In a society inundated by information, news is available anywhere, anytime. Journalists are entering a new relationship with the consumers of their media products.

Same goes for web content creators and the users they serve.

Today’s journalist no longer decides what people should and shouldn’t know. They realize each person is now their own reporter, editor and distributor.

To be relevant, web writers—like journalists—must now verify information users already have or can easily find.

Web writers help users:

  • Find and make sense of information
  • Decide how they could use that information to deepen their understanding, complete a task or solve a problem.

In this post, I’ll look at four key values from journalism:

  1. Truth and accuracy
  2. Fairness and impartiality
  3. Independence
  4. Humanity

I’ll show how they can make you a better web writer—ultimately helping your users more easily find, verify and digest the information on your site.

Truth and accuracy

At the start of my journalism training, I was told by my reporting instructor (in a lovely but stern Scottish accent) the three most important rules in journalism:

“Accuracy. Accuracy. Accuracy.”

That is to say, a reporter must ensure any information presented in a journalistic fashion is true and accurate. Always.

The same applies to web writing.

If you want your users to stay, and your user base to grow, your web content must be concisecurrent and correct.

The inverted pyramid

Just like a reporter crafting a story, your lede or news hook—the first line of your copy, in other words—should take the most time to perfect.

As I recall from my training (and remembering the Scottish voice again, but this time speaking in a more urgent tone):

“Don’t bury the lede!”

Same goes with web writing. Start with the content that’s most important to your users. Then provide additional details below.


  • Front-load the important information. Use the inverted pyramid model from journalism.
  • Use integrity when selecting what to promote.


  • Bury necessary information.
  • Include extra, irrelevant info. Remove fluff that doesn’t serve any real purpose. And, of course, don’t include anything that’s false or misrepresented.
Fairness and impartiality

Whenever possible, news articles should be objective in nature. They should also contain opposing views or opinions to create balance.

All stories have multiple sides. While a reporter doesn’t have to represent every side of an issue, their story should provide a balanced account of events—include two different voices at least.

In your work as a web writer, try to see things from all sides. Your job is to gather the most relevant information and feed it back to a user hungry for the most essential facts.

Also, keep it proportional

Keeping news in proportion is key to maintaining truth. Stereotyping, sensationalizing events, neglecting others, or being overly negative destroys public confidence.

Just like a reporter, a web writer must take into account diverse backgrounds and perspectives while making sure nothing gets overblown.

This is especially true for web writers in government or public entities—but I maintain its truth for everyone:

You don’t have the luxury of leaving anyone out.

In trying to be as impartial as possible, you’ll build trust and confidence.

If you want to bake more fairness and impartiality into your work as a web writer, consider the following:


  • Use the same words your users use. You’ll help them understand your copy while also helping search engines optimize it.
  • Use pronouns. Like “you” for the user and “we” for an organization. This will make your content more approachable and clean up your sentences to boot!


  • Neglect harder-to-reach demographics, including those with accessibility concerns. Not only is this unethical, it’s bad for your bottom line.
  • Use jargon or “inside baseball” terms. If you’re writing for the web, your style should be easily understood by anyone.

Independence lies at the heart of journalism because it forms the basis of becoming a reliable judge of events. Good journalism displays accuracy, intellectual fairness and an ability to inform—not devotion to a specific group or outcome.

Just as journalists must maintain independence from the people they cover, a web writer must maintain independence from stakeholders and subject matter experts.

For example, let’s say you’re pitching a big homepage redesign. A marketing or communications stakeholder would probably be interested in the outcome. You’d be well served to consider their point of view.

However, you don’t want to fall down the rabbit hole of trying to please everyone all the time.

Remember: you’re being paid for your expertise. You need to stand behind what you think is best, which should always come down to one thing:

What’s best for the user?

To get at this, here are a few tips:


  • Stick to your guns. You’re an agent of the user. Own it!
  • Anticipate stakeholder response per their role or responsibility—this will give you a better chance at things going your way.
  • Ask for feedback at crucial steps when refining your web copy. This way stakeholders won’t be taken by surprise.


  • Be stubborn or try to stave off constructive criticism—you need feedback to grow.
  • Be afraid to ask questions. What would your inner reporter want to know?
  • Avoid rethinking your approach—you’ll know which approach is better by which one is best for the user.

A good journalist should always be aware that images or stories could cause harm. Responsible journalists consider the impact their words have on others.

Same goes with website copy.

Have you made sure your writing is devoid of any language that’s racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, abelist, ageist, or the like?

Respect the reader (or user)

The Scottish instructor in my hazy j-school memory returns. While hovering over my shoulder looking at my work he murmurs…

“…pity the reader.”

Right. But I prefer to use the word “respect.” I say “respect the reader” instead because the average person now works like a journalist more than ever.

Writing a blog post, commenting on Facebook, posting a tweet or “liking” a post involves the same reporter’s process, just in shorthand.

Each day we:

  • Come across information
  • Decide whether or not to dig deeper
  • Assesses its validity
  • Determine its value to others
  • Decide what to pass on and what to ignore
  • Choose the best way to share what we consider valuable
  • Then we hit “send.”

It’s essentially what reporters do. That’s why we need to treat users as savvy information consumers.

When in doubt, consult this list of tips and tricks to respect the reader in their hunt for valuable content:


  • Use the active voice. “The reporter submitted their story,” not “The story was submitted by the reporter.”
  • Write content in chunks making it easier to scan.
  • Use white space. This allows users’ eyes to rest, priming them to receive the information you want, which should be what’s most useful.
  • Use bullets and numbers. One sentence with two bullets is easier to scan than three whole sentences.
  • Use clear headlines and subheadings.
  • Use photos, infographics, or multimedia for visual interest. This will also give your copy more prominence, helping with SEO.

And don’t forget:

  • “Accuracy. Accuracy. Accuracy.” It’s paramount to trust.
  • “Don’t bury the lede!” Make sure your headings are clear and impactful too.
  • And above all else, “Respect the reader.”

With that, you’ll be well on your way to a more responsive—and responsible—relationship with your users.

Anything I’ve missed or ideas to share? Let me know in the comments!