5 Writing Tricks You Can Swipe from the Professional Journalist’s Playbook

5 Writing Tricks You Can Swipe from the Professional Journalist’s Playbook

You’re passionate about blogging.

But your blog is just one of scores covering the same topic.

How can you possibly stand out? What can you do to get noticed?

Well, here’s one way that can get you loads of attention:

Think like a journalist.

Reporters are in the business of getting noticed – if their stories don’t make a splash, they’ve essentially failed.

That’s why they are completely focused on delivering information their readers want to know – and they use a variety of newsgathering techniques to dig it up.

Fortunately, these methods aren’t hard to adopt – you can totally do this. In fact, it’s a wide-open opportunity for anyone who has just started a blog and wants to raise the bar for their content.

So what does it mean to think like a journalist?

Swipe the following five techniques from the journalism world to stand out with blog posts that are magazine-article quality:

1. Get a Scoop

Beat reporters keep their jobs by digging up unique information their competing rags don’t have.

By contrast, most blog posts don’t tell us anything we haven’t seen a hundred times before. So if you want mad traffic to your blog, break a big story.

You may think this seems impossible. There’s nothing new under the sun, right?

Wrong – scoops happen all the time. You just need to know how to find them.

One excellent way is to interview interesting people. Do a bunch of interviews on one topic, and you can even write an expose – readers always love to get a peek behind the scenes, or find out if a company’s promises are really true.

And be creative about where you look for information. If you’re profiling a popular person or company, check for lawsuits on Lexis-Nexis or Justia, ask around your network, and Google “[person’s name] sucks” to see what you find. Dig up some fresh dirt, and you’re sure to have a popular post.

2. Become a Trend-Spotter

Any given day, you can see bloggers tweeting about how they’re trying to slap an idea together at the last minute for tomorrow’s post. But that’s not how you become known for quality content.

Reporters always have scads of ideas up their sleeves because they usually need to write several stories every week – and they never know if their editor will like their top choices. So they’ve always got backups.

I call this newsgathering process “collecting string.” Each factoid you find may not be a story in itself, but as you collect news items, you’ll start to see how your pieces might connect into an interesting, coherent set of information – a ball of string, or a trend story, instead of unrelated scraps.

I’ve used this spot-a-trend technique to get huge traffic on my Forbes blog, on posts like this one about fast-food trends.

Besides reading popular blogs (which I’m betting you do already), string-collecting methods can include the following:

  • Creating Google Alerts on your topic that deliver daily headlines
  • Monitoring press-release sites such as PR Newswire or PR Web
  • Studying online and print magazines
  • Watching Amazon.com for upcoming book releases
  • Following popular culture such as TV shows and movies

Create idea lists as you turn up news so that when post time rolls around, you’ve got dozens of possibilities, and you can choose the strongest topic. I have dozens of pages of topic ideas for every blog I write, and add to it every week.

In addition to reading within your sector, look beyond it for ideas that might be old hat in one industry or community, but fresh to your readers.

3. Pick Up the Phone

Few bloggers take the time to do interviews. Fewer still take the time to actually speak to a real person.

Sure, many bloggers send out a few quick email questions to top bloggers and then do roundup posts with the results. But that’s not an interview – that’s an email. You don’t get unique or fascinating information that way.

Interviewing means talking to a live human being, either in person, or on the phone, or Skype. Talking to people live also allows you to build relationships, and find out personal details or tips nobody else has published. Journalists are always cultivating their sources, building trust so that they get the news first.

That unique content is worth its weight in gold. A quick interview on an interesting topic can get you a ton of traffic – like I did with this post about how to open a restaurant on the cheap, which continues to bring me a ton of readers each month on my Forbes blog about entrepreneurship. I spent perhaps 20 minutes chatting with this restaurant owner, and it was well worth it to get more than 68,000 views.

Think nobody will talk to you? You’d be surprised. Tons of book authors, academics, researchers, business owners, and other experts are dying for any scrap of exposure they can get. Ask them for 10 or 15 minutes — the worst that can happen is they’ll say “no.”

Make a habit of ending your interviews with a future-focused question that gleans you more ideas, like, “What’s next for you?” That way, you can hear what’s coming up that you might not know to ask about.

Bonus question: Ask if you can have an exclusive on the information they’ve just given you. This means they won’t tell anyone else about it until after you publish it – and your blog will be the only place readers can go to get this news.

4. Dig into the Data

Bloggers love to write off the top of their heads, and this can result in vague generalizations about their topic or industry. Journalists never do that – they nail down every fact and tell readers where they found it.

You can do this too – and give your blog instant legitimacy.

Find relevant research that sheds light on your topic. Industry associations, market-research firms, trade publications, and government agencies are four of my favorite places to find interesting, independent data. (But beware of research done by corporations that just proves how great their solution is.)

It’s not hard to find new surveys with a little online research – so do it. Once you get your hands on the data, see what fresh conclusions you could draw from it, aside from the headline that research house is pushing in their press release. Lots of research firms release data in Excel form now, so it’s easy to sort it for different variables.

Data manipulation is the technique I’ve used for most of my Forbes slideshows, including my most-popular one ever, which has gotten nearly 900,000 views.

The figures in that post came from a trade-magazine report on the biggest fast-food chains in terms of global revenue. I re-cut their data to rank the chains by which American-based restaurant brands had the most units overseas. That gave me a fresh angle – the fast-food chains with the biggest global presence – and fresh rankings that didn’t appear anywhere else, even though the study was widely distributed.

Finally, double-check and make sure you’re citing that data accurately. It’s easy to look at the wrong line on a big chart.

5. Circle Back Around

Here’s a final, easy trick journalists use to ensure they have a steady stream of great stories: When they hit on an interesting topic that gets a strong response, they set up a reminder that they want to revisit it again later.

Reporters create “future” files and drop a note in for six months or a year after that big conference, earthquake, bankruptcy, or interview with a fascinating rising star. Then, when that date arrives, they write a follow-up about what’s happened since.

Did predictions made at that conference come true, or did they flop? Did the town get rebuilt, or is it still a wreck? Did the star hit the big time, or flame out?

Follow-up posts have built-in popularity because they reference something readers are already familiar with and curious about. Few bloggers take the time to follow stories down the road this way, and readers will love you for giving them the update.

Too many blogs raise an issue or make a claim of what they’ll do, and then the topic vanishes, leaving readers hanging. If you vowed to lose 50 pounds on your blog, be sure to come back a year later and post about it again – even if it’s to discuss why you failed to reach your goal.

Think Like a Reporter and Rise Above the Blogging Masses

All of these journalism strategies help you deliver useful information in a documented way that makes readers trust you.

Thanks to the interviews, research, and trend-spotting you’ve done, you’ll come off as a blogger who really knows what they’re talking about!

These techniques also don’t take a lot of time, and you can pick any one of them as a starting point for improving your content.

Think of yourself as a beat reporter covering your blog’s topic instead of “just a blogger,” and your readers will see your blog as a high-quality online magazine.

And they won’t want to miss a single issue.

About the Author: Carol Tice is a longtime journalist who writes the Make a Living Writing blog. She co-teaches Article Writing Masterclass, the 10-week course where you learn to write quality articles, and get feedback from pro editors.