Why content strategy is the smart career move for journalists

By Brigid Auchettl (Content Strategist)

The state of things:

Journalism has had a bad wrap for being a “dying” industry. Just in January Fairfax announced plans in 2017 to stop printing weekday metropolitan newspapers. Oh, and that’s right, Dolly axed its print edition after 48 years so, ya know — it’s not all blue skies! But despite this, thousands of graduates across Australia finished clutching their journalism degree and thinking, “oh shit, what now?!”. Including me. Now don’t get me wrong, I know there are jobs out there for journalism graduates, but they are few and far between. Trust me. I applied for around 20 or so jobs once finishing my degree and only a fraction of these were journalism related, which was when I decided I needed to broaden my horizons.

Journalism is changing:

As long as there is news to tell and stories to share, there will always be demand for reporters and journalists. However, it is undeniable that the industry is in the midst of some turmoil making it hard for even the highly skilled, highly trained professionals to find work, let alone the fresh graduates (like me).

A 2012 study by Graduate Careers Australia showed that four months after graduating, just 26.6% of the 634 journalism graduates researched were working as journalists. A further 4.6% had a role in the media, but not as reporters. At first I admit, I felt a little like a failure joining that 4.6%. All through my course I’d had heard many (mostly sarcastic) remarks about the field I chose. “An arts degree, really?” or “Oh, I’ve heard there’s no jobs in journalism”, “You should really choose something more practical.” I thought that by not becoming a “traditional” writer or journalist I was proving all these naysayers right. Of course, now I see how dumb I was to let them bother me, I’m always going to write, just in a different capacity than before.

So why content strategy?

In 2010, there were 763 people using the title content strategist on LinkedIn. Now, in 2017, just seven years later, there are 34,950 results. That’s some crazy growth. The growth of LinkedIn could be partly responsible for the difference in these numbers, but even so expanding by 34187 members in under 10 years is no mean feat.

While scouring the internet for work I looked for roles that would work within my skillset but also challenge me to expand my knowledge. When I stumbled upon the MF listing for a content strategist I was put at ease by their friendly tone and the possibility of learning in a place where I’d be supported by like-minded folks! I decided to apply for the content strategy role because I wanted a challenge, I wanted to write and contribute to a professional environment rather than simply self-publish my work to the world. I wanted to make a difference with the content I was creating and it was within content strategy that recognised I could transform businesses and develop skills I couldn’t in another role. Luckily, they liked me too!

I found that the skills required for content writing were either things that I could bring to the table from my previous training or elements of myself that I was keen to develop within my career. As a student and a journalist I developed my tone, interview skills, content writing across varied platforms and audiences, how to angle a story. Now, moving into the world of content strategy, I’m keen to see how my words can make an impact for businesses and their clients rather than just the general faceless “reader”. Now I can see the demographics who are reading my work and really know my reader, track when people drop off and lose interest and determine what matters to the reader and what they want to read.

Shared skills: Content strategist and journalists share skills intrinsic to each role.

You’re a storyteller

Former TV News reporter and now content strategist, Chantel McGee said “I firmly believe the best content strategists have a background in journalism and a fundamental understanding of how to tell compelling stories.” Narrative construction is similar within content strategy and journalism in that both require extensive research and take on differing forms and unique tones of voice depending on subject, audience, and owner / publisher. However, it differs when it comes to how they draw insight from others to shape inform their writing. Where journalists conduct 1:1 on phone interviews and then write up direct quotes to publish, content strategists will invite their audience to test their propositions and content in workshops.

You need an editorial voice

Each publication has their own voice via style guides whereas content strategists often have to develop and create an editorial voice for the client depending on their branding. Of course this goes beyond just copy. For example when writing for a magazine or paper you may have a say in the images/colour scheme while when writing content, strategists work closely with designers who help realise the brand vision and bring the images to life.

Shareability is super important

With journalism you share a story because you think it’s newsworthy, while as a content strategist you want people to consume the content in order to get a brand’s message out. In either profession it’s important to develop content that will drive readers to want to share with others, and spread the word! So it’s important you construct compelling and shareable content.

Ethics matter people!

Despite what Donald Trump says journalists don’t strive to create “fake news” in fact it’s the complete opposite, they take ethics very seriously. In fact, journalists and content creators have a shared respect and due diligence for their audience/s.There are professional bodies that outline journalistic ethics, like MEAA and ACMA, that encourage high standards of ethical behaviour. Similarly integrity is just as important when creating strategic content. The last thing content strategists want to do is to tarnish a brand through unethical marketing practises and lose trust with the audience.

What is the transition like?

So now I’m a content strategist, but what does that mean? Hint, it’s more than just penning a few blog posts and hoping for the best. There’s some strategy behind it. I know right, who would have guessed?!

Now, I’m not going to sit here and say taking the leap was easy. It was uncomfortable, scary and unnerving but also exciting, challenging and rewarding. The move from journalist to content strategist was hard enough, let alone the change of the office dynamics. As a journalist you work independently within a set group of reporters eg. sport, arts, crime and so on and as a result you get to know the likes (and dislikes) of your editors. You then create your content fairly autonomously (sub-editors read over work) based around editor preferences. However within agencies such as Mentally Friendly, I’ve found every client is different and all processes, including content, have a huge emphasis on collaboration, you work as a team to produce outcomes that everyone is happy with. Also small things like accounting for your time in 20 minute blocks, contributing to standup and learning to roadmap. So, you can see why when I first arrived my brain was like, whaaaat?

Being a content strategist is a mix of editorial writing, organisation and management skills, analytical abilities, developing marketing know-how and being a communications whiz. My day-to-day responsibilities include creating and managing social media campaigns, monitoring engagement and analyzing data, implementing SEO and building strategic partnerships with a variety of clients. I’m currently working with clients on projects that I never would have been able to meet in another role.

Sounds cool right, so how do you become a strategist?

Think of it this way: Content strategy pulls from a variety of skill sets and schools of thought, including journalism, communications, marketing, and data analytics.

Becoming a content strategist is a little unconventional as there is no set path, no degree, no major of content strategy offered at university. But don’t freak out just yet, there are some seminars and short courses out there aimed at teaching people about the basics of content strategy and how to do it well, like this or this one I’m enrolling in next month.

Though the move from journalism to content has had a steep learning curve at times, I’m talking Mount Everest steep, but I’m glad I was brave enough to take the leap. You’d be stupid not to realise that journalists must adapt to survive in the digital landscape, and I truly believe that content is the way to go. To define yourself by one type of role, be it journalist, reporter or blogger will be your downfall. It’s going to be those who can adapt with the changing times and flow into the future who will thrive. And all those naysayers will eat their words.

*P.S If you want to join the Mentally Friendly strategy team, you can! We’re hiring.

*P.P.S You should, we’re very friendly, it’s in the name.