Should You Hire a Journalist for Your Content Marketing Team?

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Content Marketing

In his recent book, Epic Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi remarks that many of us marketers and our organizations are becoming – or have already become – publishers. Our business model is different from traditional publishers, but the goal of building an audience that likes and trusts our content is the same in many respects. And the hope – that in the end, the reader will take some desired action – is a shared hope.

Publishers such as magazines and newspapers have teams of trained, talented people in place to create, edit, and distribute content to meet stringent deadlines. More and more often other types of organizations are emulating this model, as it’s a proven way to generate a certain volume of content at a certain quality level. If you’re tasked with ramping up your company’s content marketing and publishing, one way to build a team with the right skills is to hire a journalist. With the slow, painful crumbling of the publishing industry – newspapers in particular – (deep sigh) there are a record number of them without jobs now, and so possibly available.

From one strictly business point of view, it’s a supply-and-demand scenario. The “supply” in this case refers to displaced journalists, and the “demand” comes from the organizations adopting content marketing to reach business goals. As these entities grow their content marketing teams, they need writers who can create compelling copy, often on tight deadlines. Journalists are trained to do just that, and often come with complementary skill sets that prove quite useful for marketing.

Reasons to hire a journalist

Over at Red Rocket Media, Michelle Hill wrote a cogent “Eight Reasons to Hire a Journalist.” She shows how to decode a journalist’s resume, and the reasons she proffers are all strong and valid. I’ll recap just one here, and highly recommend you read the rest:

Increase your content ‘stickiness’

Michelle notes that “journalists are driven by the power of storytelling – they know how to create a thread which keeps your audience interested until the very last word of the article. Being involved in ‘page layout’ and ‘imagery’ also means they are very focused on driving people through the content in a creative and engaging way.

“This not only keeps the reader on the page for longer but also motivates them to read related articles, keeping them on the site for longer too. This sends very positive signals to Google that you’re a website worth visiting, helping your SEO.

Hire a journalist who will be a good fit in both experience and attitude

We can’t talk about journalists as though they’re all cut from the same cloth. Many have expertise, credibility, and deep contacts in specialized areas: food, lifestyles, technology, politics/public affairs, land use, sports, etc., which will work mightily in your favor if your business operates in such an arena.

At the newspapers I’ve worked at (as an ad rep, not a reporter – although I did marry one), there was a Chinese wall between editorial/news and marketing/advertising. The point was to keep editorial free from influence; some editors and reporters saw sales and marketing as the Dark Side, and some still do.

But marketing and corporate communications have changed. We’ve discovered that the communications and content marketing that works isn’t sales-y, but has a journalistic objectivity and readability that’s focused on giving the reader useful information. It’s all about the reader now, and that makes content marketing (including communications) a viable opportunity for editorial writers and journalists.

Holly Regan, managing editor at Software Advice, recently surveyed content marketing professionals (including former journalists) who offered tips on how they vet journalists for their teams. Holly’s story, Hire the Right Journalist for Your Content Marketing Team, covers the qualities to look for and how to identify them. Here are three of her recommendations; if you’re hiring, do read them all.

  • Identify key characteristics: They’re realistic, Web-savvy and have the ability to write in a variety of formats.
  • Interview candidates: Give them trial assignments, ask for writing samples and match their background with your content marketing goals.
  • Spot red flags: Watch out for concerns such as inability to meet deadlines, an “old school” attitude toward online publishing and heavily edited samples.

From the journalist’s point of view

I’m feeling a little guilty about talking so much about journalists in the third-person; let’s ask two – one who moved on to marketing and one who moved on to communications – what they think:

Aliza Earnshaw 347Aliza (pronounced “Ah-lee-zah”) Earnshaw is the managing editor at Puppet Labs, a tech company that creates IT automation software for system administrators. She began her career as a freelance editor and writer, creating newsletters, press releases, and news features for clients. One of her clients, the Portland Business Journal, liked her work so much they brought her on staff. Over the following eight years, she built a solid reputation as a thorough researcher, strong interviewer, and talented reporter and writer.


Don HamiltonDon Hamilton was a police reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and later worked for the Portland Tribune and The Oregonian, assigned at various times to the Oregon and Washington legislatures and the paper’s Washington, D.C. bureau…in the days when the paper had a Washington, D.C. bureau. In 2008, he became communications director for the Oregon Secretary of State and today is a public information officer for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Why did you leave newspapers?

Aliza: Although I still liked journalism, the stories I was writing were starting to feel a bit repetitive and formulaic. This might have been due to a failure of imagination on my part, or to the fact that the paper had a particular range of stories it favored. The number of stories increased, due to the online edition becoming more important, which meant I couldn’t dig as deeply as I needed to when a topic or story was new for me. I joined a tech start-up, where I learned a lot about SEO and content marketing. After four years, I moved on to Puppet Labs, which is doing interesting, innovative technology that actually makes people’s lives better. The job looked like a real challenge, and I was ready for the next challenge.

Don: Well, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I didn’t leave journalism, journalism left me. The sad and cruel economic realities of the industry mean there are far, far fewer jobs with an income suitable for supporting a family. I’m glad I’m not there today spending all my time writing crime briefs. It’s not a happy world if you have a healthy degree of curiosity and want to write stories with substance.

Do you miss newspapers?

Don: I don’t miss what newspapers are today. I miss newspapers in 1990. Today they are consumed with how many clicks a story gets. It’s a fine thing to be well-read but it’s quite another when that’s the only thing that matters and the quality of work itself isn’t important. It makes reporters a direct tool of the advertising department and that’s a violation of all that is holy in journalism.

What skills did you have to gain on the new job?

Aliza: I’ve had to learn a range of new skills since I left journalism five years ago. I’ve learned to write in different platforms, including wiki, HTML, Markdown and a couple of CMS systems. I’ve learned to work with images. And I’ve had to manage people. All of this is good; I’m more skilled and versatile now.

Which is better, journalism or communications?

Don: Hard to say. I do know that journalism is a mile wide and an inch thick and communications here at ODOT is much, much more comprehensive. Today, I drill down far more deeply into a topic in ways that happen only rarely in journalism. In journalism, most of time, you only need to know enough to get by.

What was easy about the change? What was hard?

Aliza: Easy: I was already churning out so much copy that my pace of production was really good for a different business. I also had the regular rhythm of reporting/writing/editing/reporting/writing/editing, so I don’t get hung up on the writing the way so many people do. The hardest part has been getting used to a different work culture. Not a worse work culture, just a different one.

Has your opinion of journalism and journalists changed since you left the business?

Don: I think so. The reporters I thought were good before still seem good to me today and the reporters I thought were bad still appear bad. But I see much, much more shoddy and irresponsible work. That has quite surprised me.

Would you hire a reporter for your content marketing team? 

Aliza: YES. The skill set is amazing and easily adaptable to marketing.

Would you hire a reporter for a communications job?

Don: Absolutely yes. The ability to write clearly, organize thoughts and present a complete and fair picture is invaluable. Not many professions can teach that. But the daily grind of writing really sears that on your brain.

Coda: the reader wins

In the end, we all want a good fit between the company we work for and our own skills. A journalist’s prized habit of objectivity can boost content marketing’s authority and credibility, resulting in a more satisfying experience for the reader (which translates into good news for the publisher). As Aliza notes, “I’m now an advocate for my company, rather than being an objective observer. However, the training in skeptical observation is actually pretty helpful when it comes to marketing – you have a nose for what will be read as over-the-top.”

And that, dear publisher, is a gift beyond rubies. It could be yours if you hire a journalist.