Content Marketing Lessons From The History of Journalism

The Evolution of

Journalism can help tech-focused B2B content marketers educate and reach their audience. Let’s start with some recent history.

While content marketers have long recognized that the marriage of commerce and content is essential, it’s taken the past 20 years for institutional publishers to grasp the concept. These decades have completely eroded the position of institutional publishers as the gatekeepers of what is and is not news. Local newspapers have died off, while stalwarts like The New York Times and The Washington Post have had to incorporate new voices they once viewed as threats (such as prominent bloggers) to stay relevant. This has led to far less objective journalism in favor of more pieces that have a decided slant. In many ways, the acknowledgement of bias and commercial relevance is more honest— something content marketers have long known.

Pearls of Wisdom for Content Marketers

Just as journalism learned from that content created for a commercial purpose does not have to be void of nourishment for the reader, now it’s time for the teacher to become the pupil. The best journalism has always been compelling in a way that most content marketing seldom achieves. If the recent history of journalism has taught us anything, it’s that many approaches can be used to form true connections with one’s audience.

What Is the Purpose of Journalism?

The ultimate purpose of journalism is to educate, inform, and serve the public, and to do so with immediacy. Content marketing should share these goals. The industries are remarkably similar, with the aims of communicating ideas, information, and stories in an engaging manner. But, too often, content marketing comes off as inauthentic, ham-handed, overly simplistic, and condescending to its audience— do any of us really believe that if we buy the right shampoo or cologne, we’ll suddenly be as irresistible to women as Brad Pitt? When content marketing makes unfounded claims, it fails.

Journalism of all stripes excels at recognizing the intelligence of its audience. This is an especially important approach for technology-focused content marketers to adopt. Our readers and viewers are sophisticated, just like the tools and software we examine. CEOs, CTOs, VPs, data analysts, and tech gurus are not easily swayed by grandiose assertions of “This widget is the greatest product ever and WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!” They are influenced by rational, fact-based discussion. This can mirror the style of objectivity journalism in which the marketer does their best Drag Net impersonation, but it can also be more creative. Here are a few ways to follow journalism’s lead:

Make it personal. With revolutionaries like Joan Didion and Tom Wolfe leading the way, the New Journalism of the 1960s altered journalism forever by inserting the journalist directly into the piece. This created a more intimate storytelling arc in which readers identified with the writer. Content marketers can do the same by discussing their own experiences and challenges or the personal experience of others with the technology they are covering.

Advocacy means authenticity. Bloggers and social media have dissolved the mythical line of impartiality between journalist and subject. Whether the topic is politics or the best place to source seasonal vegetables, journalism has opened the world to the idea of the knowledgeable, open-minded advocate. Content marketers can tout the benefits of technology while also noting its limitations, allowing them to establish trust with their audience as informed experts. If a product is good, just as with a worthy cause, advocacy is authentic.

Reveal hidden information. Investigative journalists hold a place in all our hearts as the diligent, intransigent writer willing to do anything to find truth others have missed. Think of Woodward and Bernstein and how much they changed U.S. politics. Content marketers should strive to expose the unseen in much the same way. They should think of themselves as content experts in the service of providing the public information they will not know about any other way. Breaking a story is one of the most powerful forms of content marketing.

Be the explainer. Sites like Vox and Slate have thrived by providing explanations of complicated topics in an easily accessible manner intended for a general audience. Taking inspiration from service and explanatory journalism, there’s no reason content marketers cannot follow this strategy. We live and breathe this stuff in a way that most business executives simply do not have time to do. We can share our expertise simply and clearly so that any audience can engage with the topic, and our value as an expert increases every time we do so.

Put on a show. There’s no shame in appealing to people’s baser instincts. In fact, there can be a lot of money in it. Tabloid and attention journalism serve a purpose, and more importantly, let’s be honest, they get clicks. Sites like Buzzfeed have elevated this to an art. Sure the newest software isn’t salacious in quite the same way as National Enquirer-esque rumors, but adding a little sass and entertainment is smart marketing. Top five lists and attention grabbing headlines are low-hanging fruit for content marketers.

Regardless of the method, it is every content marketer’s goal to form the aura of authority and trust with the audience that makes your content marketing more than salesmanship. By following the lessons of journalism, technology-focused content marketers can do a better job of getting valuable information into the hands of those who need it most— and to keep them coming back for more.

Win your audience over with the right content marketing collateral.


Also published on Medium.