10 New Ways to Think About Content Creation

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Ed Silverman writes the successful Pharmalot blog, now on Stat, the new health and life science site of the Boston Globe. Previously it was in The Wall Street Journal. His style of niche reporting has changed over the years.

“What I’ve gradually done is go for items I think are more informative,” he said in an interview on NiemanLab. “The notion of an impact story…is becoming a bit overused. We know that it means ‘something lots of people will hopefully notice.’ There’s nothing wrong with that.

“Not every item I can do on Pharmalot is going to be an impact item. But what I can try to do is cover topics that aren’t covered elsewhere, or aren’t covered much at all, or they’re overlooked gems. I have to search for other ideas or angles of my own to provide understanding and move the ball forward.”

This got me wondering about other ways that niche content creators need to think differently today:

socialmedia1. Get better at social. “I talk with reporters and editors constantly about using social media for reporting, distribution and engagement,” said Ryan Kellett, audience and engagement editor at The Washington Post. Added another editor: “…it’s interesting to assign a story and think, ‘Okay, how is this going to populate a Pinterest board?'”

2. Leave the office to attend/cover things. This really hasn’t changed, though it is easier to fall into a I-don’t-have-time-to-get-out mode these days. Silverman said that it’s very important for him “to get out once in a while and meet people and learn stuff that is just impossible when you sit in front of your computer all the time.”

3. Think visually. Articles with images receive 94% more views than those without. And incorporating videos on landing pages is reported to increase conversion rates up to 86%. Charts are quite effective as well.

4. Diversify your sources and speakers. Aaron Wolowiec, founder and president of the meetings consultancy Event Garde, was speaking about conferences when he said, think about the people who aren’t showing up, and find out what drives that absence. This pertains to content as well. Don’t be satisfied with the same officials, experts and sources. You may engage a wider audience with a wider pool of interviewees and speakers.

5. Everyone has to think about the business. “…the nature of what it is to be an editor today is different than it was,” said Nathan Lump, editor-in-chief, Travel+Leisure. “You own a brand, you build a brand, you are a businessperson in addition to being a content creator. Our bosses are looking for people who can really think that way.” I recall David Foster, CEO of BVR, saying that he likes to hire publishers not editors for that reason.

6. Be open to new ideas for stories, reports, etc. “If someone says, ‘I’ve been a lifelong customer, and I’ve purchased 50 of your courses and I think this guy would be great,’ I’m going to take this person seriously,” said Will Schmidt of the Teaching Company.

7. Take the time to write effective headlines. It used to be you wanted to summarize the story. Now you want to highlight something that will attract attention.

8. Build a brand name for your column/blog/section. Said Silverman: “I didn’t build [Pharmalot] into a multimillion dollar business. But…I did build a valuable brand name. And, selfishly, it has value. It’s provided me with an additional calling card. For better or worse, I’m closely identified with it.”

9. Get on the data train. Asked one popular blogger: Are we taking advantage of the science of data and research to uncover new insights, or are we working off yesterday’s facts, assertions, and heuristics?

10. Another top ten? As much as we joke about lists, content published in list format is reported to get 200% more links than non-list-using posts. Probably best to mix things up. Ahem.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…