Why you should add journalists to your content team

A look at why your corporate communications department should add traditional-media reporters to its content team, and why journalist old-timers no longer turn up their noses at brand journalism.

Journalism and other writing careers have been institutions for centuries, but massive changes have made staying in journalism as shaky as leaving. For years, its structure was consistent: You came into a newsroom, did your time writing less interesting stories, found your niche, and then settled into a career. However, with so many newsroom layoffs and the very face of journalism rapidly changing, many of these conventional careers have ceased to exist.

Brand journalism and content marketing have grown in popularity, causing more journalists to consider a career change. However, many don’t understand what content marketing is, let alone know how to flourish in it. If you wonder about others who have successfully switched, here’s how a few former journalists pivoted into content marketing careers by using the skills they learned in the newsroom:

Dan Lyons is perhaps one of the best-known journalists who left the rocks of journalism to sail the uncharted seas of content marketing. As the former editor of ReadWrite, technology editor at Newsweek, and technology reporter at Forbes, Lyons made waves when he took a job as a HubSpot fellow.

“My first thought was, ‘So, you’re the bastards who are killing my industry,'” Lyons said at the time. “My second thought was, ‘Hey, are you hiring?'”

It turns out they were, and Lyons states that the more he learned about HubSpot, the more it seemed like a good fit. “In my mind I’m still working as a journalist,” he said. “I’m just not working for a traditional newspaper or magazine.”

Though Lyons is just one of many who have taken the leap, he is unique because he returned to traditional journalism later. He now runs Gawker Media’s tech site, Valleywag, as well as helps write HBO’s hit series “Silicon Valley.”

Similarly, Spencer Ante, a technology journalist, left The Wall Street Journal to become the vice president and deputy editorial director of the Creative Newsroom at Edelman, which makes companies content creators.

“You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see that journalism is going through wrenching change,” he said. “I decided it was time for a change and negotiated a buyout at The Wall Street Journal so I could pursue entrepreneurial ventures.”

The departure of these two from journalism exemplifies a trend: journalists becoming content creators. The lesson is that if you are good at your job and build a reputation in your field, then you’ll have choices when pursue a new writing career.

Following your passion

Many journalists have used brand journalism to tap into other passions and find their new creative niche. Writers benefit most when they find new careers writing about brands that interest them. Having a real interest can open doors for journalists used to covering many topics. Writers known for their subject expertise can work on their personal brand and find opportunities by using their reputations as experts.

For instance, Scott Martin, a former journalist for USA Today, capitalized on his passion for technology when he became the director of content media strategy for the Bateman Group, an integrated public relations and digital communications firm. Having established himself as a go-to source on Silicon Valley, Martin, backed by his editorial reputation, landed the gig and found success.

Of Martin, Bateman Group Vice President Elinor Mills said, “He’s not only a veteran journalist who has covered Silicon Valley during all the tech booms and busts—he’s also a great writer who’s full of enterprising content ideas.”

Whether you specialize in cooking, travel, technology, science, art, music, parenting, education, or fashion, find a brand that matches your interests and gives you a creative outlet.

Best of both worlds

Some people dip their toes into both pools and remain journalists while writing branded content on the side, according to Digiday. Dani Fankhauser, a Northwestern graduate, represents “a new breed of journalist” as the assistant editor for Mashable. Her reporting for Mashable is old-style “objective,” but she earns extra income by writing for brands. A conflict of interest? No. Fankhauser said she avoids ethical dilemmas by simply using common sense.

“I wouldn’t write about the same things,” she told Digiday. “If I get access to something at Mashable, I won’t use it for a freelance client.” She sees freelancing for brands as a benefit for newsrooms, since their employees are learning new things and making professional connections.

The careers both Fankhauser and Lyons chose show that switching to branded content or working for a content marketing company doesn’t always have irreversible career effects. As brand journalism gains steam, cross-industry transitions will increase and become more accepted. Both rely on storytelling, interviewing subjects, researching topics, writing, editing, and sharing content via social media.

“You don’t need to work for a magazine or newspaper to tell captivating stories,” according to Volacci. “At the core, brand journalism and traditional journalism are the same thing—uncovering and telling stories that people want, and should, know about. The only difference (and perhaps a sore spot for purists) is that brand journalists are not obligated to remain impartial.”

There will be sweeping changes in both worlds in the next few years. A peek at the careers of those who came before you can help when you consider your choices.

Brianna Hand is a copy editor for Skyword, where a version of this article first appeared.

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