Content marketing: Telling Meaningful Stories

Why it can be okay to have “sources” read your stories before publication (in some cases)

When I was a reporter, I wrote all kinds of stories. Positive ones. Negative ones. Exposes and investigate pieces even. But never was I allowed to show sources/subjects of the stories the story before it was published – at that point – in the printed newspaper the next day. 

Since I called them they usually knew something was being published. But they wouldn’t see it before anyone else. 

Today, in content marketing/brand journalism projects I routinely show stories to the people being written about. Often it’s ghostwritten for them.

Recommended reading:

Why having a ghostwriter does not hurt authenticity

And when the process is done correctly and I explained myself well enough they don’t change the authentic story I’m sharing for them and don’t make it more market-y, “on message” or whatever.

And the process works, especially when the strategy and steps have been agreed upon:

  • We want to share useful, authentic and real stories. 
  • We don’t necessarily share everything but sometimes we share negative facts if they help our audience. 
  • We are okay to be human and with who we are. 

After hundreds of interviews and thousands of articles published there have hardly ever been problems. Plenty of good, authentic and useful stories get published. I’m proud to participate when organizations decide to be real and share useful stories. 

Recommended reading: What’s the difference between journalism and content marketing?

Why couldn’t this concept be used to a degree at least in journalism? I get the ethics argument that we don’t want to give sources the power to approve the story, but what if it’s not about approving? 

What if it’s just an offer to check the facts. And sometimes sources remember additional details or explanations that can add to the story. 

And sometimes – I know it’s hard to believe – but we (journalists and content marketers) misunderstood something that was said. Or they meant it differently and picked the wrong words. It’s an opportunity to explain.

It can work when there are rules and when they are laid out. That’s true for traditional and brand journalism. It doesn’t mean traditional journalists spin their stories a different way, but they can make them better and if sources don’t play along, at least they got a heads up and maybe next time they will be more collaborative. Or they won’t get advanced copies anymore. 

Recommended reading: What’s brand journalism? 

I know this is a bit idealistic. I’ve seen  news releases written in a way that people want to appear but the releases aren’t in line with actual reality. Let’s dream a little and try to work together instead of making it up. 

Sharing – dare I say co-creation – can actually help our stories when done right. Stay Real – or make up your mind to Get Real!

Bonus idea: Update articles online as facts are being reported. Add them as you go. Create as you go. (I know. Easier said than done.)

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Christoph blogs on The Authentic Storytelling Project and is a globally recognized content marketing expert. The IMA named him Internet Marketer of the Year in 2015. He works with healthcare organizations and other brands around the globe.

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