Years ago, before I came to BlogMutt, I was an eager journalism student, honing my skills and preparing myself for a future in writing. In the years following graduation, I worked for a couple small publications, chasing down stories, doing tireless research, interviewing sources and meeting deadlines.
Today, now fully immersed in the world of blogging, I still find myself relying on the lessons I learned as a journalist on an almost daily basis. Though blogging (especially for businesses) is fundamentally different from news writing, there are still some important and valuable lessons bloggers can learn from journalism’s school of thought.
Journalists have mastered the art of delivering fast, accurate and compelling information, and with some practice, so can you.
Here are 5 lessons business bloggers can learn from the journalism industry.
1. Grab Your Readers with a Strong Lead.
In news writing, the lead (sometimes spelled lede) is the most important and most difficult part of a story to write. It describes the who, what, when, where and why of a story. It’s what lures readers in and (hopefully) keeps them reading through to the end.
In the Associated Press Guide to News Writing, Rene J. Cappon refers to a lead as “the agony of square one.”
“There is no getting around it, although every writer sometimes wishes there were,” Cappon says. “Every story must have a beginning. A lead. Incubating a lead is a cause of great agony. Why is no mystery. Based on the lead, a reader makes a critical decision: Shall I go on?”
Just as a lead can make or break a new story, it can also determine whether or not your reader continues reading your blog post. These first one or two paragraphs should grab the reader’s attention and introduce them to the subject of your post.
2. Don’t Bury the News.
In today’s distracted, digital world, readers have very short attention spans. The chances of them reading a news story or blog post from start to finish is pretty slim. In order to ensure that your readers actually absorb the message you’re trying to send, get to the point early on. Don’t bury the important information under convoluted introductions.
One of the foundations of news writing is the inverted pyramid. It is one of the very first things you learn as a journalist and is the framework for every news story you write thereafter. It tells writers to place the most important and necessary information at the beginning (i.e. your lead), followed by the crucial, supporting details of the story. The least important, supplemental information is saved for the end. Essentially, it follows the logic that it is the job of a journalist to deliver the facts as quickly as possible.
By incorporating the inverted pyramid into your blog writing, you can ensure that even if your reader only skims the beginning paragraphs of your post, they’ve still gathered the most important details.
3. Use Quotes & Sources to Make a Story Come Alive.
No news story is complete without active quotes or sources that help add depth to the subject matter. If you really want to make your blog posts more interesting, consider incorporating quotes and sources that can bring your story to life. Do you know an expert in your industry that could comment on the topic you’re writing about? Was a new study published that provides an added element of authority and credibility to the post?
Don’t be afraid to call someone up on the phone, and ask them for a few words on a subject. You can also call upon the vast resources that exist online and in print. Just be sure that when you use a source or quote a person to always cite the source and attribute credit where it is due.
4. Be Clear, Concise, Accurate, and Interesting.
While there is certainly greater creative freedom in the blogosphere, there is still a lot to be said for clear, concise, factual writing, and there’s even more to be said if you can do all of those things AND make things interesting for your reader. In the business blog world especially, there is heavy emphasis on “content for content’s sake,” rather than on creating content that people will actually find valuable or interesting.
Sure, the goal of your business blog may be simply to boost SEO rankings and generate new business, but if your blog is nothing more than a keyword-stuffed sales pitch, your readers will run for the hills.
So let’s break this down a little.
+ Clear: It’s easy to get bogged down in the details sometimes, and if we’re not careful, we can end up lightyears away from where we started on a subject. Focus on creating content that is clear in its meaning. Use language that is easy to understand and stick to the subject matter.
+ Concise: In journalism, space can be a precious commodity and that means that every word you write counts. When physical space and attention spans are limited, it’s imperative that writers stay concise.
There is certainly a time and place for flowery language and elaborate metaphors, but your business blog is often not going to be that place. After all, why write 8 words for something that could be better said in 3?
+ Accurate: Just because you’re not a news outlet responsible for delivering fast, accurate news, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hold yourself to some standards. If you’re presenting facts in a blog post, make sure you are checking your sources and ensuring that those facts are true.
When done properly, a blog can establish your credibility in the industry and promote trust from your audience. However, if your posts are riddled with inaccuracies, your blog will have the opposite effect and could end up hurting the reputation of your business.
+ Interesting: When you’re brainstorming topics for your blog, take a step back and think “Would I find this interesting?” If your answer is “no,” keep brainstorming.
Your blog topics don’t necessarily need to appeal to a wide audience, but they should appeal to your audience. If the people you are targeting with your blog aren’t interested in what you have to say, you’re missing a big opportunity to convert readers into potential customers.
5. Edit and Proofread Everything.
Before a news story ever goes to print, it passes through the hands of an editor. Having someone edit and proofread a story ensures that everything is accurate, grammatically correct and spelled properly. On top of that, an editor can help further develop all of the points discussed above. If something doesn’t make sense or if there are sentences that aren’t serving any purpose in your post, an editor can help you shake those things out.
If you’re not convinced, here are 3 more reasons your business blog needs an editor.
So, while your writing probably won’t be appearing in the New York Times anytime soon, your business blog can greatly benefit from taking journalist’s approach to content writing.