David Meerman Scott clearly thinks so. In his latest post, he says:
“At every speech I give, I suggest one of the best ways to create great Web content is for companies to hire a journalist, either full or part time, to create it. Journalists (print or broadcast) are great at understanding an audience and developing information that buyers want to consume.” (My emphasis).
On a similar subject, Roy Greenslade at The Guardian points to former Sunday Telegraph editor Sarah Sands in her Independent on Sunday column:
“Once I stopped being a newspaper editor, I began to notice a discrepancy between the sorts of things journalists were interested in and what their readers liked. Journalists like crime and politics and sex. Readers care about gardening and, as it turns out, singing. The BBC series The Choir … has been one of the best things on television. There has been little fuss about it in the press, but at the school gates and in the garden centre it is very big news.”
Last year I was discussing an editorial promotion with one of the big financial trade mags – the ad sales guy was giving me the full sales pitch about reader demographics – I asked the editor for the rationale behind the editorial feature our client was being asked to support ie what rational basis did he have for choosing the subject matter. He cheerfully admitted it was “a gut feel” and he didn’t really know much about his readers at all. You could hear the ad guy audibly wince as we decided that perhaps this wasn’t something that we’d recommend our client spending thousands on – given the lack of hard evidence.
In summary, I don’t think journalists are automatically great at understanding audiences (and neither are PR and marketing people for that matter). I’ve often found that when journalists write PR or marketing copy they often produce something they think the customer wants ie full of the jargon and buzzwords they get subjected to themselves. Or when magazines try to do their own PR, it often falls into the traditional cliche they normally deride PRs for.
Truly understanding an audience is a lot harder than most people think – whether you are a journalist or a marketeer. However, proper investment in this area – backing it up with hard analysis and genuine listening – can reap rewards for hacks and flacks alike.