What Content Marketing Can Learn From Journalism: An Interview

journalists reading newspapers

I’m going to start this off by getting to the point: journalism and marketing are inextricably tied in 2018, with far-reaching consequences that have changed each discipline individually, and changed the way we consume “news”.

A little background: I’m a content marketer/ copywriter and SEO specialist by trade, I never studied journalism, but I always loved writing. It was the one thing that remained immovable throughout my education, and now, my budding career.

I initially became interested in this connection between journalism and content marketing on my one hour commute to work while listening to episode 142 of the Search Engine Nerds podcast. It was titled Keyword Research & Content Marketing for SEO in 2018, featuring Tim Soulo. I then promptly fell down a rabbit hole (albeit a good one).

 

“…this is how journalism is different from copywriting. When you’re a journalist you will fact check, you will invite authoritative people to participate in your piece of content. If you’re a copywriter you will write whatever is there and quickly write an article. I’m not saying anything bad about copywriters, I’m just kidding – But I wish people would fact check and invite authoritative people to participate in their content.”

-Tim Soulo

Ouch.

That was Tim Soulo completely ragging on copywriters (not really, but that stung a bit). He is the Head of Marketing & Product Strategy at AHREFs, one of the most well-respected tools within the SEO community.

He hit on something important that made me pause sitting in the already stopped Miami traffic: do we, as content marketers/copywriters, have any business informing the public about topics we’re not experts in? Why should they trust our research? What qualifies us to give accurate information to the public?

 

“If you’re a dentist you can create a great article about teeth and healing them and all that stuff. If you’re a copywriter working for a dentist agency, you won’t be able to create this kind of content. The person who will create the better content in terms of value to the reader will eventually win [on Google Results].”

-Tim Soulo

 

There was a tenuous connection here I was trying to make, that I didn’t fully understand yet. So I took Tim’s advice and I decided to reach out my long-time friend Kimberly Slichter, a journalist, who is now a producer on the local TV News station WFTV channel 9 in Orlando, Fl.

Where my curiosity lay was in her research process – do journalists approach research into a topic the same way content marketers do? What is the purpose of an article in journalism, versus content marketing? How does broadcasting a piece on TV differ from a blog post and how do they measure success?

Do they even use SEO??

At this point, the connection between the two was a slim piece of sewing string holding the weight of advertising, truth-seeking, consumer perceptions, audience-trust factors, and many other puzzle pieces, together. So, I got right down to it.

 

Melissa Mena (MM); How is your life as a producer?

Kimberly Slichter (KS): It’s very different than what we call being an associate producer, who the producer tells what to write, like all these titles that go to our newscast. Now, the producer kind of just assembles the actual newscast and says “okay, this goes here, I want you to write this”, and they make sure everything is on time when the show is actually happening.

So, it’s more about being aware of what’s going on in the community, as well as national news and all that. And also taking on the responsibility of telling people what to do and balancing all your time, because there’s so much responsibility when it comes to what we call AP’ing, or Associate Producing.

It can be stressful when you start out, but when you get that flow it just kind of becomes second nature. You just kind of understand where every story fits into the newscast. It’s somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle where maybe the story doesn’t fit here, but it fits perfectly somewhere else, and if you put it where you originally thought it just wouldn’t work. So it’s just a lot of rearranging, and kind of making it sound like a cohesive story rather than just chunks here and chunks there.

MM: So, you’re very aware of the flow of the story and storytelling?

KS: Yeah, exactly!

MM: Where does SEO come into this madness that’s happening every day?

KS: That comes in more with our web department. I don’t really work with them too much, but I’m right next to them since in a newsroom you work REALLY closely together and are always shouting things [about story updates] at each other. The web, they post a good portion of our stories online, and of course, they want viewers or readers, what have you, so for every story that goes on the website, they make sure it’s SEO friendly. I’ve heard them exchange those words. I can’t speak directly to what they do, but I do know we have an SEO focus when we post these stories.

MM: When you say you’re writing stories, are you writing stories for the news reporters?

KS: The reporters themselves are the ones that write their own stories, so if you see someone that’s out at the scene of the crime or something, they wrote that themselves. But if you see something the anchor is saying, most likely an associate producer or a producer wrote it. Sometimes, the anchors do write their own things, but it’s more likely than not that an associate producer wrote it.

MM: So, that’s kind of similar to how some content teams are structured. You know, you have the content manager, and then you have the content writer. Maybe there was an SEO Update or something, like Google changing their algorithm, and you’re planning the content for the month. This week we’re going to be talking about this, maybe they’ll get some sources and then the content writer will do the SEO research, put together the actual blog article and then distribute it into whatever outlet we use and then we promote the crap out of it.

KS: Yeah, like with the producer to the associate producer, they’re like “here’s this source for this information”. We’re aware of it, but you’re the one that’s actually handling it in a way. So it sounds like we’re in different scenarios, but we have the same process in a way.

 

It seems that every discipline falls into the same editorial process when it comes to writing, even though we’re writing for different purposes. I was interested at this point in where a journalist for a news station got their sources and what they considered trustworthy.

 

MM: So, how do you find your stories?

KS: Every station does it a little differently, so I can’t speak for other stations. One thing that is very new, and this wasn’t a thing maybe 10 years ago, is that we go on social media websites for, as an example, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Official Twitter or something. That, a lot of times, ends up being our source. Officials post directly on social media so that can be a very quick way to figure things out. Back in the day, it would’ve taken more time to get a story, but now we can get it within minutes.

The best example I can give is within minutes of a plane crashing in the middle of the road in Kissimmee today, we found out about it when Kissimmee police posted about it on Twitter.

MM: How much time do you actually have to verify your sources?

KS: It varies from story to story. Our thing is that we always want to be 100% accurate, so if we’re not sure, we don’t go on air with whatever we’re not sure about it. We have a promise with the viewer that what we’re telling you is 100% correct.

MM: If you’re first on the air with a story, that’s a big deal, right?

KS: Yeah! We’ve definitely prided ourselves on being the first to break a news story, or being the first to break that story. But there have been times when I’ve gone up to somebody on the team and said “Hey, I can’t confirm this, if it’s true it’s a great story and we might be first if I write it, but I’m not comfortable writing it right now since we’re still working on getting the information. Let’s not go on air with it.”

Our newsroom saying recently is, “first is good, but accuracy is everything”

 

Let’s run through that again. First is good, but accuracy is everything.

 

Recently I was looking up statistics for SEO. I typed in a very basic “SEO statistics 2018” search query and it returned over 1,270,000 results. The first page results are the most trusted, usually, so I searched through those.

To my dismay, many of the sources used for these articles weren’t from 2018. They weren’t even from 2017 or 2016. I got lucky and found a few 2015 ones. Do you see the problem?

A lot of this is a result of a lack of recent studies, so we use older statistics. But is that truthful? Is it accurate? I come from a science background where they have very strict standards as to what qualifies as a legitimate, reliable source. It needs to be peer-reviewed and published within the last two years, at minimum, to qualify as a legitimate source for an academic paper. In journalism, they have standards as to what qualifies as a legitimate source of information and how to cite sources.

What is the rulebook for plagiarism and source collecting for a content marketer? Do we need one? Does it matter?

I think it does. And eventually, this lack of standards will catch up to us. Thankfully, within the content marketing community, there are many individuals that link to their sources and disclose where information comes from, but the average blog post is made up of a combination of information from first page Google results. A synthesis of the top links.

Google is feeding us a loop of never-ending circular information sharing that keeps things invisible to the public because of our laziness to go to page two of SERPs (search engine result pages). In a way, although the amount of information on Google is larger than all the libraries in the world combined, our past search history, geographic location and other factors limits what Google will serve us as the “right” search results.

It’s like a microcosm of the Facebook scandal of 2016, where Facebook’s algorithm was accused of enabling people to live in their echo chambers of misinformation. Google, in a way, forces us to live in an echo chamber of our own making. We trust it to give us the right search results, but it’s only as good as the information we put into it.

…perhaps it’s too big of a problem for the content marketing community to handle, but with over 2 million blog posts written every day (a 2015 statistic, so take it however you’d like), we can choose to add subpar and regurgitated content to the internet, or we can choose to vet ourselves and contribute useful, original information to the world.   

Just something to think about. Either way, the cards are in the consumer’s hands nowadays, so we’ll get policed eventually – and that’s a good thing.

 

For a fascinating look at how a journalist fell into content marketing, check out this interview with Cameron Conaway conducted by Clare McDermott from The Content Marketing Institute.

 

Kimberly Slichter graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Journalism major and minors in both Creative Writing and Cinema Studies. She works as a producer at WFTV Channel 9. In her spare time, she’s constantly looking for her next tabletop game obsession.

Melissa is a firm believer in the power of content and its effect on modern digital marketing. With all the information in the world at a consumer’s fingertips, she seeks to educate and convert customers using thoughtful, SEO-driven content users love and search engines rank. Before joining Alphametic, she worked with Perry Ellis International as a digital copywriter and content strategist. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a major in Interdisciplinary Studies and Marketing.