When I was in college, I minored in journalism. However, I also know that while the tenets of my past coursework are more or less sound, the majority of the classes would probably seem antiquated when compared to what is taught today. No matter if today’s journalism graduate is more schooled on the concept of online writing than journalism graduates of yesteryear, there are still some journalistic skills that are incredibly useful in the online content writing world.
How Journalism 101 Applies to Online Content Writing
- Headlines – A catchy headline is just as important in online content writing as it is to an article in a newspaper. It is the headline that catches the attention of a reader and, if it is created correctly, it can boost online traffic in the same way that it could sell newspapers.
- Short and to the Point – There is a rule in journalism that states a sentence longer than 30 words is a no-no. This is especially poignant in online writing when you are not only dealing with readers who have short attention spans, but also search engine spiders that crawl web pages looking for your point. Short, snappy sentences that answer the what, where, when, why, who and how provide the reader with the information they need, nothing they don’t want and make sure they don’t have unanswered questions. It’s also especially helpful to alternate between short and long(ish) sentences so your writing doesn’t fall into a cadence or rhythm. But just commit long, introspective sentences laden with semi-colons and em dashes to the great American novel you are writing in your spare time.
- Identify the Audience – While this is a skill that many online copywriters work to learn, this is something that a journalist is taught from the time they sit down in their first college class. Moreover, just as the audience changes from a journalist’s perspective depending on what their story is about, the same is true in the world of online writing. You must be able to morph your writing style and tone depending on who is going to be reading your web copy. The tone used in writing an article about a diet pill is going to be different from the style employed when writing about activities geared at senior citizens in a retirement community.
- Acquiring and Digesting Knowledge Quickly – This is one of the most important lessons that I work to teach my writers on staff. I compare the skill of getting up to speed on a subject quickly to that of being an entrepreneur. For instance, an entrepreneur is a doer; someone who takes the information on hand and gets the most out of it. The same is true for the online content writer. You don’t have to be an expert in everything and if you are going to be successful, meet your margins and turn a profit, you need to build knowledge on a subject quickly and be able to impart it to the world in a digestible way.
- Knowing What You Can and Cannot Say – No matter the platform, writing is filled with legalities. Even in the best of times, knowing what you can and cannot say is a slippery slope. It’s true that you shouldn’t slam people or products in an online forum just because you can, but you should realize that your ability to deliver your opinion in a blog article also carries with it significant opportunity to be constructive, assertive and responsible. Realize that your words can affect others in this “citizen journalist” world, and as such, you should be a responsible writer. Just as a journalist can be called upon to write a retraction if they deliver something untrue, false or libelous, the same can be experienced in an online environment.
The online writing world has opened up incredible opportunity to each one of us as writers, bloggers, researchers, etc. And while a journalism background alone doesn’t give anyone the credentials to write successfully online, knowing the principles can certainly make it easier.
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