Content writers are everywhere and available to write about everything. You may see ads from people looking to hire a content writer to provide copy on anything from tires to mattresses to makeup to parenting and pet care and travel. The website you’re reading right now is a free service, online portfolio, and online office for a content writer whose niche is artists in and around Utica.
When you talk to someone who identifies themselves as a “content writer” it may feel a bit like being interviewed by a reporter. One is not a better writer, a more important job, or a better person than the other. But there are important differences between these two careers.
A reporter’s responsibility is to the public. A content writer’s responsibility is to whoever is paying them to provide the content.
A reporter’s job is to report the news accurately, or, if they are writing a feature, to present an accurate picture of the issue or situation. That’s it. Whether there are media outlets out there that actually do this, which ones they are, and which ones are the worst at violating this rule are matters for debate. But ideally, a reporter should be there to do nothing more than present the truth.
Content writers’ jobs vary according to their industry, or niche. If they’re writing for a science or health website, then their job, like the reporter’s, is to provide accurate, truthful information. If they’re writing for a company that sells lumber, their job is going to be to educate the public about the use of lumber, and to sell that company’s lumber. Either way, the owner of that website determines what the goal of the writing should be, and the content writer must meet that goal.
When a reporter reaches out to you and asks for an interview, you are a source. When a content writer interviews you, it is more of a collaboration.
Being interviewed by a reporter and a content writer may feel like the same situation, but your role is a bit different. A reporter is interviewing you because they are gathering information for the news story they are going to write. You are not their coworker. You are not their supervisor. You are there to provide information.
A content writer probably sees you a bit differently. In some cases, you are still there to provide information. If the writer for a mental health blog reaches out to you because they just started college and you have a Ph.D. in Psychology, they are looking for a source of information, just as a reporter writing a feature would do. But a content writer may also see you as someone they are working with. They might ask your opinion on the shape the article should take, show you pieces of it as they work, or allow you to insert a few pitches for your business into the piece.
There is no “on the record/off the record” when you work with a content writer. This is a real thing in the field of news writing.
If there is a reporter in a movie or tv show, at some point, somebody they’re interviewing is going to lean forward and whisper, “This is off the record.” Typically, the reporter gets an evil gleam in their eye, says “certainly,” and then reports what they said anyway.
The evil gleam and reporting it anyway is invented for the sake of conflict necessary to the fictional storyline. This is considered unethical behavior in the field of news reporting, and most reporters do not do this. They do, however, have the right to say, “I identified myself as a reporter, and anything you say to me in this interview will be considered on the record,” in response to “This is off the record.”
Most reporters still do not do this. In my ten plus years as a reporter, if someone said “This is off the record,” I put my pen down and politely chatted with them for a few minutes, or listened to them, then brought things back to the record by saying, “I have a few more questions for the article,” and waiting for them to agree to return to the record. If they said “This is off the record” before everything, I would ask them if there was something they could tell me on the record, for the article.
Still, once the reporter identifies themselves as a reporter, if they do not agree that something is “off the record,” they may use that information or insight for their work.
The whole concept of “on the record/off the record” isn’t going to be a part of the situation if you’re talking to a content writer. You are free to ask questions throughout the interview about what will and will not be included in the piece, tell them what you agree to have in there, and what you would rather they not use.
It is not appropriate to ask a reporter if you can approve their piece before they print or broadcast it. It may be appropriate to ask a content writer for final approval before the piece is used.
Looking back on my time as a reporter, I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody said, “You’re going to let me read that before you publish it, right?” I would be rich enough to just give my novels and arts content away now, and would never have to charge for anything. But the answer was always, “No.” A reporter may verify facts, dates, and other information with you during the interview, but their copy goes to their editor, then to print.
Content writers may allow you to look over the finished piece before it is submitted. It will depend on the conditions of their workplace or the assignment. If this is a concern for you, ask before you agree to the interview, and respect the answer. If the content writer says, “No,” and you feel you cannot participate if you do not get to approve the final copy, let them know you won’t be part of the project right away, rather than after the interview. It’s much better to bow out in the beginning and give them time to find someone else than to agree to talk to them anyway, then pressure them into giving you a copy once the article is finished.
It is not a reporter’s job to promote your band or your project or make you look good. A content writer may be there to provide promotional material for you.
When a reporter arrives to cover your reading, concert, show, or lecture, they are there to report what they saw and/or heard to the public. They are not there to help you sell your books, find your next gig, or improve your public image for your fans. Those are duties for your publicist and/or your manager or agent.
A content writer covering your work for a niche website may be doing a news style piece, or they may be there to promote you or your work. It is perfectly acceptable to ask a content writer about the piece they are working on, the website or other media where it will be published, and the purpose of the piece.
While there are differences between a reporter and a content writer, both are professional writers. Treat anyone who covers your event or career with courtesy and respect. Anyone who arrives at your event to cover your work should also behave respectfully toward you and your entire band, crew, and/or staff.
by Jess Szabo originally published on Artist Cafe Utica www.artistcafeutica.com