This summer, we were excited to welcome Steve Masters to the Rep Cap team as a full-time editor. I met Steve when we worked together on the editorial team at SmartBrief. After months of freelance editing for Rep Cap, he’s come on board as part of our tight-knit internal team.
I asked Steve to share his thoughts on the state of publishing, content marketing and the importance of good editing.
Why are you excited to join the Rep Cap team?
I come from a newspaper background, like you. I left in 2007, when the industry was first showing symptoms of the upheaval to come. My feeling then was that I wanted a career with a future instead of just a past, so I switched to online publishing — and that’s how you and I first crossed paths, at SmartBrief. In the years since then, it has seemed more like content marketing is where the future is headed, and since you started Rep Cap I’ve always felt like your approach is a good one — highlighting the best of journalism’s emphasis on quality content that’s genuinely valuable to readers as a way for your clients to reach customers. I’m happy to be a part of that.
What are you most interested in learning about in your new role?
Niche publishing, including content marketing, means fragmented audiences. It’s similar to the way TV audiences have become fragmented in the past few decades with cable and other video options. A newspaper has basically one set of style rules to apply for one product for one audience, while content marketing means customizing each time: Who is the audience? What is the client’s preference in terms of shaping this content and reaching that audience? What is the goal for this particular piece of content? That approach means constantly learning to stay on top of those kinds of questions, and that’s a big one for me to continue to learn about.
Beyond that, I have always appreciated the learning that happens as an editor — not only in terms of trying to get better at what I do, but because reading many different articles means you’re bound to learn some new things about various subjects along the way.
As someone with a background as a copy editor, what do you see as your mission at Rep Cap?
“Copy editor” is a job title that is pretty vague to a lot of folks outside of publishing. In newspaperland, copy editors are the ones putting out the paper at night, editing dozens of stories and writing headlines and photo captions and — hopefully — making sure there aren’t any big mistakes.
While that’s not the bulk of my job here, I do consider it my role to approach the story as the reader’s surrogate, and that’s a fundamental part of the copy editor job. A copy editor hasn’t been involved with writing the story and probably isn’t familiar with any discussions or explanations for various aspects of it. They come to a story with fresh eyes, just like the eventual reader will, and are essentially testing whether it stands on its own, providing clarity and not leaving the reader with unanswered questions.“A copy editor comes to a story with fresh eyes.” Click To Tweet
At good publishers, copy editors are empowered to raise questions and push for changes. That empowered reader surrogate role is one I have always embraced as my mission, and I appreciate that it’s also a part of Rep Cap’s approach.
A lot of media companies have cut back or eliminated their editing teams in the digital age. What do you think is lost when that happens?
What’s lost is a key piece of the safety net to help ensure quality. When you cut editors, you essentially eliminate a well-established best practice because it’s mistakenly seen as purely a cost. No one who’s a writer or editor will tell you that everything we’ve worked on is perfect — we’re all humans and we all make mistakes — but taking away the chance for a thoughtful “last look” before something is published on deadline means a greatly increased chance for something wrong, embarrassing or just plain confusing to get published. In online publishing, that content is going out to a global audience armed with the tools to share that embarrassment widely, so even if the error is fixed, it can live on long afterward.
Your career has included time in traditional media and marketing. What do they have in common? What’s different?
A key similarity is the reliance on credibility as capital, because everything starts there. If you lose the audience’s trust, it can be all but impossible to get it back. If you lose the audience’s trust, it can be all but impossible to get it back. Click To Tweet Also, traditional publishers and marketers need to know their audience and what it wants, because without that you’re potentially wasting your time, energy and money on content that no one will care about.
I think the approach to the audience is a key difference. Traditional media is looking mostly to inform — the goal is to get the reader interested in reading a story and to have them read as much of it as possible before they move on to another story or something else. But marketing tends to see reading the article as only a first step, because the real goal is to drive action after that. So that adds complexity to the process.
What advice do you have for writers and marketers who want to improve their writing?
One of my fellow reporters at my first job had a tip that I’ve always remembered — he’d think of the structure of news articles in terms of conversations, because the parts that he couldn’t wait to tell the people in the newsroom would often be the “lede” of the story.
When working with writers who are struggling to boil down a lot of thoughts into a coherent structure, I’ll ask them about the first thing that comes to mind from their conversations with their sources. Very often, the answer to that makes the other pieces fall into place structurally.
Tangentially from that, I think a lot of people get frustrated or intimidated by wanting to be overly formal with their writing, when really they’d be better off at least starting with a conversational approach to get words and thoughts on the page. There’s plenty of cases where the content can’t stay informal, but starting with a conversational approach can help get past that intimidation factor, and it also can help to avoid issues like leaning too much on jargon words that distance readers from the content rather than drawing them in.
Reputation Capital Media Services is a B2B content marketing agency that helps B2B companies and their marketing agencies produce high-quality digital content, including blog posts, email newsletters, white papers and multimedia. Our editors and writers are experts in their fields, which include HR technology, employee benefits, and financial services and accounting. Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation to find out how great content can help you attract and retain your customers.