Marketers and journalists will fundamentally disagree on the best way to create content. Marketers and PR professionals are hard-wired to put the product/company first. Journalists put the consumer first. For this reason alone – but several more – journalists should be in the box seat when it comes to running a newsroom – be it for the media or a brand.
Informing vs promoting
It’s naturally tempting to spruik the awesomeness of the company and its products or services. However, this process can lead to losing sight of the customer’s needs. Journalists have it drilled into them that their audience/readership is the end goal, so they create balanced content accordingly. Why does this make such a difference? Apathy. People fundamentally don’t care about the myriad brands competing for their eyeballs and dollars, but they do care about making informed choices.
Not all content needs to be about the company and its products/services. It’s important to have content that aligns with the brand’s values, but what consumer would want to see article after video after article about the same thing, with a different flavour? Diversify and show some courage! If brands are brave enough to allow their content to provide balance, giving consumers the whole picture, they will quickly gain consumer trust. Content that talks about other brands in a positive light might mean missing a few short-term sales, but it will lead to long-term brand supporters. Inform, don’t promote – this is where the journalist shines.
Any journalist worth his or her salt will treat deadlines as their deity. While marketers take the long view with their campaigns, journalists are used to knocking out high quality stories within minutes, hours, or days – not days, weeks, or months. The journalist is hard-wired to break an exclusive, which means being fast and efficient. This trait is absolutely vital for the real-time marketing required of a brand newsroom.
A journalist (or more specifically, the editor or chief of staff) is trained to quickly filter content for any red flags like defamatory language or other legal issues, as well as edit for tone, style, and length. The trend to have several layers of approval destroys the momentum of a fast-breaking story (see this Business Insider story about the 45 day tweet. Outrageous!). This applies to not just social media content, but blog posts, newsletter or website content, and video/audio. Brands would be smart to appoint a trained editor/senior journalist with sub-editing experience and media law knowledge as the head of their newsroom. Be brave and place trust in this person. The content will tick over quickly, quietly, and efficiently if you do.
Any journalist knows that a variety of sources inform and add depth to a story. There is a trend for agency social media specialists (particularly under 30s staff) to trawl social media to the exclusion of TV, radio, and newspapers and magazines (print and digital). Many experienced journalists have been working their beats on these mediums for decades, they are highly trained, and believe it or not, they know a hell of a lot more than most social media commentators. Journalists know that many of their best colleagues still work in traditional media and listen to what they have to say – which can lead to news relevant to a brand newsroom.
The digital generation is hyper-connected, but they are single-minded, which can be detrimental. Even in my own media newsroom, I have had some staff who were reluctant to use the phone or meet people in person. An experienced journalist will use these old-school methods of contacting people. Remember, there are many over-40s who aren’t comfortable with today’s technology. Even email is too much for some. By being digital/social biased, there are many, many sources and leads left begging.
News requires opinions, and journalists specialise in cultivating experts and contacts that they can interview. Quotes from interviews add genuine interest to content. The best news stories and features are always quote-driven and feature multiple sources. Journalists might be die-hard cynics but they know people. They live and die by their contact lists (in the old days, the contents of their little black book).
On the surface, interviewing someone appears simple. It’s just asking questions, right? But which questions? Which questions will elicit the best and most entertaining or informing responses? A trained journalist can go off script and pick up on what an interview subject is saying, drawing out better responses and adding depth to the interview (and the content item it will be part of).
The other challenge is keeping an interview short while extracting as much useful information as possible. Unless they have received media training, interview subjects tend to ramble (or in the case of politicians, avoid and/or control sensitive issues). When I started in the media a decade ago, I struggled to keep my interviews under 20 minutes (and they often strayed much longer – up to 45 minutes). Now, I aim for 10 minute interviews. The best phone interview I ever did was 8 minutes long. Journalists put their interview subjects under pressure to give concise, appropriate answers.
Journalists (depending on their speciality) can write well (and succinctly), can take good photos, know how to work – and be in front of – a camera, use a mic while minimising background noise, and a plethora of other vital technical skills that PR or marketing professionals simply won’t have.
Print journalists instinctively write stories in the inverted pyramid format, which exists solely to dismantle a story for space. Their work is at the mercy of the sub-editor and editor. Most of a TV or radio journalists’ work ends up on the cutting room floor. They can’t afford to be precious about their content – they trust their editors to bring out their best, even when it hurts. Marketers and PR people don’t have the same thickness of skin needed for a high-performance newsroom.
Trust me, a thick skin is the ultimate necessity for a newsroom!
By Shane Jiraiya Cummings
First published on LinkedIn, September 2014