Although mainstream media has pretty much ensured real journalism is dead, real journalists aren’t. Writers graced with integrity, thoroughness, and the remarkable ability to turn a phrase are alive and well — with quite a few working in the realm of content marketing.
You can learn a lot from taking a cue from their work, from the way they gather information to the way they expertly craft a story that keeps the audience engaged. Here you’ll find tips for writing like a journalist, a move that can give your content a captivating boost.
What Journalism Is
Before we dive into the how it’s essential to cover the what. We won’t get into a big ethics lesson on the importance of balanced and fair reporting. But we will mention that thing called integrity.
Whether you’re writing about worldwide disasters or the joy of down-filled pillows, you want to make sure your information is:
- Gained from credible sources
- Referenced and quoted when applicable
- Something your audience actually cares about
No matter how full of flourish and flair the writing is, your content needs a strong foundation unless you want it to flop.
What Journalism Is NOT
Take a look at many of the stories in the mainstream media today, and you’ll find things that are as far from journalism as worldwide disasters are from down-filled pillows. Instead of honest and fair reporting, you get things like:
- Yellow Journalism: “The use of cheaply sensational methods to attract or influence readers,” as defined by the Associated Press (AP).
- Clickbait: Yellow journalism specifically designed to get clicks on headlines, with the stories often failing to deliver whatever the headlines promised.
- Ego Journalism: “Journalists” who substitute their personal opinions for facts, often whining and crying when asked to report on both sides of the story.
No matter how alluring yellow journalism, clickbait, or ego journalism may seem for getting clicks, they’re not worth the price you may ultimately pay. Sure, you may triple or quadruple your click-through rates for a story or two, but you’re also apt to:
- Damage your reputation
- Reduce your credibility
- Annoy your audience
- Lose readers, customers and fans
Is it worth it? We thought not.
7 Tips to Write Like a Journalist
Now that you have a solid idea of what journalism is supposed to be, it’s time to look at the how. Exactly how do journalists keep people reading their content, and coming back for more? A number of different elements go into the magic formula.
1. Dive Into the Info
Don’t even think about starting to write your content until you’ve gathered the necessary information. And don’t just gather it by clicking a couple of lame links to even lamer explanations. Dive into it. This can mean:
- Trying a product or service
- Visiting a location
- Interviewing company employees, customers, founders, and inventors
- Capturing quotes, you can use in the content to portray a personality or emphasize a point
- Examining existing marketing assets
- Reviewing the assignment’s creative brief
- Heading online for additional info, but not necessarily as the main source of info unless you stick with credible sources
Note: Wiki sites are traditionally not considered credible because the general public can merrily add, delete or change information as desired. Such sites can work as a starting point for finding a direction to dig deeper, but not as the end-all source.
2. Answer the Five Ws and an H
The goal of your content is to answer all the questions your readers may have — without leaving them with a ton of new ones. One way to help ensure you cover all your bases is by answering the five Ws and an H.
The answers to the above questions deliver the basics every journalistic piece of content needs to contain.
3. Find the Angle
Review your information and decide what the angle of your piece should be. Any piece of content can be written in a dozen different ways. You need to find the focus that works best for you. You can often narrow down the angle by looking at:
- Recent or current events
- Information that needs highlighting
- The goal of the piece
Let’s say you are indeed writing about the joy of down-filled pillows and you want to highlight how the company uses natural, sustainable and cruelty-free down. You could start with all the mumbo jumbo jargon just mentioned. Or you could start with ducks.
If it fits the company’s personality, it might be fun to focus on the happy ducks that all too gladly donate their down for the pillows.
4. Craft a Captivating Lead
The lead, or lede, is the opening of a news story. And if it doesn’t capture your audience’s attention, they’re not going to read any further. The lead is nearly as important as your headline for getting people hooked and continuing down the page.
While you certainly want your lead to be creative, you also want the early part of the content to deliver an overview of what the piece is all about. News stories definitely want to cover the five Ws in their opening, providing more details as needed on each point as the story unfolds.
5. Use the Inverted Pyramid Structure
The inverted pyramid structure has long been a journalistic staple. It’s an upside-down triangle where the most important information is put at the top, or the widest part. As the story unfolds, additional and less-important details are revealed.
If your angle on the down-filled pillow content was the ducks, you’d want to cover the duck farm info early in the piece. If your angle was the comfort level of down, the duck farm info would go much lower in the piece — if it were necessary to mention it at all.
6. Pick Up the Pace
While you want to create copy that aligns with your brand personality, you also want to keep it short and simple. Leave lofty language for your poetry club. Stick with clear, concise copy. Use the active voice. Go for fewer words and a quick tempo. Think Hemingway, not Faulkner.
7. Provide a Final Polish
When you’ve completed your piece, take a bow — and a break. Then go back and proof it one more time. Make sure it:
- Covers all needed info
- Doesn’t leave readers with more questions than answers
- Doesn’t contain unnecessary info that’s not pertinent to the story
- Is devoid of typos and grammatical errors
- Flows freely
- Is easy and enjoyable to read
Journalists rely heavily on the AP Stylebook as a reference for stylistic questions. Keeping things consistent is a must. Create editorial guidelines for your brand, using the AP Stylebook or another resource for additional guidance not covered in your guide.
Journalistic Content Is Engaging Content
While you may think journalistic content is engaging due to the subject matter, that’s only half the truth. Even the most intriguing story can fall flat if it’s not written in a compelling way. And even a seemingly ho-hum story can captivate the audience when it’s crafted using journalistic techniques. Journalistic techniques aren’t the only thing that can give your content marketing a boost. So can the freelance talent, tools, and training on the WriterAccess platform. Tap into all three with a free trial.