5 Rules of Content that Will Never Change

At least half of what I do all day long didn’t exist when I studied journalism in college. And I’m not that old.

At that time, you wrote an article and it was published. The end. There was no updating it and certainly no tweeting it, no blogging about it, no linking it to other articles online.

We were just beginning to learn how to use Webcrawler and set up a Hotmail account. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was still in elementary school. Tweeting was something a bird did.

Now, a “few” years later, not everything has changed as much as some would have you believe. Despite the (r)evolution in journalism, some things in content remain the same:

  1. Quality matters: A woman sits at a desk, typing on a laptop keyboard. A plant is in the background.

Regardless of the speed at which information (and misinformation) can be disseminated, in the end, content is judged on quality. How much value did a piece bring to your readers? If you’re not bringing value to your readers, your readers will take themselves elsewhere.

  1. Interviewing skills matter:

You need to know how to ask good questions that elicit the truth and uncover compelling stories. You need to dig a little deeper and find the unexpected. You need to know how to put nervous feature subjects at ease or get answers from officials for a hard-hitting piece. Asking the right questions in the right way is as important as it ever was.

  1. Story structure matters:

Stories need to pull people in with leads that entertain or educate or engage the reader in some way. Providing the who, what, when, where, why and how is still important. Nut graphs are still important. Headlines, deks and subheads are still important.

  1. Narrative is engaging.

A well-constructed, innovative narrative always pulls in readers. It’s the reason “The Perfect Storm” (about swordfishing), “Seabiscuit” (about horse racing) and “Into Thin Air” (about climbing Mt. Everest) were mega-selling books outside of any niche.

  1. Art grabs people.

A breathtaking, funny or unexpected photo or illustration can still stop people in their tracks. While the smartphone has turned everyone into a photographer, strong publications still need an artist’s eye.

What do you think has changed the most since you started in media? What has stayed the same?

Comments 4

  1. Great post! To this list, I’d add the importance of fact-checking is still super important, especially in the era of so-called “fake news” (it’s definitely fake, but is it ACTUALLY news??). So much content is being created by people who don’t have a background in the fundamentals of good writing and journalistic integrity. In this landscape, unfortunately, the quality control of making sure information is being accurately interpreted goes by the wayside.

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      Great addition, Stacy, thank you. Yes, fact-checking has always been critical, but even more so when journalists are wrongly being questioned and accused of fake news. They can’t afford to make even little mistakes.

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      Pauls, yes, this is such a huge pet peeve of mine. What they fail to grasp is that they’re spending time and money on content that isn’t that great and won’t engage customers because it doesn’t stand out from the crowd. It’s baffling.

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