It’s been more than 12 years since my friend and mentor Jill Geisler wrote her widely shared open letter making the case for hiring a journalist to just about any job in the world — especially jobs in which clear, concise, strategic communication is important.
As the journalism industry continues its evolution into a post-print world, Jill’s message still holds true: Those who practice good journalism have a breadth and depth of skills that would benefit any business, anywhere.
At Lifeblue, we believe those skills are especially impactful in our work.
It isn’t enough simply to exist on the internet; great content must be at the heart of every website, campaign or digital touchpoint.
Stipulation: We are talking about actual journalists here, not opinion-based talking heads. We’re talking about the kind of people who can sift through reams of paper in local government agendas and densely worded memos to let you know, for example, that you’re going to be paying more to have your garbage picked up.
Journalists are allergic to BS. So are your customers.
As millennials and Gen Z move into the workforce and gain buying power, they represent a significant shift in consumers’ digital sophistication. These are generations that never knew a world without the web — or a world where information came from only one hometown newspaper and three news anchors on TV.
When they learned to read, they also learned to read between the lines, and they know the difference between actual, useful information and marketing content that sounds too good to be true. Journalists know how to use facts to tell a story, and facts matter today more than ever.
Journalists understand that there are different audiences out there.
After decades of assuming every newspaper subscriber actually wanted all the news that’s fit to print, journalists learned quickly that some of their work may not have been as interesting as they thought.
As audiences moved online, real-time readership data emerged on an article-by-article level that tested reporters’ assumptions about what kinds of coverage actually attracts eyeballs. As a matter of survival, newsrooms learned how to build and craft content that caters to the specific interests of specific audiences — and how to make that content jump out from the rest as readers scroll their news feeds.
Journalists know how to serve up content that’s just the right size.
Sometimes a story needs 1,000 words to be told correctly. Other times, you can say all you need to say in less than 140 characters.
Today’s journalists work hard to learn the difference, and those who have the best online presence are those who know how to serve up content that matches the audience’s appetite. That could mean a bite, a snack, a meal or a feast — depending on the time, place and nuance of the work.
Journalists know how to write, rewrite and be edited — without taking it personally.
For all of the hard work journalists do to write just the perfect combination of words, we all know we need to be edited. (Even editors need to be edited.)
So while we take a great deal of pride in our prose, we also know we aren’t married to it. Less-experienced communicators may find it difficult to divorce their words from their feelings about the process, and that’s a pitfall that only leads to unclear writing.
Journalists always know that the reader is the most important stakeholder.
At Lifeblue, we employ a number of journalists who honed their skills in various newsrooms and other high-pressure “word factories.” The lessons learned over decades on deadline have great value; their expertise can make the difference between a successful website and one that simply takes up space on the web.
It’s important to build a site that is accessible to the widest audience possible, one with just the right design and user experience. More importantly, the content you publish has to make the right impact, with the right message in the right place, at the right time.
Words matter. Who’s writing yours?
Full disclosure: A journalist wrote this post. But you probably figured that out already.