Posted to Volacci's blog on September 20th, 2012

True Confessions of a Journalist Turned Marketer Turned Journalist

Five years ago, I moved to New York City to become a journalist. Two years later, my journalism degree and I were ready to enter the workforce. Unluckily for me, I finished J-school in the midst of journalism’s painful transformation from print to digital. The data painted a bleak future for aspiring reporters at the time. In 2008, 166 newspapers and 525 magazines shut down or stopped printing. 

I moved back to Texas and became a high school biology teacher freelancing on the side. As soon as I realized that teaching 110 freshmen left no time to do anything else, I decided to leave education for a career with writing as a main job function after two years of teaching photosynthesis and organelle functions. This leads us to my first confession: 

Confession #1:

I went to the dark side and became an evil marketer. 

Confession #2:

I felt like a misfit in my new role for a long time. Link building articles, formulaic headlines, “articles” with no quotes--these were all foreign concepts to me. But as much as I missed journalism, I am grateful to be making a living out of writing and editing. 

Nature has a way of preventing ecosystems from becoming too crowded. Biologist Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” to describe how organisms who are best adapted to the environment live to see another day while those that can’t adapt become worm food. 

Think of the Internet as an ecosystem that’s populated with websites and search engines as factors that limit and control the population. While search engines don’t kill bad websites, they limit the exposure poor websites get by tweaking their algorithms to keep the high quality sites in front of users searching for content. 

Google introduced Penguin and Panda to force websites to adapt. Think of Penguin and Panda as predators killing off the weak to make more room for sites that are the most fit--sites that produce engaging, relevant, pin-worthy content. 

What, you might ask, does evolution and algorithm changes have anything to do with an ex-journalist, now content marketer? 

Confession #3:

I’m happy Panda and Penguin came along. 

With low-quality content falling off page rankings, there’s more room for the stories journalists love to tell and content marketers should be telling. 

You don’t need to work for a magazine or newspaper to tell a captivating stories. At its core, brand journalism and traditional journalism are the same thing--uncovering and telling stories that people want, and should, know about. The only difference (and perhaps a sore spot for the purists) is that brand journalists are not obligated to remain impartial.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing on behalf of a brand or for a publication. The steps that lead to a well-written story are the same: 

  1. Interview -- Ask the right questions and ask a lot of them
  2. Research to provide context for your stories 
  3. Show, not tell--Utilize your five senses to gather details 
  4. Write, edit, re-write--repeat 
  5. Share

Here are some examples of brand journalism at its best:

Tom's Shoes

Their story: People who wear Tom’s shoes can make a difference

How they tell the story: Video clips showing how excited kids are when they get their first pair of shoes. 

Video helps tell the story of Tom's Shoes - a brand dedicated to giving shoes to children in need.



Their story: There is a lot of care that goes into a McDonald’s food item.

How they tell the story: Profiles of people who contribute to making a food item such as the farmer who grew the lettuce on a Big Mac. 

The story behind McDonald's food items



Their story: Chipotle makes food with integrity

How they tell the story: Animated video highlighting local farmers fight against big industry. Narrated by Willie Nelson through Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” the YouTube video has been viewed nearly 7 million times.

Chipotle's story - food with integrity

Stories are powerful. They teach, provoke, entertain, inspire, and compel. My story as a content marketer is far from over. Penguin and Panda is giving me the opportunity to merge my two careers into a strategy that, if done properly, can radically change audience perception for the better. 

What's your brand's story?