Transferrable skills: what makes journalism and content marketing compatible?

It’s an old (if not the quite the oldest) profession, and, as such, the role of journalist conjures up many different things for many different people. From the old movie tropes of desk-drawer whisky and intrepid reporters in hard-headed pursuit of a story, to the soothing familiarity of our favourite news anchors, journalists have brought entertainment, information and the good, bad and ugly news of the world to our daily lives for several hundred years.

Times have changed for those in the profession, though – and continue to change. With information readily available online for free and print publications becoming more the cumbersome splurge of a fiver than a vital source of news, celebrity gossip or the Saturday crossword, journalists are finding other places to put their skills to good use, more often than not in the world of brand publishing and content marketing – an area in which they can thrive for a number of reasons.

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1. They have quick reactions

Whether you refer to it as newsjacking or reactive content – or any other choice of jargon – jumping on the back of a current affair or trending news story to boost your brand has been a large part of social marketing for some time. And with legendary successes such as Oreo’s ‘Dunk in the Dark’ campaign, it’s no wonder brands are wanting a piece of that sweet, sweet engagement.

If newsjacking involves creating the content that journalists are looking for, who better to oversee that content creation than an experienced journalist?

This may be relatively new in the marketing sphere, but knowing what’s going on and adapting it to fit their publication is old news for journalists. Particularly for the local reporter or the niche magazine, the world’s news is a gold mine for stories if they can find an angle that’s relevant to their audience’s interests. Journalists are trained to develop a sense of what matters and why – and the window of time they have to react before it becomes stale, thus avoiding the scrabbling and shoehorning trap that so many brands fall into.

2. They can hit a deadline at 20 paces

An ability to recognise relevant trending content and put it to good use before it goes out of fashion segues nicely into a mention of the dreaded deadline. Newspapers and magazines have an ever-dwindling number of staff tasked with producing vast amounts of content at a fast pace. To them, sticking to processes and content calendars is the only way to ensure their publication doesn’t go out to the public with blank pages – a very real risk if deadlines are missed, and the reason why this is ingrained into the way journalists work.

For a busy reporter, a deadline is non-negotiable – which means the ability to spin a story as quickly as possible is a survival skill born from necessity and honed to perfection. Not only is this vital for the reactive content that brands seem to crave, but it also means a smoother running operation with day-to-day jobs.

3. They write for people, not at people

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Journalists are paid to tell stories, while marketers make their money through selling their brands’ wares. A truth that gets lost all too often is that sometimes the best way to sell those wares is to talk to your audience, show you understand them and tell them stories that are relevant to their interests.

Storytelling may seem like a rather vague skill, but getting the right angle, capturing a reader’s interest and not getting swallowed up in a brand message are overlooked with surprising regularity. Too sales-focused and you end up with a PR piece – something that readers increasingly mistrust and are probably not going to be interested in (remember: press releases are for journalists to extract a story from, not for readers to trawl through), while jargon-filled copy will just alienate your audience.

This isn’t to say that marketers are wrong or doing a bad job – remembering that you’re there to hit a business goal is a vital part of the content marketing process, and one which may get a bit forgotten by an eager writer keen to tell a story. But putting your audience – rather than the brand – at the heart of your content is important for getting the story right (and getting your story read), and that’s where journalists really show their worth.

4. They have endless questions

Like a small child on a long road trip, journalists aren’t afraid to incessantly question everything, and persist for the answer even in the face of resistance – whether that’s writing the tough interview questions necessary to get the right story, or questioning the worth of an approach or even the story itself. With everyone on the hunt for the next big thing, it’s easy to see a bright and shiny idea and get swept up in it. Journalists have to dig a little deeper than that – it’s up to them to scratch the surface of a story and make sure it fulfils the job it’s supposed to. Is it interesting, is it relevant, will people care?

With everyone on the hunt for the next big thing, it’s easy to see a bright and shiny idea and get swept up in it. Journalists have to dig a little deeper than that

In the ever-expanding internet universe, there’s more and more nonsense masquerading as the truth. Unchecked public reporting and outraged/amused sharing has led to more than one fiction being passed off as fact, and picked up by unsuspecting writers. Part of a journalist’s skill set is providing authoritative sources for their work – something that could help a brand avoid serious embarrassment.

5. They are social butterflies

Journalists have to know how to talk to people. Hell, even the Daily Mail still gets interviews, despite its reputation for word-twisting shenanigans and professional trolling. Often, to get a story you need a well-padded contact book, and you need to know how to use it. It’s part of a journalist’s job to know people – whether that’s key industry players, politicians or the little old lady down the street – and the more people you know, the more quickly and easily you can get a quote or an interview to support your story.

While journalists venturing into the murky waters of content marketing may have a bit of industry catching up to do, there’s no doubt that the skills they bring to the table are worth investing in. After all, if you want to have content people actually want to spend time with in any depth, you won’t go far wrong employing the skills of someone who has dedicated their career to creating exactly that.

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