of interest that can influence their reporting. This is important, because conflicts of interest can distort their own perceptions of the truth. A conflict of interest is likely to introduce bias into any stories a journalist reports on. Disclosure is essential because it makes readers aware if a personal, professional or commercial relationship might have influenced the nuances of the story they’re reading.


Outstanding news stories start with compelling questions. A successful journalist is constantly questioning the goings-on in the world around himself or herself. Why did this or that happen? What were the motivations of the key stakeholders in any newsworthy situation? A journalist must keep asking “why” until s/he arrives at the heart of the story.

This curiosity is also an essential facet of a journalist’s capacity to sense whether a news story is finished, or whether it is necessary to keep digging deeper. A less successful journalist might report a story with shallow or unsatisfactory answers to the core questions that drive the story. In contrast, a successful journalist won’t release a story without having uncovered satisfactory, fully developed answers to all the compelling questions that are central to the story.

Masterful Interpersonal Skills

To write a news story, a journalist must typically interview as many of the key stakeholders in that story as possible. The interviewees might be criminals, crime witnesses, accident victims, public officials, police officers or any member of the public.

Successful interviewing of story subjects requires a remarkable level of sensitivity, empathy and compassion. It also requires persuasive abilities. Without the ability to persuade a source to speak with him or her, a journalist is hindered from getting the information s/he needs to report each story.

Detail Oriented

A journalist must be detail oriented when reporting the facts of a story. The accurate reporting of some news stories requires tedious amounts of research. A journalist who does not pay careful attention to details can easily get overwhelmed with all the statistics and analysis the job requires. It is also important for the journalist to be just as meticulous when s/he’s fact checking the stories s/he reports.


Persistence is one of the most essential characteristics of a successful journalist. Journalists consistently have to overcome frustrating obstacles such as story sources who disappear, are unavailable or don’t want to talk to them. Sometimes unexpected discoveries arise as the journalist is researching a story, and it takes much longer than expected to uncover all the facts. It can be tempting for a journalist to give up after having fruitlessly pursued the facts of a story for days or weeks.

Related Resource: Top 27 Master’s in Journalism

These are five of the most essential traits that can contribute to a journalist’s success. If you’re interested in becoming a journalist, these are attributes you should work at improving as you acquire your journalism credentials. While some of these traits do come more naturally to some people than others, it is possible to cultivate all of these characteristics of successful journalists.

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