As a longtime journalist, I’m happy to see so many of my colleagues finding work at brands and agencies as content marketers, as brand journalists, and in other roles and titles.
Marrying communications and marketing with a journalistic approach can result in high-quality content that’s of value to the public, as opposed to purely promotional copy.
But there are some bad habits in newsrooms. Here are five things about journalists that a new generation of content creators should be careful not to emulate.
Circling the wagons
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, the New York Post
splashed two innocent men on its front page and painted them as possible terrorists.
So what did the Post
have to say for itself after the cover went down in infamy?
“We stand by our story,” New York Post
editor Col Allen said when he finally offered a statement
Those five words have been the standard reply from newsrooms when the worst happens within journalistic ranks, such as plagiarism or fabrication
Circling the wagons means refusing to acknowledge obvious failures or to otherwise engage in a discussion about your journalistic practices.
This destroys public trust. It’s long been a habit inside newsrooms, but it’s starting to fade.
So, if you’re working for a brand that publishes content, you need to engage your detractors and openly and publicly respond to requests for corrections. You need to be willing to engage in a conversation about your work, even if that seems like a distraction from your ultimate goal.
View this as an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to high-quality content and accountability, rather than as a nuisance.
The echo chamber
Journalists get caught in an echo chamber when they spend too much time with the same colleagues covering the same beat in the same way. Views and perspectives begin to coalesce, and they fall victim to groupthink.
The echo chamber is the enemy of fresh ideas. It also leads to blind spots that preclude identifying important developments or oncoming trouble.
How do you escape the echo chamber? Make a conscious effort to read and engage outside your role and industry. Seek out nontraditional sources.
Attend a conference that’s outside of the norm for you. What can you learn from sociology, cognitive psychology, or political science?
Skimping on training
Training budgets were one of the first things to be cut at newspapers when classifieds, display ads, and reader revenue started to crater
The decline occurred because of fundamental shifts in media and technology. The Internet and its disruptive effects began taking hold and haven’t let go.
Media brands needed to invest in training in order to adapt and thrive in a digital world. But with budgets shrinking and the pace of technological change accelerating, many newsroom staffs found themselves with outdated skill sets, workflows, and technology.
Budgets will rise and fall, and content marketers will feel the effects.
It’s up to you to ensure that you’re always learning and to foster a culture that’s focused on keeping skills and processes up to date.
One media habit that seems to have been replicated in the content marketing world is the separation of writers and editors from technology, product, and business people.
Within newsrooms, this created a culture that was hostile to collaboration and prevented people from coming together to solve problems and develop innovative business models. (I’m not saying that journalists and ad sales people should break down ethical boundaries. Those are crucial to credibility.)
Tearing down walls internally helps blow up echo chambers and gives life to fresh ideas.
Want to know what’s possible when you tear down walls and put a new mix of people in a room?
Have a look at the tremendous, Pulitzer-winning New York Times Snow Fall interactive piece
resulting from collaboration by a writer, sports editors, graphics editors, a multimedia producer/designer, a digital designer, a video journalist, and a photographer. All within an organization that has a lot of moving parts, people, departments, and procedures.
If the Gray Lady can break down walls, you can, too.
Ignoring the competition
Companies do a lot of competitive intelligence and tracking. Journalists read and watch their competitors, too, but historically they prefer to not acknowledge their rivals’ existence.
This is a horrible, venal tradition in media that’s thankfully starting to go away. It goes like this: If your competitor gets a scoop, you do everything you can to not credit them for the work.
That’s why you’ll sometimes read a news story that refers to “a report today” or “media reports,” without naming the source. The standard operating procedure in newsrooms was to re-report the story just so you could run it without having to note that the crosstown rival got there first.
This tradition carried into the online world to the point where some large news outlets only recently began linking to competitors
Will you link to it?
Now, imagine one of your competitors writes a great blog post—not something that promotes its product, but a piece about your industry that’s insightful and valuable to your audience. Will you link to it?
I’ll say this: If your relationship with your customers or clients is so tenuous that sending them to a useful link on a competitor’s website will damage your standing, then maybe linking out is the least of your troubles.
Craig Silverman is the director of content for Spundge, a platform that helps professionals and organizations discover, curate, and create engaging content. A version of this post first appeared on SparkSheet.