5 content creation lessons from journalists

The two disciplines share more elements than one might think. See what you might learn from the Fourth Estate.

Although there are major differences between content marketers and journalists, the two groups do have one important thing in common: They want to make their writing the best it can be.

This requires a whole lot more than just writing nice turns of phrase. It requires doing research, reading widely, and interacting with others. With that in mind, we’ve outlined five things that content marketers can learn from journalists:

1. Engage the reader from the start

In journalism, the first sentence of a story is called the “lede.” Journalists are taught to work on their ledes, then go back and work on them some more. This is because they need their stories to hook the reader right away, instead of trying to engage them once they’re halfway through the story (assuming they made it that far).

In content creation, the same principle applies, but instead of the first sentence, the thing you need to focus on is the title/headline. In a sense, this makes writing a blog article much more challenging. You have to constantly ask yourself, “How do I make an article seem engaging and useful within the span of 70 characters? If I saw this on Facebook or Twitter, would I click on the link?” Just as journalists tweak and fine-tune their ledes, you should do so with your titles.

2. Do your research

Research is the heart of any good news story. This holds true, no matter whether the story is about a political scandal or a feature on the lady whose coin collection dates to the 1850s. Unless you’re writing an op-ed, you really have no story without any data or quotes to give it substance.

In the same vein, content creators must back up their writing with solid research. No matter what field you write for or about, it’s crucial to keep up with the latest developments so you retain your place as an industry expert. It’s fine to add your own speculation in some content, but you can’t pass off all your musings as fact without credible information to back them up.

3. Talk to people

Like researching, talking to people is also a key part of journalism. Interviewing is beneficial for two reasons. First and foremost, the insights from other people make reporters’ stories come alive. Second, talking to people can help journalists expand their network and find sources for future stories, since their interview subjects know people who know people.

For content marketing, these same benefits apply when you connect with other companies and other bloggers. As in journalism, where talking to people makes your story richer and more varied, the same holds true for your blog. Recruiting new blogging voices can put a new spin on the same old topics. Of course, guest-posting on others’ blogs can also spread the word about your company, which in turn expands your own network.

4. Always be on the lookout for a good story

The best journalists never stop looking for a story. They take notice of flyers, billboards, and, of course, breaking and developing events. They’ll identify an angle that a reporter didn’t cover or think of a question that goes unanswered. Then they’ll investigate. They’re also always prepared to write down story ideas-whether on their smartphones or with good ol’ pen and paper.

This never-ending search is also a good practice for content marketers. Staying on the lookout for unique story angles will put a fresh spin on your content and make it more shareable. Having some way to record those ideas will make sure no brilliant thought ever gets lost.

5. Read extensively

Part of finding good stories, of course, is reading as much as possible. Journalists don’t just read about the beat they cover. They’ll read anything and everything they can get their hands on. This makes them more knowledgeable, which helps them write better stories. Reading widely also helps them find ideas in unusual places, so they’re not covering a topic in a way that’s been done a hundred times before.

Content marketers will gain the same benefits from reading widely. When you have a wide range of knowledge, literary or otherwise, to draw from, you can produce content with creative premises, such as articles discussing content creation lessons from The Count of Monte Cristo.

Because content creation and journalism overlap, there are a few lessons marketing writers can teach journalists, too. Journalists can look to their content-writing cohorts and learn a thing or two about handling social media to widen their readership. They can also copy our writing style, which often caters to the shorter attention span of an Internet user. Regardless of whether you’re writing for a website or a newspaper, learning from other writers is a good idea.

A version of this article first appeared on Inbound Marketing Agents.

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