If you’re an old-school print journalist, what can you do to take advantage of the content explosion?

Maybe you’re thinking “what content explosion” with so many newspapers going to the wall?  There is one – but it’s in business.

More and more businesses and nonprofits are adopting inbound marketing, which relies on them consistently producing high-quality, objective, non-salesy content day after day. That’s the kind of content that old-school writers and editors have been putting out all their lives.

From what I see, there have never been more opportunities for people with good journalistic skills. Large and medium-sized businesses need content curators, brand journalists, bloggers, social media PRs, ebook editors and all kinds of digital publishers, as well as people to teach their employees how to do all of these things.

Consultants at the Content Marketing Institute cite journalistic skills as essential for content marketing teams. Small businesses, consultants and solo entrepreneurs also want help with blogging, PR, content marketing and presentations.

Skills at researching, spotting fake information, mastering a new topic quickly, interviewing, writing fast, and copyediting meticulously are what give the competitive edge.

Here are some ideas for getting ahead in the new world of content based on my own experience.

(If you haven’t read my previous post on this subject, I spent 25 years in newspapers working out of London. Then I moved to the Geneva area of Switzerland where I didn’t fit anybody’s job description. So I had to reinvent myself fast if I wanted to work.)

1. Go freelance

My advice: forget about applying for jobs (if you can manage without the regular salary while you get started). Recruitment has become a treadmill with applicants having to jump through more and more hoops. Freelancing gives you freedom, recognition and satisfaction.

Put your energy into building up a portfolio of projects or contracts instead. It can definitely be done with planning, perseverance and patience.

Maybe you think “I can’t freelance – I’m not the type”. My take is that successful freelances get there mostly because they have a process in place and work hard and long – read this interview with Peter Bowerman for more on that.

I am not decrying writing or editing talent – of course that matters – but attitude counts for a lot.

If you decide to freelance, a good approach is to be available outside of normal office hours, and to be adaptable, helpful and proactive. I’ve freelanced for 9 years and I’ve found that a can-do attitude is really appreciated.

Clients want to know you’re going to be there for them if they have an emergency or need a rush job. It makes a huge difference in getting repeat business and turning one-off jobs into contracts.

It doesn’t mean you get no time off: I balance it by working when I have work and taking days off when it’s quiet. OK, you have to be quite flexible, but your reward is freedom from the corporate grind.

2. Start learning

Decide what area you want to work in and then create yourself a kickoff learning programme.

It could be brand journalism, making video, curating content, editing and copyediting, helping people publish their ebook, or all of them.

If you’re like me, you’ll have to learn new skills but you probably won’t have to pay for training. There’s a vast amount of resources online. You just have to track down exactly what you need, based on your plans. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Brand journalism:  Tips from Andy Bull, multimedia journalism expert.

The Company as Media Outlet: Your Role in the Age of Brand Journalism and Content Curation, presentation from Mark Ragan, communications expert and trainer.

Digital storytelling: Advice from Adam Westbrook, multimedia producer .

The Future of Video Journalism: What Will Audiences be Watching?, by Sarah Marshall, journalist.

Content curation: 5 Models of Content Curation, by Rohit Bhargava, marketing thought leader.

Building Thought Leadership in an Age of Curation, presentation from Corinne Weisberger, educator.

Editing and copyediting: the good news is if you’re an old-school journalist you don’t need to retrain to do this, and there’s a growing demand for people who can edit and copyedit.

(By editing, I mean restructuring copy and adding headlines, subheadings, formatting, SEO keywords, metadata or whatever is needed to make it publishable.

By copyediting, I mean looking in detail at the style of language, vocabulary and grammar.)

In the last year I’ve seen strong growth in the demand for good editors, especially in countries and companies where the language of business is English but subject experts who are not native English speakers are creating content.

To get this type of work you need to be proficient at online journalistic-style writing and to know your grammar inside out. If you need to tune up your skills Paul Bradshaw has done a great post on online writing basics. For a grammar refresh, consult the Grammar Girl.

3. Professionalize your online presence

I’m assuming you have one – if not, Twitter and LinkedIn are the minimum. Mashable has done a clear guide for social media beginners.  Windmill Networking has some detailed guides to LinkedIn and Twitter.

If you already have a presence, edit your details to highlight how your skills relate to whatever you plan to do next. For example, if you’ve been a print sub-editor, you can relate your skills to content curation: for how see my previous post.

4. Start a blog – but don’t write anything yet

Or refocus your existing blog if necessary. This is the place you can practice your digital writing and editing skills and show them off. Start with a free blog on WordPress.com – setting it up will help you begin learning WordPress which will be invaluable in the future.

Don’t start writing right away. You need to figure out who your target market is first. then you can blog directly to them, rather than wasting time on writing stuff that won’t catch their attention. This is a mistake I made, so I know.

Read these resources on blogging for beginners before you start:

5. Map out your network on Twitter, LinkedIn and in real life

Once you’ve done all the above, you’re ready to start connecting with your potential clients. You’ll need to create your own, totally individual network of connections. These will be likely customers and people you can learn new skills and best practices from.

Creating this network will be time-consuming and frustrating, because you have to search out the right people. But think long-term. Once you turn a potential client into an actual client and get a piece of work, it’s going to be a lot easier to get the second job (assuming you delivered quality work). And once you’ve identified the people you can learn from, they’ll always be there, feeding you valuable information.

How do you start creating your network? Find and subscribe to blogs on your topic. For example, if you want to write content, subscribe to Contently, which connects journalists and publishers. Kristi Hines, a highly succesful blogger, recommends other sites to join.

Search Twitter for any other names you know who could be helpful and follow them. For example, @journalismnews and @10000words often have useful information about courses and tools for multimedia journalists. LinkedIn groups is another good place to search for people and topics. I belong to Brand Journalism and Content Curators, among others.

6.  Never stop learning

Working online you always need to add a new skill. This year alone I’ve needed to learn how to set up a website on WordPress.org, manage my social networks better using HootSuite, and record Skype calls for podcasts. Now I urgently need to learn to make an animated video and to do a video interview over Skype. Learn as you go – what you need when you need it.

7. Start a project to help others in some way

A stunning project will get you noticed and give you something to put in your online portfolio. In the past few months I have come across a few fantastic projects that benefited others first, then also the people behind them.

  • Toby Burton set up Rock-Til-You-Drop, an online community to help older musicians and bands network and promote their gigs. Toby built it himself and runs it voluntarily. Now he is also a social media manager, using the skills he learned on his own project.
  • Adam Westbrook, who I mentioned earlier, created a beautiful ebook called Inside the Story about digital storytelling. He did it to raise money for the nonprofit Kiva, but I’m sure he’s benefited from the attention it generated.
  • JD Beebe is a copywriter who got himself hired by an agency after he set up a Paper.li called Ad Agency Thought Sauce to share links from the agency world. His story was reported on Mashable (and we’ll be interviewing him soon – subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss it).

Are you a print journalist who is working online? Do you have tips to share? Have you overcome any hurdles? Let us know in the comments.

Photo: Robby Mueller on flickr 

Liz Wilson
Liz Wilson writes copy in the Marketing Communications team at Orange Switzerland and used to edit this blog. She likes talking about content, copywriting and social media on her personal blog.

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