The Difference Between Journalists and "Content Creators"


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Are you a journalist? Does a chill run up your spine when people start talking about "content"? Are you confused by the idea that working in a newsroom makes you a "content creator" and not just a reporter? Join the club.

I talk to a lot of content experts, many of whom seem to think that creating a magazine/newspaper/news site is the same as creating "content." It's not. Being part of a news-driven publication means being at the mercy of the news cycle. When you're working in a corporate setting, you have the luxury of carefully plotting a meticulous editorial calendar and only responding to the news if it behooves you to do so.

Being a part of the media also means figuring out how to generate story ideas and posts that will create buzz-and plenty of hits-to support the less sexy work you do. If you're a content marketer, you only have to worry about creating content that you know (or, at least, hope) will be a hit with your consumers.

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I also speak to a lot of experts who advocate hiring a journalist to help your company create content. Not enough people are talking about the differences between these two sides of the content coin, and if we ever want journalists to fully embrace being brand journalists, we need to start the conversation.

For many journalists--but not all--making the shift to creating content for marketing purposes (or even just general business content) is a culture shock. Here are just a few of the pain points that might arise:

• No more pitches-As journalists, we're used to having PR people and tipsters constantly pitching us story ideas. We get to sort through them and decide what is worth writing about. In a marketing or corporate environment, the process of generating a story idea will be wildly different.

• A slower pace-Journalists generally work pretty quickly. Unless you're working on a long-form investigative piece, most journalists are used to churning out multiple articles a week or even a day. In the business world, content will likely take much longer to get through the approval process, and that may be frustrating.

• Pleasing the customer-If you've moved from journalism to brand journalism, your focus will go from simply telling a well-researched, (mostly) unbiased story to creating on-demand content for a brand. And while your first duty is still to create great content, it has to make the customer happy.

These aren't insurmountable issues, but they are real problems that people making the transition run into. For my book, Inside Content Marketing: EContent Magazine's Guide to Roles, Tools, and Strategies for Thriving in the Age of Brand Journalism (due out in early 2016), I interviewed a lot of people who moved from journalism to content marketing. A lot of them-especially the ones working in content studios at traditional publishers-talked about these issues and learning how to navigate them on-the-fly. But in a world in which "we are all content creators," we should be able to do better than let journalists turned content marketers figure it out for themselves.

Some of these issues are tougher to tackle than others. It's pretty easy to lend advice on generating story ideas without the help of outside pitches, but learning how to deal with customers is different. Everyone seems to agree that you need to set out the rules and guidelines for sponsors early on-and get them in writing-but few are willing to divulge exactly how they lay down the law. If content marketers and brand journalists want to continue to make the case for what they do, silence the naysayers, and encourage journalists to join their ranks. Then, talking about the specific rules and guidelines they follow to create engaging and ethical content will do a lot to move what some still see as a shadowy industry engaged in pseudo-advertising out into the light.