Once Upon A Time, A Journalist Became A Content Marketer to Keep Telling Stories
When I was a newspaper reporter,before any type of social media minutes, I practiced the famous “inverted pyramid” style of print journalism: put the most important information about the event you just covered in your first paragraph. That basic premise – hook ‘em in and then unreel the story – followed me into television news. Your best video should be the first thing your audience sees, and if it’s a soundbite, it better be a #%@! good one, as a WFAA-TV news director told me nearly two decades ago.
It’s the same philosophy when you’re on the anchor desk at someplace like CNN and you’re privileged to work with some excellent writers and producers. They know that to keep people watching past the quarter-hour mark – important for overnight ratings – you have to craft compelling teases going into commercials. And the leads of the stories you read have to have some punch.
I’m now applying everything I learned after 30 years in journalism – the last ten years of those spent at the national level – in content marketing. I’m still interviewing interesting people, I still get to talk about interesting companies (as I did at CNBC), I still get to write. I still have to prioritize the best video and important story points. And I still have to meet deadlines (darn it.)
It is indeed all about the storytelling, and I’m sure if you had a dime every time you’ve heard that mentioned in marketing in just the past year alone, you’d be able to buy your own CNN-style magic video wall. But it is grounded in truth, which is why I encourage other recovering journalists to consider a new career in digital marketing.
Many of my former colleagues have found themselves on the beach due to downsizing as their newspapers or TV stations cut back thanks to the recession. Or others left the business for the same reasons I did: they grew weary of narrating car chases and reading copy that treated the latest celebrity outrage as if it were a matter for the United Nations Security Council. If ex-journalists can make the adjustment from being the audience’s surrogate to writing and/or producing videos for companies – and they can get up to speed on digital technologies, social media, search engine optimization - then the good news is that they can keep telling stories, because every business has them:
- Every business has a central character who defines why the company exists. It’s usually the CEO or founder who got tired of dealing with a frustrating situation when he or she was at a different company. So they became an entrepreneur to build a solution to that problem, and in the process they’re also building a company and building up the U.S. economy.
- Every company has a story arc, a pattern of growth and change that highlights adaptability. Those qualities become advantages to trumpet if the competition is doing things the old way.
- Every company faced/is facing some sort of dramatic challenge to overcome, some conflict to resolve – funding, competition, a tough economy, getting people to accept its innovations.
- Every business has a colorful character who belongs in front of a camera or needs to be in a blog post. This person can best represent the values of the company but doesn’t necessarily have to be the prettiest face or the most articulate speaker. But they should be positively dripping with charisma.
- Oft-heard in both newsrooms and marketing conference rooms: every story has a beginning, middle and end. Journalists-turned-content marketers know how to structure these stories and pace them well, whether told in text or other media. They tie the elements together with a tidy little bow, because they know that’s how the audience is used to consuming its content.
Former journalists can find plenty of challenges to reignite their creative fires by navigating the new media tools. 140 characters on Twitter requires brevity that 90-second-long TV news stories never could achieve. Working keywords into content and headlines in an organic way can be just as demanding as deciphering an earnings report on deadline.
But those who want to keep finding stories, and tell them with style, will adapt.