Wilford Brimley plays Asst. U.S. Atty. Gen. James A. Wells in the 1980 drama, Absence of Malice.

Wilford Brimley plays Asst. U.S. Atty. Gen. James A. Wells in the 1980 journalism drama, Absence of Malice.

As a longtime journalist, I’m happy to see so many of my colleagues finding work at brands and agencies as content marketers, brand journalists and all the other new roles and titles beginning to emerge. (Me? I’m a Director of Content!)

At its best, marrying communications and marketing with a journalistic approach can result in quality content that’s of value to the public, as opposed to purely self-interested promotional copy.

One unintended consequence, however, may be that some bad habits of newsrooms will be ported to these new roles.

Here are five things about journalism that a new generation of content creators should be careful not to emulate.

Circling the wagons

Ny-post-boston-coverIn the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, the New York Post splashed two innocent men on its front page and painted them as possible terrorists.

So what did the Post have to say for itself after the cover went down in infamy?

“We stand by our story,” said New York Post editor Col Allen when he finally offered a statement.

Those five words have been the standard reply from newsrooms when the worst happens within journalistic ranks, such as plagiarism or fabrication.

Circling the wagons means refusing to acknowledge obvious failures or to otherwise engage in a discussion about your journalistic practices.

This destroys public trust. It’s been a habit inside newsrooms for a long time, but fortunately I think it’s starting to fade.

So if you’re a brand that publishes content, you need to engage with critical comments and respond to requests for corrections openly and publicly. You need to be willing to engage in a conversation about your work, even if that seems like a distraction from your ultimate goal.

View this as an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to quality content and accountability, rather than a nuisance.

The echo chamber

Journalists get caught in an echo chamber when we spend too much time with the same colleagues covering the same beat in the same way. Views and perspectives begin to coalesce and we fall victim to groupthink.

The echo chamber is the enemy of fresh ideas. It also leads to blind spots that prevent us from identifying important developments or oncoming trouble.

How do you escape the echo chamber? Make a conscious effort to read and engage outside of your role and industry. Seek out non-traditional sources.

Attend a conference that’s outside of the norm for you. What can you learn from sociology, cognitive psychology, political science?

Echo chambers are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Image by Denis Gobo via Flickr.

Echo chambers are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Image by Denis Gobo via Flickr.

Skimping on training

Training budgets were one of the first things to be cut at newspapers when classifieds, display ads and reader revenue started cratering.

The decline occurred because of fundamental shifts in media and technology. The internet and its disruptive effects began taking hold and haven’t let go.

Media brands needed to invest in training in order to adapt and thrive in a digital world. But with budgets cut and the pace of technological change accelerating, many newsrooms found themselves with outdated skillsets, workflows and technology.

Budgets will rise and fall and content marketers inside and outside of organizations will feel the effects.

It’s up to you to ensure that you’re always learning and to instill a culture within your organization that’s focused on keeping skills and processes up to date.

Creating silos

One legacy media habit that seems to have been replicated in the content marketing world is the separation of writers and editors from technology, product and business people.

Within newsrooms this created a culture that was hostile to collaboration and prevented people from coming together to solve problems and develop innovative business models. (I’m not saying that journalists and ad sales people should break down ethical boundaries. Those are critical to credibility.)

Tearing down walls internally helps blow up echo chambers and gives life to fresh ideas.

Want to know what’s possible when you tear down walls and put a new mix of people in a room?

Have a look at the tremendous, Pulitzer-winning New York Times Snow Fall interactive that was the result of collaboration between a writer, sports editors, graphics editors, a multimedia producer/designer, a digital designer, a video journalist and a photographer. All within an organization that has a lot of moving parts, people, departments and procedures.

If the Grey Lady can break down walls, you can too.

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at  Tunnel Creek is New York Times' multimedia story telling effort that bridged departments within the brand.

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is New York Times’ multimedia storytelling effort that bridged departments within the brand.

Ignoring the competition

Companies do a lot of competitive intelligence and tracking. Journalists read and watch their competitors, too. But historically they prefer to not acknowledge their existence.

This is a horrible, venal tradition in media that’s thankfully starting to go away. It goes like this: If your competitor gets a scoop, you do everything you can to not credit them for the work.

That’s why you’ll still sometimes read a news story that refers to “a report today” or “media reports,” without naming the source. The standard operating procedure in newsrooms was to re-report the story just so you could run it without having to note that the crosstown rival got there first.

This tradition carried into the online world to the point where some large news outlets only recently began linking to competitors.

Will you link to it?

Now, imagine one of your competitors writes a great blog post. Not something that promotes their product, but a piece about your industry that’s insightful and valuable to your audience. Will you link to it?

I’ll say this: If your relationship with your customers or clients is so tenuous that sending them to a useful link on a competitor’s website will damage your standing, then maybe linking out is the least of your troubles.