Various items jumbled upon a desktop: notepad, pens, camera, laptop, and iphone.
At their core, journalism and content marketing are both forms of nonfiction storytelling. (photo: Perzonseo Webbyra)

A former journalist ponders the similarities and differences

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about content marketing, which is content such as blogs, podcasts, or videos intended for the target market of your business. It isn’t necessarily about your company’s product or services, but rather it’s intended to attract your potential customers.

Although trained as a journalist, content marketing is something that I might want to expand into. Of course, it differs a bit from traditional journalism, but they overlap so much that I’m thinking I’d be good at it, so that’s why lately I’ve been exploring that field.

My first media job out of college

I did do a bit of content marketing years ago, at my first job just after college. Back then I worked for a Variety publication that served the below-the-line production community, that is, people in the motion picture industry who weren’t actors, directors, or producers. I would sometimes produce articles for our newsletter or print publication, interviewing people like makeup artists, special FX animators, cinematographers, etc.

Back then, I don’t think we even referred to this type of writing as “content marketing” per se, we were just trying to serve the production community by highlighting their work. Of course, we benefited from producing such content as it got our name out there, keeping us as a relevant industry publication, which theoretically helped our sales.

The importance of analytics

It was a lot of fun talking to these people and telling their stories. Certainly we were doing overall good to expand our relations with the below-the-line production scene. However one important thing that we lacked was measurement. At the time, we did not have a robust system for metrics, so it was difficult to understand what exactly resonated the most with our readers.

In retrospect, had we had access to such information, we could have refined our process for selecting article topics, and improved both our search engine rankings and our overall reach, thus increasing potential sales.

These days, there are countless tools to measure success, from website analytics to social metrics to email tracking, and I’m really grateful that they exist. Modern newsrooms also use those same tools to track readership for gaining revenue from advertising and subscribers, but content marketers have the additional goal of converting readership to sales.

Professional restraints

Another significant difference between content marketing and journalism lies in the nature of the news gathering process. Traditional journalists will often play the adversarial role in order to get the full story, whereas content marketers tend to focus on the positive, while still being useful and informative.

Journalists supposedly try to be unbiased messengers of truth, which is why they have certain ethics rules about behavior and relationships with their interview subjects. But content marketers don’t have that same restraint, and for good reasons.

For instance, a content marketer might interview an in-house executive or a vendor or someone else with a business relationship to the writer, simply because that person is a subject matter expert. There is nothing wrong with this. However a journalist would either avoid such an interview in favor of a neutral individual, or would be ethically bound to clearly state it within the article itself.

Well, that’s all I can think of right now in terms of the differences between the two types of storytelling. To me, the production process for both content marketing and journalism seem more alike than different, but if I’m wrong then please leave a comment down below.

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