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There really is life after journalism, I promise

photo of a sunrise

I have good news and I have bad news.

If you’re a career journalist, like me, you’ll well and truly be aware of the bad news already, but stay with me — because in a minute I have something you’re going to want to hear.

But first the bad news:

The news game is in crisis.

The rivers of gold that have always funded journalism — advertising revenues — have dried up. The internet has changed everything — advertisers have gone online where inventory is cheap, plentiful and highly targeted. Newsrooms are shrinking as media companies adjust. Hundreds of reporters across Australia have lost their jobs in the past few years. It’s devastating. And here’s why…

We all wanted to be Jana Wendt or Laurie Oakes

Like so many others, I scrapped and fought and worked incredibly hard to get into journalism, to stay in it, succeed in it, and make a living at it. I spent seventeen years as a frontline journalist. I’m passionate about the job. I love writing. I love meeting people and talking to them about their lives. I love having special access to people and events. I love snooping around, getting the gossip, digging up facts no one wants you to know and being the first to share it all with the public. I believe earnestly in shining a light into dark corners, in making a difference, in doing something important.

We all do. Some combination of those ideals is probably precisely why you went into journalism, too. And you’ll have worked hard to get there. You probably worked on the school paper, went to university and studied hard, submitted articles to the street press, interned for free at your local paper before applying for a dwindling number of cadetships at your dream publication or broadcaster and working your way through the ranks.

So to be turfed out of the industry you love, that you fought so hard to get into, is crippling. So many good reporters have been thrown onto the industry’s scrap heap. Unfairly, before their time, and despite the fact they’re brilliant at their job.

But it’s not all bad news

So here’s the good news.

There is life after traditional journalism. I promise there is.

The fact is that as a journalist you have the rarest of skill sets. Most people cannot write. They can’t distil information down to the most important facts the way we can. They can’t craft an article or a package that’s tailored to an audience — and certainly not with the speed we can. Most people aren’t used to the kind of deadline pressure we’re trained to handle. They’re not used to writing or editing fast and accurately.

Commercial organisations are willing to pay a premium for these skills. Industry loves journalists.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: But I don’t want to work in public relations; I don’t want to write press releases; I don’t want to sell stuff. I just want to write.

Here’s more good news: you can.

It’s called content marketing or, sometimes, brand journalism.

(I can feel some of you shuddering from here. But hear me out.)

Companies all over the world are looking for journalists to create quality, original content for them. I’m not talking about advertorial; I’m talking about actual articles about issues, subjects, events and people their audience (be they customers, subscribers, or whomever) will find interesting.

Content marketing careers can be incredibly satisfying

You don’t have to pitch things. You don’t have to plug things. You don’t have to compromise on your ethics. It’s entirely possible to still feel like a real journalist because you’re still practicing real journalism. You just have a different paymaster. Instead of Fairfax Media or the ABC, you might be working for a major retailer or a tourism body or an industry group. Once you get your head around that idea, a whole new world of possibilities opens up to you.

I know this because I’m speaking from personal experience. In my new life, post traditional media, I’m writing and editing news sites owned by commercial enterprises with a stake in the industry I’m covering. One client, for instance, is a marketing web design company targeting the automotive tyre industry in the United States. We cover breaking news and business-related stories that our audience — 60,000 tire dealers across North America — are likely to find interesting. You can check it out here; I’m really proud of it.

Just like any other newsroom

I’m completely left to my own devices. I choose what we’re going to cover, I commission or write the articles, edit them, and then decide when we’ll publish them. It’s still the same old “breaking news and features” formula we’re all used to from traditional journalism, only my round is “tyres” (or tires, for the US) instead of politics, crime, business or the arts. Frankly, it’s a just like working for a trade magazine.

Now, I get it: tyres aren’t everyone’s thing (although I do get to travel the world with this job, and I do get to work from home — if that influences your opinion at all). But the point is there are thousands of companies out there looking for journalists to write — and even lead — the editorial for their content marketing programs.

Good companies are searching for great journalists to produce quality content. And they’re really serious about it. They want to build their own platforms and audiences. Everyone can be a publisher these days. And as a journalist you are ideally positioned to take advantage of this new and burgeoning industry.

The future looks bright

So if you’ve been made redundant and you’re struggling to find a new position in traditional journalism, I urge you to look at brand journalism. It has given me so much joy and satisfaction — and it has allowed me to continue to be a journalist instead of drifting off to “dark side” professions like PR or government media liaison.

I honestly haven’t looked back.

If you’re a journalist interested in brand journalism and content marketing, feel free to contact me at Typeset. We’re often looking for good writers, and I’m always happy to provide help and advice to fellow reporters looking for a fresh start.