Journalists And Freelance Copywriters: Shaken, Not Stirred?

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What do journalists and copywriters have in common?

  • Both create texts.
  • Both meet deadlines.
  • Both argue with those who call them writers.

And yet, they are far from the same. Even if writing for online publications, journalists can't turn into copywriters with a wave of a wand. The "writers are writers" mantra doesn't work here: Shakespeare would hardly write a TV script, as well as Hemingway would hardly write a one-of-a-kind About Us page for a website.

Hence, what's the difference?

Journalists write, edit, and report to a vast audience, covering news through different media: newspapers, television, online publications, radio stations, and more. On the other side, copywriters create texts aimed at purchasing products/services to a narrow audience, targeted for particular business.

The borderland between these two professions is... emotions.

Much more skeptical, journalists think of facts rather than compelling taglines to present information. While the act of writing itself is crucial for copywriters, journalists consider reporting the key element of their profession.

Does it mean a journalist can't be a copywriter?

Yes, it does.

A journalist can't be a copywriter but can become one. Particularly now when traditional journalism loses ground in favor of online media, and when content marketing runs things, combining writing articles, video scripts, blogs, social media posts, interviews, and other types of content in addition to traditional copywriting.

It's that very time when a journalist cannot merely go wild but also have the better of copywriters. (Nothing personal!)

Journalists and freelance copywriters: shaken, not stirred? - Image 1

#1 to learn: the difference between writing for print and online

This is particularly so with journalists who reported to print publications only.

The key differences are:

1) Hooks

  • Print publications: Optional. Readers have already made the investment by purchasing this article, so they are less likely to give up reading if there are no writing hooks from the beginning.
  • Online publications: Required. 79% of online users scan articles instead of reading word-for-word, so digital content should be clear and eye-catching from the beginning.

2) Length

  • Print publications: Long form content still prevails for remarkable articles, though short personals take place, too.
  • Online publications: 1,000 – 1,500 words, short blocks of text, one-two sentence paragraphs.

3) Tone/Composition

  • Print publications: More rigid. Long paragraphs, no fixed formatting but a good scope of text compositions.
  • Online publications: More conversational. Subheads, bulleted lists, visuals, and other web-specific formats.

4) SEO/Plagiarism

  • Print publications: Redundant. More difficult and time-consuming to elicit, as extra work and resources are needed.
  • Online publications: Required. Easier and faster to elicit with specific tools that spot plagiarism, available 24/7.

5) Sourcing

  • Print publications: Stringent, time-consuming to get, check facts, and explicitly attribute.
  • Online publications: Preferable, easier to get: hyperlinking to the source material doesn't take much time.

6) Pay

  • Print publications: Pay more per word, but a journalist spends more time on research and writing one piece.
  • Online publications: Less paid, but a journalist can make up the difference with volume and diverse opportunities.

Does it mean that a journalist willing to become a copywriter should forget everything he knew? Oh dear no! In fact, all acquired skills can help in conquesting a copywriting Olympus.

#2 to learn: how to use journalism writing techniques in copywriting

Back in 2014, Harvard Business Review called journalists the best suit for content marketing, as they knew aspects such as understanding audience, synthesizing information, research, and upholding critical editorial standards inside out.

In his article for CMI, Robert McGuire agrees and mentions that reporters know how to develop questions (interview) and find unexplored angles on familiar subjects, which is crucial in marketing and copywriting. What is more, he refers to Aaron Agius"9 lessons content marketers can learn from traditional journalism," which means that journalism techniques don't disappear once a journalist decides to write for online.

What journalism techniques can copywriters use?

  • A headline. Journalists are kings of writing controversial headlines describing the topic from different angles. That's where online publications might stand out.
  • A lead. Writing leads in online publications can help to hook readers and entice them to check the full article.
  • A thesis. It would be a good practice for web writers to follow the one-thesis-one-article rule. 2-3 sentence outlines for each piece could help in guest blogging and influencer marketing, too.
  • The inverted pyramid. This structure works in journalism, but copywriters can get benefit from it when using for sales pages or press releases.
  • Alternative text compositions. Why follow a one-size-fits-it-all text structure online? Copywriters might want to try "in media res," "chamomile," "what if vs. what is," or "false start" compositions to grab the reader's attention.

#3 to learn: business journalism, bent with the wind

The Internet era has the upper hand in journalism today, so men of pens have to stay in sync with the latest trends and learn how to apply the skills they learned in traditional journalism schools to social media environment.

Bent with the wind, business journalism rules the day: big data, marketing surveys, analysis and interpretation of online business activities, trends, and innovations – that's where the distinction eliminates between journalism and copywriting in 2017.

Do you agree?

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