The journalism and content marketing industries are fusing together more each day, and all signs point to the trend continuing.
For example, Reuters, the Pulitzer Prize-winning international news agency, now offers Reuters Content Solutions, “a full service, custom content studio that capitalizes on Reuters’ 160-year expertise and news infrastructure to deliver world-class publishing support to brands and agencies.”
Also, Mattermark, a data platform software company that collects and organizes actionable data on the world’s fastest-growing companies, has built out a blog that can rival any tech publication out there.
So, how did Reuters and Mattermark do it?
Reuters learned as much as possible about content marketing and figured out how to amplify that knowledge through its traditional journalism expertise. Likewise, Mattermark saw the importance of both, and it began assembling a team of dedicated content marketers and acclaimed tech journalists.
But the journalism and content marketing fusion isn’t all that surprising, really.
Content marketing’s journalistic roots
Though one can argue that wherever content existed, marketing, too, had to exist, the year 1895 was particularly important.
That year, Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who had revolutionized the US newspaper industry, was on top of the world. His New York World newspaper had grown to become the largest newspaper in the country in part to because of his use of bold headlines and engaging human stories. Pulitzer had essentially transformed an industry that catered to the wealthy into a medium for the masses.
And this is also when William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy son of a business tycoon, purchased the struggling New York Morning Journal and sought to use his unlimited amount of money to wrestle Pulitzer’s World into submission. A competition between the two emerged, giving rise to “yellow journalism,” a type of journalism that focuses more on catchy headlines (the modern-day click-bait) and intriguing images often at the expense of accurate, fact-based stories.
The bitter rivalry between Pulitzer and Hearst was as much (and, at times, far more) about the marketing of content than it was about creating the kind of socially responsible content that Pulitzer’s form of journalism had first embraced.
In content marketing circles, 1895 also viewed as a landmark year. This was when John Deere launched The Furrow, “a journal for the American farmer.”
The Furrow, still in publication today, is often regarded as the first and purest form of content marketing. By 1907, it had grown to about 500,000 readers. It grew to become the industry’s go-to source for information because it provided truly valuable content without forcing the John Deere brand into readers’ faces with every turn of the page.
The journalistic mindset
At the heart of both industries and at the very essence of their fusion today is the journalism mindset.
Some media companies have failed because they haven’t properly marketed their content, and content marketing efforts have failed because they couldn’t provide content that mattered. However, good content remains at the core.
Here are three aspects of the journalism mindset that carry over to content marketing exceptionally well:
1. Knowing your audience, so you can grow your audience
There’s a reason why newspapers have columns, and why Pulitzer and Hearst both fought over certain columnists. In organizing by subject, a journalist and his or her team can create the kind of work that at once makes for an easy reading experience and positions them as thought leaders.
A content marketing effort, without a grasp of what its target audience is, may find a way to grow, but is far more likely to lose readers at a faster clip than it acquires them.
2. Caring deeply about bringing value to your story
The journalism mindset means not just finding a story that an audience will find value in but deeply caring about bringing value to the story itself.
I’ve see many content marketing efforts where a team consistently writes about the perfect topic but doesn’t do the topic justice. The result? Another mediocre piece of content that likely doesn’t add to what already exists on the topic.
3. Making stories new and striving for accuracy
Pulitzer’s reputation grew, in large part, because of his obsession with this new way of filling newspapers with compelling human stories also driven by facts and the best research available. The journalist realizes spinning an existing story and making it new isn’t enough; it must be made new while maintaining the layers of truth and research all readers deserve.
In some ways, both industries are slipping.
Traditional media companies that once created brilliant journalism have now become experts in creating cheap filler. Likewise, many in content marketing are spending more time thinking about how to atomize a single piece of mediocre content than they are about truly creating something new that provides immense value.
But, those of us in content marketing can find our center—or recalibrate our efforts towards an existing center—by adhering to the journalism mindset that initially guided both Pulitzer and the editors at The Furrow. Write well, and write with empathy.