The journalism and content marketing industries are fusing together more each day, and all signs point to the trend continuing.
Reuters, the Pulitzer Prize-winning international news agency, now offers Reuters Content Solutions, “a full service, custom content studio that capitalizes on Reuters’ 160-year expertise and news infrastructure to deliver world-class publishing support to brands and agencies.”
Mattermark, a data platform software company that collects and organizes actionable data on the world’s fastest-growing companies, has built out a blog that could quickly rival any tech publication out there.
How did Reuters and Mattermark do it? Reuters learned as much as possible about content marketing, and figured out how to amplify that knowledge through their traditional journalism expertise. Likewise, Mattermark saw the importance of both, and began assembling a team of dedicated content marketers and acclaimed tech journalists.
But the journalism and content marketing fusion isn’t all that surprising, really.
While it could certainly be argued that wherever content existed, marketing too had to exist, I believe 1895 was especially important.
In journalism circles, this is known as the year when Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who had revolutionized the U.S. newspaper industry, was on top of the world. His New York World, thanks in part to his use of bold headlines and engaging human stories, had grown to become the largest newspaper in the country. Pulitzer had essentially transformed an industry that catered to the wealthy into a medium for the masses.
And this is also when William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy son of a business tycoon, purchased the struggling New York Morning Journal and sought to use his unlimited amount of money to wrestle Pulitzer’s World into submission. A competition between the two emerged, giving rise to “Yellow Journalism,” a type of journalism that focuses more on catchy headlines (the modern-day click-bait) and intriguing images—often at the expense of accurate, fact-based stories.
In essence, the bitter rivalry between Pulitzer and Hearst was as much (and certainly at times far more) about the marketing of content than it was about creating the kind of socially responsible content that Pulitzer’s form of journalism had first embraced.
In content marketing circles, 1895 is also viewed as a landmark year. This was when John Deere launched The Furrow, “a journal for the American farmer.” The Furrow, still in publication today, is often regarded as the first and purest form of content marketing. By 1907 it had grown to about 500,000 readers. It grew to become the industry’s go-to source for information because it provided truly valuable content without forcing the John Deere brand into their reader’s faces with every turn of the page.
At the heart of both industries and, I’d argue, at the very essence of their fusion today, is the journalism mindset. Media companies often fail because they do not adequately amplify their quality content through marketing. Similarly, content marketing teams often fail because they do not bring a journalism mindset to the work they’re producing.
As my own career started with journalism, here are three aspects of the journalism mindset that I think carry over exceptionally well to content marketing:
1. You have to know your audience to grow your audience. There’s a reason why newspapers have columns, and indeed why Pulitzer and Hearst both fought over certain columnists. In organizing by subject, a journalist and their team can create the kind of work that at once makes for an easy reading experience and positions them as thought leaders. A content marketing effort, without a grasp of what its target audience is, may find a way to grow, but is far more likely to lose readers at a faster clip than it acquires them.
2. Care deeply about bringing value to your story. The journalism mindset means not just finding a story that an audience may gain value from, but deeply caring about bringing value to the story itself. I’ve seen many content marketing efforts where a team consistently writes about the perfect niche topic—even checks all the SEO boxes—but doesn’t do the topic justice. The result? Another mediocre piece of content that likely doesn’t add to what already exists, and makes all that behind-the-scenes SEO work relatively meaningless.
3. Make it new and strive for accuracy. Pulitzer’s reputation grew, in large part, because of his obsession with this new way of filling newspapers with compelling human stories that were also driven by facts and the best research available. The journalist realizes it isn’t enough to spin an existing story and make it new; it must be made new while maintaining the layers of truth and research all readers deserve.
In some ways, both industries are slipping. Traditional media companies that once created brilliant journalism have now become experts in creating cheap filler. Likewise, many in content marketing are spinning their wheels in the age of peak content. They are spending more time thinking about how to atomize a single piece of mediocre content than they are about truly creating something new that provides immense value.
But, in my experience, those of us in content marketing can find our center—or recalibrate our efforts towards an existing center—by remembering to adhere to the journalism mindset that initially guided both Pulitzer and the editors at The Furrow:
Write well and write with empathy. (tweet this)
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