Just two days ago, tech news aggregator Techmeme announced that it was going to start rewriting the headlines of stories that it presented on its site. This is a significant development because it blurs the line between the roles of reporting and aggregating. A site that reports news is obviously expected to write its own content and headlines. But aggregators have, by and large, been expected to, well, aggregate. Which is to say, we expect them to pick and chose from the news of the day and present us with the stories they think we’ll want to know about in an unaltered state.
That expectation is about to change in the world of tech news aggregation but it’s nothing new in the news business thanks to sites like the Drudge Report. So why does Techmeme feel the need to rewrite (some of) the headlines of the stories they aggregate? They wrote a blog post with 7 reasons and each one of them carries with it an important content marketing lesson.
Headlines and Content Marketing
Lesson #1: Know your audience.
“News organizations that cover more than just tech often favor headlines describing the story in the most general terms that the widest possible audience can appreciate at some level. So headlines will omit references to specific companies, people, and technologies unknown to most of their readers yet familiar to Techmeme readers. As our coverage increasingly relies on sources like The Guardian and Washington Post (for reports on government surveillance and other policy matters), this has become a significant issue for Techmeme.”
Techmeme knows its audience and they understand that readers want to understand the technology angle of the article. It’s why someone would subscribe to them in the first place, but they’ve noticed that some of the organizations doing the reporting are “dumbing down” the headlines because their audience is so varied. It’s important to note that there’s no right or wrong approach here. The Guardian and Post are both writing headlines they feel will work for the majority of their readers and Techmeme is simply saying that it doesn’t work for their audience.
This goes way beyond simply writing headlines. It means understanding the audience you want to reach in the first place and being faithful to them in the topics you cover and the headlines you write.
Lesson #2: Know your subject matter.
“In some news organizations, particularly the older ones, too often the editor tasked with writing the headline doesn’t appreciate the most newsworthy part of the story, “burying the lede” with a headline oblivious to the news.”
For me, this one is the most fascinating and holds the most intrigue in terms of looking into the future of reporting. What they’re saying here is that the people doing the original reporting don’t even understand the full implications of the story they’re covering! Our world is becoming extremely reliant on simple devices that rely on highly complex technologies. When you post a picture and comment on Facebook, are you thinking about the encryption level used to transmit the data? Or about the 20 pages of terms of service that govern that simple act? Or (for U.S. citizens) your 4th Amendment rights to unreasonable search and seizure of your private property? Probably not. And journalists are paid to be expert in using words to convey stories. They’re not encryption experts or legal scholars (usually).
We are in the early stages of a content marketing arms race. Content that’s a mile wide and an inch deep will lose. Marketers that win will be the ones with content that adds value and doesn’t miss the mark. To do that, you’ll need to know your subject matter (or hire someone who does).
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