5 journalism skills for
great copywriting

I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. Well, in elementary school I wanted to be a teacher, but that’s only because my best friend wanted to be a teacher and we did everything together.

In high school, I knew in my heart and bones that journalism was my calling. I chose my university based on a combination of the great reputation of the journalism program, the outstanding rowing program and the affordable tuition. I have journal entries about my first journalism classes – I was in awe!

When I moved to Switzerland, I knew I wanted to write, and with the help of an accomplished and encouraging fellow American – Stephen Ferron, a man who has since become my mentor – I slipped into copywriting. There’s not a project – big or small – that goes by that doesn’t involve my journalism skills in some way.

As the Harvard Business Review says in a 2014 article, “trained journalists and writers are in the best position to synthesize information, capture a reader’s attention, and uphold a critical editorial standard.”

(That’s in an article about the content marketing revolution – a revolution that is still going strong today.)

Aside from the obvious writing and editing skills and copious amounts of creativity, there are five journalism skills that benefit my copywriting and make me the kind of freelance writer you want on your team.

Ask the right questions

Articles need sources and quotes. Interviewing people was always my favorite part of working on an article because I could be nosey and learn. I established a solid strategy while I worked on articles for my school paper: I'd ease my sources into the interview with simple questions, and then toss a few hardball questions that got down to business. You're not a source, but during our briefing, I'll ask the questions that dig deep and get me to your why, how and what, and your answers will shape the copy I write for you.

Look through different lenses

Balanced journalism comes from varied interviewing. There are at least two sides to every story, so it's important to ask the right questions and see things from different angles so you can assess the whole story. When I write copy for you, I think of your product or service as a story - who is going to land on your website: an expert, a senior executive or a beginner? How can I make sure the copy tells your story to one or all of these people? What information or facts do I need to present to speak to these individuals? You can't please everyone, but seeing a story from different perspectives will help people understand and keeping them scrolling and clicking.

Mad brainstorming skills

On very rare occasions, one idea is enough. It hatches and you fly with it. Most of the time, it takes thinking and brainstorming. The first idea is just the springboard from which you bounce into more or exciting ideas. As a copywriter, brainstorming looks like this: What's the real story here? How do I turn it into something people will read? What do people need to know? Maybe the first answers get you nowhere, maybe the first draft of the homepage text doesn't invite readers in... that's where brainstorming comes in. Do you have time for that? Probably not. But I do!

Research, research, research

Step 1: Story idea
Step 2: Research
As a journalist, you first have to know what is out there and what has already been written or said before you can dive into your story. Google is always a good starting point; from there, it's on to the archives of major news sources and then maybe even more scholastic work to look at research that has been conducted. This information might provide background or it might change the story completely. I do the same when I start a new copywriting project. I find out what similar companies are saying and how they're saying it. That's why I always ask my clients who their role models and competitors are. I'll even research news articles and blog posts to see if there are common themes between you/your company and what's going on in the real world. I learned the importance of research as a journalist and I know it's importance as a copywriter.

Newsroom Lightening speed

Getting the news out there is a 24/7 job and with social media, everything needs to go at a supersonic pace without – and here's the kicker – sacrificing quality. I always love a good challenge, and that's why I love deadlines. I worship them and I do whatever it takes to meet them while sticking to the four things I mentioned before to ensure the copy I write is well researched, appeals to your audience, answers questions and tells your story. And I'm pretty speedy too (without compromising on quality, of course)!

Want to see my journalism skills in action?