Journalism isn’t confined to the edges of your morning newspaper…
While that may be reporting in its purest form, we’re all free to take qualities of journalism and implement them in our own writing endeavors. When done properly, these techniques can help increase both the quality and the accuracy of our work.
As content marketers, we’re tasked with the same responsibility as journalists: packaging accurate information in a way that appeals to our target audience. Below is a look at some of the things newsroom protocol can teach us…
How to Know What’s Worth the Words
The Internet might provide an unlimited platform for text, but as we all know, attention spans don’t span forever. We can’t post 7,000-word essays on photosynthesis (let alone 70) without people mentally checking out.
Think about your content like it all has to fit in a newspaper. How much room do you want to give each topic? Which should you not even write about?
If an idea wouldn’t make it into your hypothetical newspaper, cut it. It’s probably not worth creating if it’s not intriguing enough to fit. (You can even take it a step further and think about which content would go “above the fold,” have accompanying images in print, etc.)
But what about way before publication? Ideation is just as important, and a bad idea will lead to bad content. What do people want to read? Well, what do papers publish? Let’s think about newsworthiness. The University of Utah picks out the main points nicely, but here are a few:
- Impact: Would this information affect a lot of people? Think about how significant of an effect it would be, and if it’s important, run it.
- Proximity: Stories about areas nearby will be more important for a community. Can you localize a national story? Give it a shot.
- Timeliness: Is something currently trending, or did an event just occur? People are naturally more interested in recent happenings, so if you’re not breaking news, try a new angle of a fresh topic.
There are plenty of other newsworthy qualities, but to me, these are the top three. Try to have one of these qualities in any piece of content; it will only help the writing carry from person to person with its importance and relevance (and that includes entertaining pieces, as well).
How to Craft Your Writing Technique
Reporters don’t simply write the news — they do so accurately, succinctly, and clearly (if they’re doing their jobs right). The ambition to write copy that’s easily understood and informative/entertaining is extremely important for viral marketing. If your audience can’t relate to it, then they won’t share it.
If you’re writing for a large section of the general public — say, dog owners, for example — you’ll need to remember two of George Orwell’s elementary writing rules. Here’s the first:
Never use a long word where a short one will do. (courtesy of The Economist)
This is illustrated in newspapers’ common use of “said” instead of more flowery terms like “groaned,” “squeaked,” or “roared.” If “said” works, and the context conveys the emotion, then simply use “said.” Using longer/more flowery words without having a specific intention will make readers think you’re just trying to sound smart. Trust me, that never goes over well.
If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
The main purpose of using words is to ensure they’re carrying the most appropriate meaning possible. As already mentioned, that doesn’t mean the word needs to be lengthy or profound. Consider the following sentence:
The dog emitted a low, grumbling threat from its throat.
Unless you’re writing a novel about a fearsome dog detective and need to convey a sense of mystery, this diction is unnecessary. Instead, try:
The dog growled.
Keep in mind: using both of these rules does not exclude you from using interesting language. It does mean, however, that you need to:
- Consider your word choices and ask yourself why they’re there.
- Figure out what will connect most with your audience.
These points are regarding general audiences. And this is where the fun exception comes in: if you’re writing to a specialized/niche audience, you are allowed to use jargon or more technical terms if appropriate. Just make sure it matches the style of materials they typically read.
How to Abide by Style
You might have some personal rules about whether or not you like to use serial commas or capitalize work titles, but you don’t know style obsession until you’ve been in a newsroom. Associated Press style reigns over the journalism world, and it’s the letter of the law for all newspaper reporters.
Why is style so important? News doesn’t come from one place. It’s communicated through a variety of newspapers all across the country. In order to sound like it’s all from the source — a source of knowledge and factuality — there needs to be consistency in style and language.
The same principle can be used for your content marketing, but in your case, a unified voice among your content would benefit branding. If it seems like every piece of content you generate for a client is coming from a different source, the initiative will seem scattered and less effective.
Reporters know subtle differences in language, and even if they don’t have the AP Stylebook memorized cover-to-cover, they know when to look things up. It’s adviser, not advisor. It’s smartphone, not smart phone. It’s chairman/chairwoman, not chairperson.
So, what’s your style? Once you know, stick to it like nothing else matters.
How to Gather (Legitimate) Information
In the midst of personal blogs and editable Wikipedia pages, how do you know what’s true?
Good question. You might be able to spot the obviously accuracy offenders, but how can you know if a piece of information is valid? It’s simple: think about what you’d see printed in a newspaper or said on a news program.
HBO’s “The Newsroom” offers an extreme example of this. [Semi-spoiler alert:] In the fourth episode, various people are debating about whether or not to report that Gabrielle Giffords had died after being shot (because the other news stations were reporting it, though it wasn’t confirmed).
(image source: Melissa Moseley/HBO)
This raises the question, “what’s good enough?” Do you say it because everyone else is saying it, or do you say it because you know it’s true?
This is the burden reporters face. You most likely won’t be dealing with breaking news, but accuracy and sourcing is something you should still consider. If you’re citing a friend’s tweet for an article you’re producing, you might want to reassess your process.
Because you’re not necessarily functioning as a newsroom, you don’t have to be as intense about confirming every fact you find. However, use common sense. Sometimes you can’t gather a particular perspective yourself, so you can cite news articles, legitimate websites (.edu, .gov, organizations’ sites, etc.), and primary sources.
Primary sources include survey results, original studies, government data, etc. Legitimate organizations publish this information, so you don’t have to be concerned with whether or not it’s true. It’s best to look for this sort of information first.
As content marketers, we have dual responsibilities: to produce the best content for our client and for the target audience. Once we have a concept that suits the client needs, we have a responsibility to create content that adds value for online readership, and accuracy is a huge part of value.
What other newsroom techniques that you think are valuable for marketers?