10 Journalism Skills Every Content Marketer Needs

Starved to its core, the skeleton of a content marketing campaign has one overall goal: to provide engaging and valuable content.

Your prospects must actually know you exist and you must remind your current customers that you still exist.

Everything else builds upon this skeleton:

  • The mediums used, such as blogs, social media, or video.
  • The more granular details, such as voice used in those blogs and social media posts.
  • The colors used in content to psychologically attract more interest.

When the time comes to actually create the content, most digital marketing agencies search for specific types of content creators (e.g., copywriters, bloggers, or producers).

Rarely will an agency or business seek a journalist.

This is a huge miss.

Well-trained and experienced journalists have a skill set that can add 10X the value to any content marketing campaign.

These skills including the actual writing, strategy, and keeping everything organized.

My journalism background has shaped the way I operate my agency today.

I started as a night reporter in the early part of this century, making $24,000 as a night reporter.

Yes – for five years I made a whopping $24,000.

The pay may have been beyond horrible, but my vision wasn’t.

I had needs that no school or book could teach.

I needed to learn how to write and report in real time and quickly complete these tasks, due to nightly deadlines.

I had no clue that a host of other skills would develop from my journalism career – ones that helped build my business model for my content-marketing agency that I launched two years ago.

I love journalism and I have never fled from it – even after launching my agency. To this day I travel all over the world riding and writing about motorcycles.

Brands Think Like Media Companies

Last year, I read a book I should have read years ago – Joe Pulizzi’s “Epic Content Marketing”.

In the book, Pulizzi pointed out that the most successful businesses – think Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gambler, Adobe – think like traditional media companies.

And he’s right. These global brands aren’t focused on selling products or services. They’re telling compelling stories.

I’ve worked in media for two decades. I’ve seen, time and again, engaging and valuable content marketing efforts create loyal readers.

What’s the most optimal way forward?

Take advantage of the unique skill sets that journalists can offer.

Here are 10 journalism skills that can improve your content marketing efforts today.

1. ‘5 Ws & How’ for Creating Content

From day one, every journalist learns to rely on the “Five Ws and How” (or, as it’s sometimes called, 5W1H).

This stands for:

This is the simple formula journalists use to gather information during researching. It’s a must when collecting data or interviewing someone.

Nowadays, most interviews take place on the phone, through a chat, or via online conference through software like Google Chat or Skype.

However, an in-person face-to-face interview will always produce the best results.

When you cover 5W1H, your research will have all the material needed to answer questions and solve problems – the two main elements to any content marketing campaign.

For online content to be successful, each piece – whether a blog, service page, infographic or video – should try to answer all six questions.

The most important is the who, what, why and how. If these four are not covered, the content’s message will fail to resonate with your readers.

When training freelance writers, 5W1H is one of the first concepts I teach. It’s simple, but beyond effective to get all needed information covered in every piece of content.

2. Credibility & Being Factually Correct

Journalists earn respect by reporting factual content. This leads to strong brand awareness (a.k.a., credibility) and a long career.

The best journalists take the extra time triple-check facts – especially those from online sources – and interview or quote only those who are most established within the topics of the content being created.

Content marketing that’s based on loose facts will immediately dilute the authority not only of the piece of content itself, but also the brand that’s hosting that content.

For any content marketing efforts to achieve success, credibility must be established. And the process all begins with factually-correct material.

It’s like seeing that paid ad that guarantees top-three search results for any keyword. 

3. Clarity

The best journalists take the dull and make it energetic. This has much to do with the particular journalist’s style of writing or reporting.

What’s the foundation of taking something dull and making it interesting?


Journalists are disciplined in clarity. They want to deliver their information to the most people possible.

Clarity means clearly answering the 5 W’s and How while avoiding any jargon typically associated with the subject matter.

If you’re writing content for a medical journal and your target audience is dermatologists, then you can use words like hydradermabrasion or microdermabrasion.

But the typical audience for most businesses – prospects who are out to learn – want information in its simplest form.

Journalists understand clarity, and this asset is vital for long-term content marketing success.

4. Balance

How many websites do you visit that are “me, me, me,” the content wasting zero time discussing the company’s accolades or rewards, or services and products?

This immediately throws off the balance for website visitors, whether prospects or customers for product/service businesses or faithful readers on a news-based website.

Great content talks to the reader. It addresses their needs, questions, or problems.

That said, businesses still have to expose their products or services. But even on those pages, a balance of product/service information and value to the reader should exist.

Journalists understand balance. There are many sides to every story. To convey a credible message, the messages from all sides must be balanced.

The same goes for a business’s content marketing efforts. Balancing the needs of the company and its audience is a must for long-term success.

5. Understand Your Audience

Content is useless without a targeted audience. Nobody knows this better than a journalist – especially a niche-based journalist.

You can easily find the correct keywords to chase. But if you don’t understand who you’re writing for, all of that effort is useless.

The top journalists are trained to understand their audience and write for them. That means creating a voice that appeals to that target audience, and always knowing what questions and problems that the audience is having.

Good journalists today have endless tools to find their target audience and all the questions that are being asked.

Spend a few moments on Reddit or Quora and you’ll have hundreds of questions and content topics to begin a solid content strategy.

6. Storytelling: It’s Needed!

Storytelling through content is nothing new. The first figurative cave paintings from the Upper Paleolithic period (about 40,000 years ago) told simple stories about things like hunting animals.

Society thrives of storytelling.

Think not only of the most popular TV series but the storylines behind athletes and criminals.

The same goes for businesses.

Your business can create a storyline that offers valuable information to readers across various mediums, whether it’s on your blog, through third-party guest posts, or on social media.

Success will follow.

Journalists practice storytelling every day. So should your business. You do this through your content marketing.

Bring a voice and face to your business through good old – and proven – storytelling.

7. Deadlines Matter

Journalists must deal with deadlines. For some – like daily news reporters – sometimes on a daily basis.

This is another learned skill that forces you to focus and think clearer to get the best work completed in the least amount of time.

Once learned and mastered, this skill can provide endless value.

Creating project deadlines for things like copy or video will help ensure the final product is complete and polished on time.

And they must be real deadlines. I used to make “soft” deadlines for myself, thinking it would allow me to finish a project earlier and in better quality. But the real deadline always looms – even if it’s subconsciously.

That doesn’t mean you can’t create earlier deadlines for those working with you.

For example, I provide a few of my freelance writers with earlier deadlines. This gives me extra time to complete edits before the content is due to the client, and some buffer time if the writer needs to make revisions.

8. Learn to Deal with a Process That’s Controlled by Editors

“Editors are licensed to be curious.” ― William Zinsser

If a business is serious about content, they must have a systematic editorial process. This goes for any type of content production, from blogs to video content to infographics.

For example, my blog writing projects go through seven layers, with various editors for each:

  • SEO provides keyword research.
  • Content strategist provides overall main points and optimized subtopics based on working with SEO.
  • SEO provides guidelines with target keyword/related keywords/average length/etc.
  • Writing process.
  • First editing process.
  • SEO enhancement and second editing process.
  • Final on-page SEO/editing process.

Throughout any of those seven layers, there will be some criticism. But it’s not personal. It’s all about delivering only the highest quality work to the client.

Like a journalist, all content marketers must learn to take criticism – and learn from it.

You want to get as many eyes as possible on any project. Sometimes those furthest removed from the process can quickly spot a mistake or an area that needs improvement.

9. Frequent & Consistent Content/Editorial Calendars

One of the biggest productivity secrets is creating blocks of time for a specific task. Some people have endless to-do lists, and others just block out time for “client work.”

I once worked with someone who always announced his number of to-dos at the end of the day. The list got up to 150 to-dos at one point! I’m sure 80 percent of those were useless tasks that could have been deleted or delegated.

Anyway, that’s absurd.

If you don’t actually place a to-do item in an exact block of time and have the habitual discipline to follow this out daily, that to-do list will only grow – likely with some added stress and weight.

The top journalists think in a similar way when creating their content calendars.

Frequency and consistency are key to strong content marketing. This helps keep your brand’s storyline smoothly move forward.

A business should do the same with its content marketing calendar. Some companies create yearly or quarterly calendars. Other companies plan content month-to-month due to the nature of their changing business.

Regardless of how far you want to plan ahead, have a content calendar for every blog post, guest blog post, social media post, video, or whatever else you’ll produce.

Again, the best content marketing campaigns are built upon strict frequency and consistency. Do the same if you want to have long-term success.

10. Super Focus

Want well-written content fast?

Journalists are used to completing writing tasks and meeting deadlines.

This is where one must learn to kill distraction and get super focused.

I recently wrote about increasing productivity. All of the habits I discuss in that post can help you become super focused and complete more quality work in less time (and with less stress).

Most of the lessons festered due to my work in journalism. For more, I’d also check out Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work” – he gets seriously “deep” into becoming super focused.

Concluding Thoughts

When businesses begin thinking about their content marketing needs, hiring a journalist is the farthest thing from mind. Most companies put ads out for copywriters, designers, or blog writers to fill those needs.

But these businesses are missing out. A trained journalist can bring you many advantages and great value.


  • Know what information is needed to balance content.
  • Can adhere to strict editorial calendars.
  • Can help a business scale quickly.
  • Help you achieve success with credibility.

Above all, a journalist will help you tell a great story about your business’s success along the way.

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