3 Things Journalists Need to Know About Non-Traditional Media

Aaron Task
3 min readApr 22, 2019

And 3 questions to ask before making the leap

“The job of the future is editor in chief,” Axios editor-in-chief Nicholas Johnston declares in a piece featuring this ‘revelation’:

“Because it’s never been harder for companies to reach distracted consumers, more and more firms are hiring editors and content creators to build everything from podcasts to news websites to print magazines to grab your interest.”

The good news for journalists, storytellers, English lit majors, and other content creators is that this is a true statement! Pretty much any organization you can think of has some kind of ‘content’ operation — and there are jobs to be had. The other good news is that non-traditional publishers often value the skills of writers, editors and other content creators more highly than traditional publications, where those skills are part of the DNA. (Also, you’re expected to accept low pay at an established publisher because of the “prestige” of working for [INSERT LEGACY MEDIA COMPANY] and you’re participating in an effort that’s bigger than you. Plus, you didn’t go into journalism to get rich, amirite?)

Which brings us back to those jobs in non-traditional publishing shops. Here are 3 things you need to know about working for non-media companies:

  • It isn’t journalism: There aren’t walls between content and the ‘business’ side of the company, Chinese or otherwise.
  • It isn’t new: Media efforts by Bumble, Airbnb, Netflix, Blue Apron, Casper et al cited by Johnston follow longstanding media efforts by non-traditional publishers like GE, IBM, Marriott — and pretty much every other Fortune 500 company. The idea “everyone is a publisher” is nearly as old as the Internet itself.
  • It isn’t easy: Creating content in a non-traditional publisher isn’t easy because it’s not part of their DNA. Be prepared to explain repeatedly to confused sales associates, finance types, engineers, and other ‘teammates’ why XYZ company is doing content in the first place. More to the point, content isn’t the end product but a means to an end, typically one with a profit motive. And, go figure, making money by creating content isn’t easy whether you’re working for a traditional or non-traditional publisher.

So here are some things to think about — and questions to ask — for anyone looking to make a move into the world of non-traditional publishing:

  • Who owns the content? Is it part of corporate communications? Marketing? The CEO’s office? Is there a Chief Content Officer at the firm? Depending on the answer, then the question becomes: Are the other parts of the organization on board? Are there ways your content efforts can support the corporate comms and marketing efforts while simultaneously distinguishing from them? (Again, it’s not easy.)
  • How committed is this organization to creating content? Is there is buy-in from the C-suite? Because making money from content isn’t easy and not part of the non-traditional publisher’s core business, the content org is often first on the chopping block when business slows or corporate whims change. (In short, there’s more stability in non-traditional vs. traditional media, but not much more.)
  • Does the company’s culture support risk-taking and experimentation, or just talk about it? As Johnston correctly notes “ it’s never been harder for companies to reach distracted consumers.” And you’re not going to reach them with bland, watered-down corporate-speak disguised as a “blog” or “podcast”, no matter how shiny the wrapper.

To be sure, the growing number of jobs in non-traditional publishing is an encouraging sign for people who work in media. But don’t leave your critical thinking skills behind when you leave traditional journalism — or write about these trends.

Aaron Task is former Editor-in-Chief of Experian Consumer Services, a job he took after a long career in ‘traditional’ media.