Content and Journalism Are Relatives but not Twins
There comes a time when the younger sibling has to step out from behind their older and become their own. For content, that time has come and gone. Content has effectively distinguished itself as something quite unique from journalism. It has established itself in form and function as a blend of art and science that justifies its own practices and pursuits. There is one thing, however, that seems to have lingered in the realm of content – something that at its core seems too precious to shake. That’s its structure. The whole start with this, then go to this, and then wrap everything up with this type of thing.
Structure though – the careful orchestration of load bearing points in our writing – is dependent on purpose. When it comes to writing, that purpose is all about what we hope to do with something meaningful. Does that meaningful thing happen before we write, or is it something that happens in result of our writing?
In journalism, something meaningful happens before. There is an inciting incident.
In content, something meaningful happens after and as a result of the content and its connection with a reader.
What's that now?
How we write depends on what we write and for whom we write. It takes into account where the words that are written will be read, when they will be read and the context in which someone is reading them.
When we write, we have one of three goals – inform, educate or inspire – the ratios of which determine what type of writing we are doing.
Journalism uncovers facts. It then informs readers of those facts in an unbiased way so that readers can make sense of them on their own terms.
Content has a point of view. It interprets the facts available, takes a perspective and educates and inspires readers based on that perspective. Content doesn’t replace journalism. It builds on it.
Journalistic writing is intended to inform. It provides a reader with all the information they need as quickly as possible. This is why we have the beloved inverted pyramid structure for writing.
The goal of journalism is to inform a reader. It’s like a great photo capturing an instance entirely for a viewer to see it for was it is.
In this structure, we present the most important information first: who, what, when, where, why and how. This is the big topside of the pyramid. All the important detail people are chomping at the bit to get. For instance, in the first sentence you might not learn that Professor Plum knew seven languages, but you will learn that he was killed by Colonel Mustard with a candlestick while in the conservatory.
After the big top of the pyramid, we venture into a few other important facts, though less important then the top - the professor wasn’t even supposed to be in town this weekend. And finally you present any pertinent background information that may be of interest to the reader – it was a cloudy night and there was a bit of a chill in the air.
Simply put, journalism organizes information by diminishing importance. That way if a reader abandons before finishing the piece, they still have the crux of the story. Its goal? - inform. It’s like a great photo capturing an instance entirely for a viewer to see it for was it was.
Journalism says: “These are just the facts folks. Don’t shoot the messenger.” Content on the other hand says, “I am the message, shoot if you must.”
Content must subscribe to the same principles of integrity of journalism; however, the foundation of that integrity is the interpretation made by a content creator rather than an event. The facts of the event have already taken place. Journalism has already set the stage. Content now has to provide an additional “why” and “how” to the story. Why are all these facts important? How do we go about things differently now?
So you read an article in the news and find out that Professor Plum was killed candlestick style. But did you know that he and Mustard had a secret love affair and the candlestick was a metaphor for the flame that died between them?
It takes every single word to make a point – no more, no less.
This is where things start to distinguish themselves between journalism and content. Journalism has an inciting incident – Plum was killed. Content has a point to make – Fictionalize historic romances have much to teach us about the pitfalls of opulent lifestyles.
In journalism we give readers everything they need to leave early. With content, we give readers everything they need to stay to the bitter end. That’s because it takes every single word to make a point – no more, no less.
Given identical facts, each journal article should be identical. However, no two pieces of content should be the same. Each piece of content should make its own point, make a point better, or make a point differently.
To make a point, sometimes indulgent word choices are necessary. Reiteration as well. Redudancy too. Even sentence fragments. And starting a sentence with a conjunction is also acceptable. The thing is, to make a point is a bit like making a sale. The buyer, your reader, determines content just as much as the content creator.
A news article can be a good news article even if no one reads it. Content is purposeless without its audience.
That’s because when making a point, we have to make sure each paragraph, sentence, word lands harder and harder to keep a reader interested. A reader needs momentum to move through a piece. There is a convincing that is taking place within each phrase.
So what about the ole inverted pyramid? Well, that’s not the content way. To write an effective piece of content, we can use a regular old right-side-up pyramid structure starting with the “why.” To make a point, we have to first convince a reader why the point is even worth making. In this, the where, what and when are included but only in that they are the raw materials the writer uses to shape a perspective.
After a reader is effectively convinced of a why something important, it is time to convince them what they need to do now – “how” to go about doing things in light of this new information.
This structure of content resembles a great speech. You connect to your audience first. Invite them along a journey with you with an intriguing opening that promises them a big pay off at the end. Then you build a case for what you’re talking about – you start weaving. And then, there is a denouement. Every thing you promised and everything you built is then brought together in a perfect crescendo that receives a standing ovation, that is, something meaningful happens.