5 Ways ‘Press’ Differ from the Rest

March 2016

tina fey

Image from theodysseyonline.com

Last weekend, I saw the movie “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” starring Tina Fey. The film about war correspondents arrived in theaters less than a week after another flick about investigative journalism won the top Academy Award. “Spotlight” is based on real-life Boston Globe reporters who broke the story on how the Catholic Church shielded pedophiles from prosecution.

The two movies have made me reflect on my own journalism career and where it’s taken me, including to Twirling Tiger Press. Our company operates in a crowded field of traditional agencies, content marketers, public relations specialists and custom content  providers. There’s a great need for the kind of content we produce and how we produce it. It’s what sets us apart from many of our competitors: the bulk of our editorial team is comprised of former journalists.

Many of us left the press ranks due to downsizing. Others wanted to see what it was like to work where the business-editorial firewall is perhaps more porous and the pay is generally more generous.

When it comes to custom content, seasoned journalists approach their work a little differently. Here are some of those differentiators:

1. They talk to strangers. Most of us no longer rely on “shoe-leather reporting”—that is, actually tracking down a source for a face-to-face interview. The phone has become the predominant communications tool. But journalists will take an assignment and immediately find people to interview. That’s right—they actually talk to people instead of culling 100% of a piece from web sites and tweets.

2. They find credible sources. Sometimes it’s impossible to get people on the phone or in person or even in an email exchange in the time allotted. So when they have to go to secondary sources, they make sure the audience knows it. They cite their sources—either internally with their clients or publicly in their pieces (or both). This gives a piece more credibility.

3. They ask a lot of questions. A journalist never assumes too much, so they will ask a lot of questions to make sure they fully understand something before they start writing about it. This is particularly true when working with science, technology and engineering companies, where precision of language is key. So we take the time to fully research a topic, line up interviews and then engage in productive conversations.

4. They aren’t insulted by revisions. No one’s perfect and that means no one’s surprised if work is sent back for revisions. Sometimes the edits are minor and sometimes they are substantial because those doing the reviews realize the original assignment missed the mark or the writer missed the message. Journalists are used to editors vetting a piece not just for punctuation, grammar and spelling, but on the actual content. Revisions are just another form of learning to a journalist, who is challenged to get better, not get even.

5. They are natural storytellers. Everyone loves a good story. They humanize hard issues and spur us to action, and in the end, that’s what companies all want: for readers to do something, whether it’s to buy their product, sign up for their service or join a cause. Journalists get that and track down anecdotes and narratives to put context around facts and figures and convert an otherwise dry document into a readable one. They also understand that their clients’ culture and messaging must come through, so they massage their language to ensure chosen words and carefully arranged paragraphs reflect the voice of an organization and its thought leadership.

All of these qualities lend more credibility, trustworthiness and integrity to the articles, white papers, eBooks and other custom content journalists create. We at Twirling Tiger look closely for those traits when we bring on a new editorial team member. We also continually review their work to make sure those basic journalism principles remain in place. Our clients appreciate this quality in our writing and graphics because it means their editorial, public relations and marketing collateral is more likely to pass the public’s litmus test for authenticity and truthfulness.

I always tell young adults trying to find their way in the world that they can never go wrong studying journalism. It provides an excellent foundation for any future career. Learning how to research, sift through data, ask the right questions and distill often complex issues into easily understood terms takes great skill. And it’s a skill that businesses increasingly need in order to be heard.