What We Can Learn from Journalists: The Original Content Marketers

By Melissa Duko, March 21, 2017

Content marketers create and share content to attract and convert customers. You know who else produces content to attract (and inform) their audience? Journalists.

Knowing how to craft a compelling story to engage an audience is a necessary evil for both content marketers and journalists. But most content marketers aren’t trained writers like journalists.

Journalists are the O.G. of storytellers. They know how to dig up details and deliver a relatable, intriguing narrative to their target audience. They also can read between the lines and anticipate what will happen next, enabling them to stay ahead of the curve.   

Content marketers can learn a lot from the O.G.s. Here are a few nuggets of journalism wisdom.

Always Follow the 5 W’s

Attention content marketers: we’re hopping in the DeLorean and taking it back to Journalism 101. Here’s the first thing every professor teaches a bright-eyed (not yet cynical) future journalist: the Five W’s:

  • Who.
  • What.
  • When.
  • Where.
  • Why.

The Five W’s are applicable to many areas in life, and content marketing is no exception. You need to know who you’re writing for, what type of information/product they want, when to deliver it, where to deliver it, and why they need it.


Source: Stevey Jones

Let’s say you’ve been given an assignment to write content for wearable tech jewelry. Before you start cranking out copy, do you know:

  • Your target demographic (who)?
  • The technical aspects of the product (what)?
  • The product launch date (when)?
  • Can the product be ordered online or in stores (where)?
  • The benefits of having it (why)?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, how can you be sure your content will engage your audience? Short answer: you don’t.

Which brings us to...

Research and Ask Lots of Questions

Give a journalist a crumb, and they’ll bake you a cake (hypothetically speaking, most can’t cook). Research is their favorite thing to do. Honestly, many should have been private detectives.

Follow their lead and do lots of research (e.g. keyword research, demographics, etc.). More importantly, ask lots of questions.

It’s no secret journalists love to ask questions. And the savvy ones know how to sprinkle them into a conversation without making it feel like an interrogation. (But that’s a skill learned over time.)  

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Source: Giphy

Content marketing is all about engaging your audience. So don’t hesitate to literally engage by conducting a survey asking your audience how the company is doing, or get their perspective on how a particular product can be improved.  

Related Post: Content Remarketing: From Double Dipping to Remarkable Growth

Imagine if Coca-Cola had done that before the new Coke failure. They could have saved themselves a ton of money and headaches.

And don’t just save the questions for your audience. If you’re a content marketer who’s promoting a technical product, but isn’t sure how it works, march down to the Engineering Department and pick their brain, too. Better to ask and get it right, before you write that blog post.

The more you know, the better you can accurately educate the consumer.

Know How to Write a Killer Headline

A love of coffee with a side of dry humor seems to be a common trait with journalists. Look no further than “Overheard in the Newsroom” for your daily dose of sarcasm. Here, you’ll see just how dark journalists can be, which often translates into amazing headlines.

For example, The Associated Press isn’t known for entertaining pieces. Their writing is pretty dry. But occasionally you’ll stumble across headlines like this:

Business Insider example.png

Source: Business Insider

Sure, it straddles the line of being offensive, but it’s funny. And it’s definitely eye-catching. Now imagine taking that same headline style and applying it to your marketing campaign.  

If you follow the Copyranter, you’re probably all too familiar with his rants about the lack of originality in copywriting, particularly headlines (and taglines). Don’t be afraid to go to the dark side and inject some old school journalism humor into your headline. You might just score clickbait gold.  

Be Flexible and Don’t Fear Rejection  

Journalists are used to writing for a variety of different beats. It isn’t unusual to cover business in the morning, education in the afternoon, and entertainment in the evening.  

Their job is to write for the reader, which makes flexibility a necessity. Content marketers need to be flexible, too.

Think about it. Audiences use multiple devices. If you’re producing content for cross-device marketing, you’ll need to create long-form content on desktop, and a shortened version for mobile.  

Having the ability to slice and dice material multiple ways, will serve content marketers well. So will a thick skin. Rejection stings, and journalists are all too familiar with rejection.


Source: Troll

Whether it’s an editor tearing apart a piece, or a reader demanding a retraction, journalists have learned to let it roll off their back. They acknowledge it, fix it, and keep rolling with the punches. Content marketers need to be able to do the same.

Anticipate Trends Before They Happen

It’s scary how good journalists are at reading people and situations. They’re so adept at focusing on all of the little details that make up the big picture, often they can anticipate what will happen next, right down to the miniscule details.

Let’s say a political scandal unfolds with the mayor’s office. A political reporter already knew it was happening three weeks ago, they just couldn’t break the story until it was official. How did they know? They noted key members of the administration were let go, budgets were slashed, etc.

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Source: Giphy

Always be observing. Keep on top of industry trends, review your analytics, follow social media. The more aware you are, the better you’ll be able to spot a trend about to explode on the scene and capitalize on it.

Related Post: How to Identify and Capitalize on a Marketing Trend

It’s no secret content marketers are great at marketing. But by incorporating these journalism tips, they’ll be amazing writers, too. Journalists possess a wealth of information so, don’t be afraid to ask them a question. They may bark, but they don’t bite.  

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Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko is the Senior Editor and Digital Specialist for eZanga and its ad fraud management platform, Anura. She brings to her role more than a decade of journalism and editing experience. A graduate of the University of Delaware, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, concentration business and technical writing, minor Art History. She also has a Master of Science in professional writing for the public and private sector from Towson University. She isn’t afraid to admit that her love for Starbucks is at gold member status. (Since 2011!) More Articles by Melissa Duko