Whenever I’m on the phone with a potential new client who’s considering hiring me to handle their content marketing, I’m always sure to brief them about my background in journalism. I tell them that I began my career as a newspaper journalist and later went on to work as an editor at US News & World Report. I name drop several of the national publications I’ve written for, including The Atlantic, Scientific American, and New York Magazine.
Why? Well, content writing has a low barrier to entry. There’s no license required and anyone can throw up a Wordpress site, write a few posts, and call themselves a professional writer. Companies that hire writers must be willing to trust their brands in the hands of someone else, and having the imprimatur of a nationally-recognized publication on your resume signals to a potential client that you actually know what you’re doing.
But hiring a journalist doesn’t just serve as a good vetting mechanism; there are actual tangible benefits to doing so:
They have experience writing on deadline
Often when a client brings me on, it’s after they’ve tried to create their own content internally within their organization. But because content creation doesn’t fit within their already-existing workflows, staff would always push it aside the moment more important tasks came along, which was often.
Journalists are trained multi-taskers who can juggle multiple articles at a time. More important, they’ve worked in a deadline-driven industry and know how to adhere to set schedules. They also have a strong understanding of the workflows of article creation; you have to account for the time to brainstorm, pitch, research, write, and edit a piece. It’s not just about sitting down to your computer to compose something; you have to account for all the lead-up preparation that comes before you can write.
They know how to write for a mass audience
At this point in my life, I’ve written hundreds of articles that have been shared tens of thousands of times on social media. Millions of people have consumed content I’ve created. I have a very strong understanding of how to hook a reader and get them to share an article. I know how to craft headlines so they stand out in a sea of Facebook links.
A non-journalist, even if they’re a decent writer, is just not going to have this level of expertise. Given how crowded the content space is and how difficult it is to build a loyal audience, most brands can’t afford to hire someone who needs to learn audience development on the job.
They know how to conduct interviews
Many of my content marketing projects involve interviewing a source on the phone. It might be a CEO for whom I’m ghostwriting a column, or it could be the subject of a customer case study.
Interviews are an art form, one that involves crafting pointed questions and knowing when to ask follow-ups whenever a certain piece of information isn’t clearly stated. I’ve been interviewed by non-journalists before for podcasts and other venues, and it can be a painful experience. It’s not a matter of just writing a few questions in advance and reading them off, one by one. The interviewer must be able to form a real connection with the subject, one that elicits trust and makes them more forthcoming.
What’s wonderful about our current era is that anyone can form a media company. The barriers to entry are non-existent, and that’s why you now see millions of brands that are bypassing the traditional media gatekeepers and generating their own content.
But this low barrier to entry also means that the content space is extremely competitive, and it gets harder and harder to break through the noise each day. This is why it’s important to hire trained journalists to handle your content creation; journalists know how to build an audience.
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