‘Content’ isn’t a dirty word

Tony Hallett

Tony Hallett

Managing Director

February 19, 2016 5:53 pm

Why is the word ‘content’ frowned upon by some? I see this dislike, sometimes even hatred, mostly from my old fraternity – journalists.

Words Everywhere

To journalists, what they do is usually called a story. Sure, it can be an article, a feature, a show, sometimes a film or even a post these days. And it can mean working behind the scenes as a contributor or programme producer, rather than as the main byline or in front of camera.

Whatever the work you’re talking about, the argument by those who oppose the word ‘content’ is that this reduces the effort to mere stuff that fills space, quite possibly between ads. Storytelling, these critics say, is much more important than that.

I get it. That’s not what anyone should be feeling.

Where I live our local newspaper trawls our neighbourhood Facebook pages for community stories. The person who does this and finds some good leads as a result is called a ‘Content writer’ next to her articles. She’s clearly doing good old-fashioned beat reporting. What’s wrong with ‘reporter’ as a job title?

Here’s another illustration that’s even worse. Working on an online publication’s migration to a new platform a number of years ago, I was dealing hourly with our tech lead. He started to talk about “moving across all the data”. It took me a few minutes to realise he was referring to our archive of precious stories as ‘data’. ‘DATA’?! I’m guessing some journalists feel much the same about the use of ‘content’.

But here’s the thing. There are many examples today where the word ‘story’ or one of its other close cousins just doesn’t fit.

In marketing circles, where content creation – as opposed to traditional copywriting and other tactics – is on the rise, content is the natural term. In fact that’s the reason we’re all seeing the word a lot more, especially as people like us and marketing publications chart the rise of content marketing.

We often talk generically about blog posts, long-form content such as white papers or e-books, videos, tweets, LinkedIn articles, infographics and more. The word ‘content’ is our catch-all, our shorthand.

We still need good journalism, replete with stories and reporters and all the rest.

But others feel the need to use the word ‘content’ more broadly. Journalists should understand this, as they know better than most about how language evolves and about economy in the use of words.

You can tell I’m not upset about this trend. As I might say to my French colleagues, je suis content.

*photo credit: Words everywhere via photopin (license)

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