15 Things and More That Content Creators Must Know to Write Journalistic Copy — There is a Difference

Tips to help you distinguish between them— review the checklist to determine if print-media writing is for you

Photo by Thomas Charters on Unsplash

An editor online posted a call for freelancers.

Freelancers can be within various niches. But, in this particular case, the editor was calling for freelance writers.

Upon my observation of responses, there were individuals who were online content creators.

However, the editor was looking for journalists by trade, and was not interested in content creators or writers of any other type — they just didn’t cut it.

As I read replies and feedback from various writers on social media platforms and online communities, I began to understand why the editor wasn’t interested.

In addition to lacking the skills to accomplish journalistic writing, I immediately noticed red-flag responses that would disqualify the content creators who had replied.

Of the respondents who sought gigs, some didn’t want to, and preferred not to interview people in-person, via phone, or virtually.

Some didn’t know how to interview subjects, and were not willing to learn.

Many were online content creators whose dream job was sitting behind the computer screen, cranking out online content, and getting compensated, which is fine and good.

I gathered this feedback from the actual comments a few of them had written.

However, when online content creators venture into responding to calls for freelancers, specifically for print publications, there are certain qualifications an editor seeks, because there is a difference between content creators and journalists.

So, who is considered a content creator?

A content creator is someone who creates content digitally about any topic through any medium, such as photography, videography, or written content, which can be entertaining, informative, or fun.

A content creator can also create persuasive marketing content that will enhance a company’s brand.

On the other hand, what characterizes a journalist?

A journalist does factual, non-biased, objective writing and reporting. They usually create print media for newspapers and magazines [based on my experience].

A journalist can also create news for radio and television broadcasting. And, with the onset of the internet, the most recent type of journalism is cyber, online, digital journalism.

So, if you’re interested in writing within the print-media space for newspapers and magazines, review the checklist, build your skills if they’re not up-to-par, and go for it!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Checklist: Qualities of a journalist

Things I actually learned on the job —

  1. Unbiased — must check your opinion a the door — your opinion doesn’t matter; it’s not about you.
  2. Fact-finder — Must be willing to research facts. This includes: Primary research, where you get facts first-hand/first-hand knowledge “straight from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak. Secondary research is from other sources, which you must cite — give attribution — no plagiarism.
  3. Patience — It takes time to schedule interviews, interview subjects, organize, develop, and write a story.
  4. Tech Savviness — If you don’t write fast, you may need a voice recorder, or you can use your phone to record the interview
  5. Transcription — Learn how to transcribe your recorded story from voice to text — Microsoft 365 and freeconvert.com will do the job.
  6. Interviews — Must be willing to come from behind the computer, get out and interview people.
  7. Investigative Reporting — Must be persistent and outgoing to get the full story — report actual facts.
  8. Print Media Exposure— Must be willing to present a photo of yourself, as well as your name as the reporter [specifically for newspapers — it’s customary to have the name and photo of the reporter to accompany the article]. This may also be a the discretion of the editor, and depending on print layout as space permits.
  9. Pitching — Learn how to write queries to newspapers and magazines to accept your idea and to purchase your story/article.
  10. Ethics — An absolute must! Tell the truth. Don’t plagiarize. Lawsuits loom.
  11. Accept constructive criticism — Be open to having your work edited, critiqued — the editor has the final say.
  12. Become an excellent communicator — be mindful of how you verbally convey messages — also for written communication: take time to use correct grammar and spelling — If in doubt and for safe measure, use the “quadruplets,” the AP Style Guide, the thesaurus, the dictionary, and Grammarly. They are your friends
  13. Be intentional — When interviewing/reporting, don’t become the story (by doing or saying things that may detract from the story you’re reporting— negative things almost always get news coverage)
  14. Bachelors degree — It’s much easier to break into journalistic writing if you have at least at a bachelors degree in any discipline, and if you didn’t graduate from journalism school. However, it is not required. Your writing portfolio should speak for itself, especially if you have bylines. It’s really at the discretion of the editor.
  15. The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook purchase a copy or subscribe to the online version — this is the universal style guide that broadcast journalists and print media[newspaper and magazine]reporters use.

This is not a conclusive checklist. These are just basics to get you started.

As for a bit of encouragement, a local publisher of a magazine (photo below) invited me to guest post in 2012, which is how I began.

My first magazine article and marketing ad with Indy Boomer Magazine (the magazine is currently marketed as Indy LifeStyle Magazine)— I had the opportunity to get a twofer as writing a guest post to my credit (my byline) in the process. — Photo Credit: Arnita M. Williams

Then, I happened to reach out to a newspaper reporter who had visited my day job, at the time, to report on a story in 2018, which is how I was able to begin writing for newspapers (photo of clip below).

My first newspaper assignment — I contracted with the Hendricks County Flyer newspaper as a stringer. — Photo Credit: Arnita M. Williams

During the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, I pitched to a newspaper within my community with clips (writing samples) and I was contracted as a staff reporter.

Beginning with the first clip as a guest writer, then as a stringer, and then, with the last clip (below), shows the progression of my freelance writing career, so far, as a writer within the print-media space.

My newspaper clip as a staff reporter for Pike Pulse Newspaper — Photo Credit: Arnita M. Williams

It was great, because all of my interviews were via phone, since the coronavirus had the nation on lockdown.

During that time, I was able to build my confidence and interviewing skills without being face-to-face with my subjects. Also, with writing, I’m always learning something new.

Mind you, I knew nothing — absolutely nothing about writing for magazines, newspapers, or news reporting. I just stepped-out on faith, believing that I was capable.

On thing in my favor, was the fact that I’ve always loved writing.

It can be a very lucrative freelance niche, if you’re willing to ace the checklist.

Again, those basics will get you into journalistic writing — I’m too humble to call myself a journalist.

I just enjoy writing in the print-media space.



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Print Media Writer | Lifestyle, Arts & Culture, and Wellbeing