Why I Quit Journalism For Content (And You Should Too)
Some people will tell you there’s never been a worse time to be a young journalist. Building a case to support these claims isn’t difficult. You’ve likely paid a lot of money to get through university and the going rate for a junior reporter isn’t going to put a dent in that debt anytime soon.
That’s if you were lucky enough to get a job in the first place. Newsrooms are shrinking and it seems we’re never far away from a fresh rounds of job cuts at Fairfax, News Limited or the ABC. While these high-profile publishers make the headlines, the impact of shrinking ad dollars is being felt across the industry.
The local newspapers where my generation first learned their craft are also struggling to maintain headcount, which makes it more difficult than ever to get a start. It’s the same story for online publishers and most of the journalism jobs that are available pay poorly.
Even when you landed your first job as a reporter, reality almost certainly failed to meet your expectations. Whether you’re writing for a national audience, a local community or a specific industry, you can’t find stories that really matter without getting out and talking to people. Finding the time to do this is increasingly difficult, even for experienced journalists, because of the pressure to pump out more and more content.
Much of your time as a junior reporter would once have been spent shadowing one of these experienced journalists. They’d introduce you to people on your beat and fill you in on important trends, while you picked up lots of useful skills and techniques along the way. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of these people to learn from in your average newsroom these days. And those who are still there haven’t got time to invest in your professional development.
Sadly, as a junior reporter, this means you likely spend much of your time wading through carefully worded press releases in search of anything that can be reworked to get your editor’s attention. Good luck with that.
Life in the newsroom isn’t much more enjoyable for many experienced journalists. There are fewer of them but feeding the online beast means there’s more than ever to be written. The pressure to break stories first in this ‘always on’ environment makes it incredibly difficult to find time for meaningful research and cost pressures have stripped away much of the editing process.
Then there’s always the danger that you’ll get a tap on the shoulder next time management looks to introduce more cost efficiencies. After all, there are few if any signs the publishing industry has hit the bottom and found a new normal just yet. Anybody looking for job security need not apply.
— Jane Cattermole (@janecat60) May 12, 2016
I left Fairfax and headed back to the UK in 2012 because of a family illness. When I’d joined the business four years earlier we had seven full-time journalists covering technology for The Australian Financial Review. We were filing stories for the newspaper, a monthly magazine and a couple of websites. By the time I left there were only three journalists, the magazine was dead and we’d also shut one of the websites down.
When I came back to Australia in 2014 I was looking for a new challenge. I’d been speaking to lots of contacts through LinkedIn and everybody was talking about content. As a former AFR reporter it was easy enough to set up meetings with a handful of agencies and I ended up taking a role with Spectrum Group, where I’ve spent the past couple of years growing a content business.
It’s been a steep learning curve at times. You work within a fairly set group as a reporter so get to know the likes (and dislikes) of your editor. In agency land, every client is different. And accounting for your time in 15-minute blocks? I’m used to it now but I’ll never be a fan.
Yet if you can cope with the business structures that feel alien to a journalist, there’s a lot to like about the content world. All of my clients are in B2B technology but, wherever you end up plying your trade, the rules of the game (and the reason people will want to hire you in the first place) are the same.
All brands now realise they have an incredible opportunity to talk directly to their clients and the many other people or companies they’d like to add to that list. The structures they need to do this are already in place but knowing what to say is the hard bit. You see most marketing communications is still focused on the last mile – somebody has a desire or a problem to solve so here’s why they should buy our products and services rather than those offered by competitors.
That’s all well and good but what about the rest of the buyer’s journey? It can take months of research for a B2B buyer to get to that stage. And it’s not just businesses. Consumers will often spend a long time gathering information from a broad range of different sources before they make a purchasing decision. Whether it’s B2B or B2C, these journeys usually start on Google and this magical point of discovery is where brands are desperate to be part of the conversation.
Bridging The Gap
They’re quickly learning that talking endlessly about their own merits is not a recipe for success in this new world of communications. That’s why they’re looking for journalists to help them bridge the gap between what they want to say and what their customers are interested in hearing.
Many writers have walked the path between journalism and corporate communications over the years but content is a more natural fit than any of the other disciplines. If I think of the journalists I worked alongside and competed against a few years ago, most of them are now involved in producing branded content. We’re all helping clients unlock the intellectual property that will cut through the noise and earn them the attention they crave.
When I first made the move into agency land I often struggled to tell people who asked what I did for a living. I’ll always self-identify as a journalist by trade, and still use most of the same skills, but there are also obvious differences. Yet many people clearly had no idea what I meant if I said I was a content director, worked in content or did content marketing. So now I tell them that I help technology companies communicate something customers care about in language that they understand. That seems to work most of the time.
Content marketing still has a lot of growing up to do but it’s an exciting industry to work in. If you’ve trained as a journalist but are struggling to get a start, or are feeling disillusioned because life as a reporter isn’t how you’d imagined it, know that there are other ways to put your storytelling skills to good use.
You won’t have the linear career path a promising young journalist could once have expected but the communications world is changing at an incredible pace and you’re very well placed to capitalise on this shift. Maybe training as a journalist wasn’t such a dumb idea after all.
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