Do you have a dislike of journalists – if you do, you’re almost certainly in the majority.
Ask people what they think of journalists and a large proportion will say things like ‘scum’ or ‘parasites’.
Others might say ‘liars’ or speak of ‘fake news’. A lot of the others will simply spit on the floor.
Everybody, well almost everybody hates journalists. Nobody wants their kid to become a journalist, if you had to choose someone to be stranded on a desert island with, a journalist would come above only psychopath. And it would be close.
Journalists, if you will excuse a dated reference included solely to shoehorn in the gif below, are like Toby Flenderson.
In defence of journalists?
As a former journalist I should probably defend my profession but, to be honest, the public has it about right. Most journalists are pretty awful people, a lot are even worse than you imagine.
Obviously I am excluding myself from this – I am genuinely nice, (I promise) – and also every former colleague of mine. Well, most of them anyway.
However, for all their flaws, there are a few things that journalists are good at, often amazing at, and I’m not thinking of tapping phones or knocking on the doors of grieving relatives.
Journalists are bloody good at research – they have to write about a tonne of different topics and so have to be able to quickly bone up on any topic. Typically, this is through speaking to people.
A journalist also has to be able to write well – their finished work has to be accurate and engaging – it has to dance off the page, and yet also be watertight legally. Every publication is competing for eyeballs and the key weapon is often the quality of the copy.
Speed is also important, there is no point being able to write a perfect news story if every other publication had the same news an hour ago. Journalists can hit the deadline, especially those who started off in print.
Creativity – and not with the truth
To really succeed as a journalist you need creativity, and I don’t mean being creative with the truth (though on some tabloids that may not hurt). The journalist who lacks creativity will find themselves stuck on the dullest of news stories forever more. To work on features or get entrusted with the best interviews you need to be able to elevate the copy.
Creativity extends to headlines too, using just a few words to serve the twin purpose of providing information and creating intrigue.
Finally, and yes there really are only five things a journalist must be good at, they have to be superb at editing copy and making it better. Actually, this one isn’t always essential – but for any journalist with aspirations of becoming a sub-editor there is a requirement to be one of the very best writers. To be able to take the work of others, see what it lacks and edit accordingly.
So, that is five things journalists are good at – and two of them are only necessary if you want to progress above the bottom ranks.
However, it turns out that this set of skills, this very particular set of skills, happen to also make the experienced journalist also the perfect copywriter.
Years spent in journalism only serve to hone copywriting skills. It is a non-stop clinic.
The skills are all transferable.
The skills journalists share with copywriters
An ability to write on any topic.
The copywriter you hire is unlikely to be a leading authority on your industry or company, however anyone with journalistic experience is used to carrying out research.
Better yet, simplifying complex ideas is something they will have done thousands of times. Many companies struggle because their copy is written for experts – it reads fine to those within the company but is frankly baffling to those they seek to reach.
An ability to write with clarity
Those reading an article are unlikely to be an expert in the subject matter, they are reading to acquire information.
Perhaps the most important skill any good journalist must have is to be able to turn complex ideas into easy-to-read and understand text. The text should be written in such a way that for the reader it is an easy journey – they learn something from the piece, and the information is all easy to follow – and yet not patronising or dumbed down.
For any brand or project, this matters too – you want those seeing the text to be able to understand the points you seek to make.
An ability to be creative
Heading into the realm of the sub-editor or features writer, there is a requirement to make copy sing, to make words jump from the screen.
This can be with headlines, or sells for social media – we are all bombarded with notifications and streams of information – any headline must be accurate, informative but also create that moment of pause, dragging the reader in.
For features, the writing style must be anything but bland, you may have had the chance to speak to a fascinating interviewee, but that still needs turning into a wonderful write-up. It may even be that the subject matter isn’t rich in potential, the creativity of the writing is the only thing that can save it.
In modern journalism there is no hiding – the analytics show what people read and for how long. Good journalists learn from this objective feedback and constantly work to imporve their writing.
For those seeking a copywriter, who doesn’t want someone with proven creativity?
An ability to be accurate
When a journalist makes a mistake, the repercussions can be enomormous and range from potential hurt caused to innocent parties through to full on legal action.
Journalists are trained in media law, they are careful with their words. Sub-editors perhaps more so still, as the buck really does stop with them after they hit ‘publish’.
This need to be accurate is so ingrained in any experienced journalist it becomes something they do not even consciously think about. It is simply a given.
Bar brands who care little for accuracy – and I’m struggling to think of any that fit this category – an accurate copywriter is going to trump one who spews out errors.
An ability to hit deadlines
When a news story breaks, you have a couple of minutes at most to go from blank page to published article. There is no time for pondering, instead a clear, immediate vision of how to structure the information is required.
When working on campaigns, it is unlikely that a copywriter has quite this time pressure, but the ability to work quickly is still important.
The journalist can come up with ideas quickly and flesh them out, perhaps then coming up with alternatives. The creative process becomes accelerated.
For the client, this typically means that superb results are delivered more quickly – and so cost effectively – than may be the case when you work with those who have not experienced true time pressure.
Why pay for procrastination?
An ability to accept feedback
Journalists, sub-editors and editors work as a team.
Copy gets changed, ideas are shared – this is not to belittle the writer or as a criticism, it is instead a collaboration to ensure the finished article is as good as it possibly can be.
Any journalist who cannot accept constructive criticism, who is too thin-skinned will not last a week in the job.
When you work with a writer, do you want someone who can take on board your feedback, or someone who is overly defensive?
An ability to fight fight their corner
A copywriter walks a tightrope. They have to produce the copy that works for their client, but they also have to keep all stakeholders happy.
At times, there is a multitude of feedback, including some that might be deemed not the most useful.
Mike from sales has an idea about how the copy can be improved. Mike can barely write a Christmas card.
Journalists have to defend their work, but also accept the criticism that is valid, they are brought up in an environment where everyone is pitching their idea, where the sub-editors are suggesting changes and then, when you progress to subbing, you are making changes that journalists may be reluctant to accept.
It is essential to be able to spot the improvements and helpful suggestions from the noise and to defend your work when the changes are not an improvement.
The copywriter is employed because of their expertise, is it better to have one who is confident and will explain their ideas, or who is overtly malleable and tries to incorporate all feedback, however much it muddies the concept.
An ability to be a godparent
OK, we’re still talking about journlists, so maybe this one is a stretch.
Still, what do you want? A soulmate or just someone who can write the words to sell your brand or service?
Who i am
A few words on me...
Being British, I hate trying to promote myself, but even I must admit my writing credentials are decent. I’m a published author; I worked as a senior BBC journalist for a decade, I had a national newspaper column for two years and I’ve written on autism for the BBC, Lots of my credits are the BBC – but if you’re going to work at one place for a decade, that’s not a bad one to choose.
Oh, I also launched a hugely successful BBC newsletter, created promo copy for the BBC homepage and have writing credits for a national TV channel. Possibly the BBC.
Away from Auntie, I have worked as a freelance copywriter for an SEO agency, creating content for businesses of all sizes across a huge variety of industries. Now I think of it, one of the clients had the initials BBC – BUT IT WASN’T THAT BBC. They were actually bathroom fitters. Whatever the remit, I’ll find the right, err, words.
As a former chief sub editor, I have a stunning eye for accuracy and detail and am a proven expert in writing catchy headlines.
My favourite? Box to Box Midfielder, for a story about Michael Ballack going on reality TV (and more than 2 million page impressions to a throwaway story shows it grabbed attention too).
Call me (or ideally drop a WhatsApp...)
Am I the copywriter for you?
I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what copy you require, I can’t guess the tone you seek.
Anything I could write here to demonstrate I’m the person for you would have to be generic enough to appeal to everyone and anyone.
Let’s avoid that generic copy – instead, let’s discuss your requirements, both in terms of copy and tone. I can even ping you a few pars free of charge just so can get a sense of whether I’m the writer for you.
So, with this module now full of enough text to balance the page, let’s leave it there. You need a writer, I can write – let’s chat.