Journalism and Content – What’s the Point?
I’ve just read this story in the fantastic book Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuckby Chip and Dan Heath. The whole book is well worth reading for anyone looking for a deeper understanding of content creation, but the following anecdote just struck me as so relevant to what I do, creating great content that will attract and engage a target audience that I thought I’d share it:
Nora Ephron is a screenwriter whose scripts for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle have all been nominated for Academy Awards. Ephron started her career as a journalist and still remembers the first day of her journalism class. Although the students had no journalism experience, they walked into their first class with a sense of what a journalist does: A journalist gets the facts and reports them. To get the facts, you track down the five W’s – who, what, where, when and why.
As students sat in front of their manual typewriters, Ephron’s teacher announced the first assignment. They would write the lead to a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.”
The budding journalists sat at their typewriters and pecked away at the first lead of their careers. Ephron and most of the other students produced leads that reordered the facts and condensed them into a single sentence: “Governor Pat Brown, Margaret Mead, and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills faculty Thursday in Sacramento…blah, blah, blah.”
The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside and paused for a moment.
Finally, he said, “The lead to the story is ‘There will be no school next Thursday.’”
“It was a breathtaking moment,” Ephron recalls. “In that instant I realized that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts, but about figuring out the point. It wasn’t enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it meant. And why it mattered.” For the rest of the year, she says, every assignment had a secret – a hidden point that the students had to figure out in order to produce a good story.
If you switch ‘journalism’ for ‘content creation’ this story becomes completely relevant to our roles as online marketing professionals. It’s not about stating the facts, but about figuring out the point. When we’re creating content and stories for brand clients we need to look at the story, not just from the brand’s point of view, but analyse in detail what the story will really mean for the audience, and then tailor the story accordingly.
Anyway, just wanted to share a thought provoking story. I’m off back to the book…