Confessions of a journalist-turned-marketer: ‘I wasn’t particularly noble to begin with’

The seismic shifts in the media landscape have meant that some old jobs have disappeared while others have given way to newer, never-seen-before opportunities. In this week’s Confession, we speak with a former reporter who covered the advertising, marketing and tech industries before moving into creating branded content and ghost-writing op-eds for advertising execs. Turns out this former reporter wasn’t too conflicted about making the leap to marketing.

Excerpts from the interview, lightly edited:

Did you like covering the ad industry?
Not really. I felt that the tech stuff was interesting. The strategy stuff was fascinating from the perspective of putting together a puzzle. The ad tech stuff was a challenge. You felt good when you started knowing enough to write about it. But I wasn’t really passionate about advertising itself. I would never care deeply if Google or Facebook had more market share. I stuck with it because the place I went to work was a good place to work.

Did you ever feel like you were selling out once you went into marketing yourself?
I didn’t feel like I was selling out because what I was doing wasn’t particularly noble to begin with. I wasn’t going from the Department of Justice to becoming a white-collar criminal defense attorney. I was writing about advertising.

What was the response like when you started working with these companies?
It was good. A lot of people reached out. For me, the demand is coming from PR agencies and ad tech companies. If you’re a brand, you can find any writer who wants to live in New York and will write for peanuts. But if you’re a data management platform or a DSP, there are very few people who get it and speak that language. They’re willing to pay a premium for me.

So you’re making better money?
I’m making more money than I made as a reporter. I’m going to work a lot fewer hours.

How do you describe what you do now?
I ghostwrite op-eds for executives. They tell me the things they want to write about, either over the phone or through email. They’ll tell me what they think, and I’ll turn it into something that gets published in real publications. I didn’t know this was a big business when I started. I assumed everyone writing these things writes them themselves.

How much are you writing?
About three or four op-eds a month. They’re about 700 to a 1,000 words. I also write case studies and white papers. Stuff for people’s blogs. Some people want actual journalism, whether you call it journalism or not. It’s marketing, but they want reported stories, where you hunt down people and get interviews.

Do you call what you do advertising or journalism?
I’d say it’s not journalism in the first place because the intent is different. In journalism, there’s an audience and customer reading it. With content marketing, the person who needs to benefit the most is the brand.

Any advice for people starting out in journalism — or considering the leap to branded content?
If you’re a young person starting out in journalism today, unless you decide you’re going to move to the sticks in Montana and cover the local zoning board, a lot of your job is content designed to entertain. There are times I write a piece for one of my clients that is well reported and has a good analysis and insights. If it appeared on a different site, it would be journalism.

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