Talented AI, reducing content pollution, and journalists’ enduring skillset
By Tracey Wallace
I’ve long been a proponent of hiring folks from a journalism background. This might be biased––I come from a journalism background, so it’s the background I best know and understand.
But one of the early reasons I went in this direction was because I believed that I could better teach someone business and marketing, than I could teaching them how to write, how to ideate on stories, how to find sources, and how to put all the pieces together in an article to tell a new story that adds to the larger conversation.
Once, I went against my best judgment here and hired someone who was great in all the marketing ways––knew the funnel well, could track metrics, understood the history of marketing in our industry, etc. But, they weren’t a strong writer. And I gave in––I hired them, and six months later immensely regretted it.
I couldn’t teach them to write better––and I often still think of it as a failure of my own management. As my wife likes to remind me, though, people who are often good at something naturally and easily have a hard time teaching others how to do it.
She knows first hand. She’s a fantastic snowboarder and surfer, and couldn’t begin to teach anyone how to do it. “You just get up!” she says––and I can promise you, that’s not all there is to it!
For me, I’m a writer first and foremost. I’ve been writing poems and short stories my whole life.
I wrote a book once, in 8th grade, that my dad accidentally deleted from Microsoft Word. I cried about that book well into college––consoled solely by the fact that so many historic writers have also lost entire manuscripts, only to rewrite them. I never rewrote mine, but I do still think of the characters often, who they would be now, the lives they lead. Funny how they take a life of their own, and I cherish in many ways the fact that their story never ended––that they get to live on, if only in my imagination.
I learned business.
- First, at my family’s dinner table as the adults let work slip into home life (We have a family business that my mom and her two sisters run together. My dad once worked there, too, as did my uncles, as now do my cousins and for a while, my brother).
- Later, in the Great Recession, where the only jobs I could find combined both business and writing––and so I did what I needed to do to pay back my student loans and make a bit of cash (my first salary was $30K/yr).
- Then, I honed those skills within the content marketing profession because I found that by being good at business, and talking to business folks using their language, I’d earn the space for more creativity and ownership in my content work.
That is all to say that I learned business out of necessity. Writing will always be my first love.
And so it’s incredible to me, like so many of you, that AI has learned to write so well so quickly.
Sure, what it turns out still needs editing. But the main differentiator I’ve seen between people who think it is amazing and people who think it isn’t very good is the prompts they give it and their creativity in how they might use such a tool.
For me, I see AI helping me and my teams to:
- Repurpose content into all sorts of formats, from one-pagers and ebooks, to social media posts, and more!
- Write better headlines merely by helping to create tons of variations and editing to get what we need
- Conducting better and faster research! Ask ChatGPT a question about how two seemingly disparate things are related, and see what it gets back. Or ask it for when something started, or the history of something. This can give me quick context, and send me down the right internet research rabbit hole.
Of course, because I’ve learned business over the years, I can clearly see how people will abuse this, too.
After all, having a niche or affiliate website is one of the biggest ways to make a ton of money online (decently passively), and there is already a huge problem with “content pollution” created mostly by the desire for more organic search traffic.
Content pollution to me is any content that doesn’t add to the overall conversation, and just repurposes content and information from around the web to create an asset that doesn’t do much but rank well for the bots.
Now, Google is actively working on devaluing content like that, and I have faith that their machine learning models will soon learn the difference between repetitive content and added value (if they haven’t already).
OK, so here’s the dilemma:
You, as a content writer or a manager of content folks, know that execs typically request an ever increasing volume of content…
…and the resources required to do this are rarely available.
So, you’ve been able to keep these folks at bay by showing them the math (writing and freelance costs for quantity when quality at a lower cost will get you further, faster, longer).
But now, with AI being relatively inexpensive, there may be (honestly, there absolutely will be) pressure from execs for content teams to reduce headcount, lower overall spend, and produce far more content much more quickly.
So, what’s the argument for keeping human content writers and paying them well?
Why not play the quantity game versus the quality game? What’s the point anymore?
Well, a few things come to mind:
Most of these AI models are trained only through 2021.
For the foreseeable future, all of them will have some kind of time delay. It will be human writers, those folks who can connect the dots between events happening now, and tell a relatable, educational story to readers to help them solve a problem that will build the future of what AI itself writes about that topic in a year’s time.
- Does your company want to be the one creating the conversation, or regurgitating it?
- What will your competitors be doing, and are you falling behind by not being the leading voice here?
- Are you concerned that AI will come to learn that your competitor is the leader in something, and lead all conversations in that direction in the future, if you don’t invest now in high-quality, timely content for your industry today?
Interviewing is an art and will become a much more crucial and valuable content skill.
It’s been a content requirement for my teams to include at least 3 sources from a questionnaire or interview in all of our content since my BigCommerce days.
This requirement comes from my journalism days where 3 sources for every story was mandatory, unless it was a story about only one person (but even then!).
Moving forward, with AI (since it can’t, yet!, interview folks) sources will be crucial in content pieces to add value to a conversation, and to make it clear that the content isn’t just regurgitating.
This will mean actual interviews (not just questionnaires) and really great interviewing techniques and skills, as well as the ability to tie those interviews together into a larger story that makes sense for the reader, educates them, entertains them, etc.
Indeed, interviewing is an art. I’ll cover it more in next week’s newsletter.
For now, I’d advise that every single one of us see the writing on the wall, and…
Use AI content tools for the aids they can be.
- Shift your content strategies right now to include more interviews from your customers, your partners, whomever. Invest in writers who will interview (so many of them won’t!!).
- Figure out how to interview well (again, will write about this next week, but the fastest way to learn is to practice!).
Since you’ll be interviewing more customers, get efficient here:
- Can you turn one interview into a blog and a case study?
- What about gathering customer feedback and insight for your product team or product marketing?
- How can taking on regular customer interviews within the content marketing org make your organization an even more crucial one for your company?
These are things I’m thinking about more as AI becomes better and better at content––and us humans need to better our own game, lean into our natural gifts, and clean up the content mess we’ve created on the internet.
Amazingly, journalists are still incredibly well suited here! They often have the interviewing chops, the ability to hop on and report on trends, and will likely be great even at prompting AI in the future, too!
Better yet, there are a ton of them out there (or former ones) willing and ready to write for you. I started out by hiring journalists, and AI is pushing me further and further into that direction.
What is old is new again––it seems.