Transitioning from journalism to content: differences and similarities

By Michelle Bowes, Commtract expert, freelance journalist and content writer at Michelle Bowes Journalism and Content

The rise and rise of content marketing is leading to increasing numbers of journalists looking to get in on this new world of work. The good news is that if you can write well, you can write content. But there are some key differences between journalism that your content clients will expect you to know.

Key differences between writing content and journalism

Incorporate SEO keywords

As content typically lives in the digital world, to be found by a Google search, good SEO (or search engine optimisation) is crucial to achieving a first page Google ranking. The easiest way to optimise your copy is to work in keywords that a reader might search Google for.

Add a headline and sub-headings

When writing content you’ll be expected to provide a headline and sub-headings, which, along with shorter paragraphs, make on-screen text easier to read. And both your headline and sub-headings will need to be optimised for SEO, so you can forget about clever, print-style headlines such as puns or plays on words – Google just won’t get them.

Include a call to action

Unlike journalism, where the purpose is to inform, the purpose of content is usually to sell. So you’ll need to know what the client wants the reader to do next and include a call to action (or CTA) at the end of the piece.

Reference sources with hyperlinks

If you source information or stats from other websites you’ll be expected to include a hyperlink to them, so the client can see where the information has come from. They may not be keen on pointing the reader away from their website but, this way, they can easily verify your references then remove the hyperlink if they want. And you’ll need to be aware of any sensitivities when it comes to sources – Government websites are usually a safe bet but no one wants to reference their competitors.

Hyperlink within the client’s web ecosystem

There’s a fairly good chance the client has resources on other parts of their website that they’ll want to drive traffic to, so make sure you’re familiar with other useful information on their website and hyperlink to it.

Content doesn’t need to be balanced

While good content isn’t blatantly one-sided, it doesn’t need to present both sides of the story in the same way that journalism does. In journalism, balance is usually achieved by interviewing a range of people with different perspectives, but in content there will often only be one interviewee, typically supplied by the client.

Less interviewees, more research

If there’s only an in-house interviewee for a content article, they can usually give you the client’s point-of-view but not always the background context or bigger picture – this will need to come from your research. And sometimes, there’s no one to interview at all meaning your research will need to do all the heavy lifting.

No bylines

Remember that with content, it’s the organisation that produced the content, not you, so don’t expect a byline.

Similarities between writing content and journalism

Who, what, where, when, why and how

To ensure it provides value to readers, content should still look to answer the five W’s and H from journalism. It’s just that the answers to these key points will be different in a piece of content.

Clear, concise and jargon-free

Organisations love using jargon, especially in their marketing. But readers hate it so always aim to get beyond the jargon and write clear, concise copy.

Spelling and grammar matter

Just because it’s marketing, spelling and grammar still need to be en-pointe, perhaps more so than in a newsroom as there’s no sub-editor to fix your copy.

Meet deadlines and word lengths

Clients aren’t always the best at sticking to deadlines but you should always deliver your copy to deadline and to the commissioned word length. Getting these basics right builds your credibility with your client.

By following these tips you’ll be armed with all you need to break into the world of content writing and, hopefully, increase your chances of repeat content work. Good luck!

Other financial communications related blogs you might be interested in:

Other blogs you might be interested in: