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Content fundamentals

August 31, 2009

The vibrant 70 year old Rudie van Meurs was the guest on Saturday’s Argos broadcast. Thus concluding the summer series on research journalism, Luizen in de pels. Basically translated: Getting down to the nitty-gritty dirt (by being a total nuisance).

Van Meurs is without a doubt considered the Nestor of Dutch research journalism. The Nestor part he doesn’t mind. But ‘journalist’ is a qualification he truly dislikes, as every blogger or tweeter out there feels himself one these days.

Because of this Van Meurs prefers to be called a reporter. For that is what he’s done all his life and still does off and on. He records extraordinary stories and kneads them into groundbreaking articles.

And even though he sneered at the commonly used — to him empty — term ‘content management’, there’s a thing or two any content developer can learn from this man.

Characteristics needed

On his website, he describes the characteristics of a good reporter. You need to be inquisitive, suspicious and tenacious. Three characteristics I’d say anyone responsible for creating content needs to have. At least, that is if you want to create great killer-content.

An inquisitive mind helps in seeing that what others might overlook or take for granted. Being suspicious is questioning the information that’s presented. And tenacity is not letting go even if all odds are against you. Tenacity also means not being satisfied with meagre results, when you know you can do a whole lot better.

Passion. I’d like to add another one myself. A characteristic he mentioned en passant: passion. You need to want to dive in; (temporarily) lose yourself completely. For loving your work, means you’ll do all that’s necessary to perform well. As simple as that.

Approach to practice

Besides the right characteristics, a content developer also needs to practice the right approach. A right approach involves the basics: attention, time and verification.

Attention. Give your source (the subject matter expert) the attention he deserves. Listen to him by really listening to what he’s saying. Show some respect; don’t try to push your own point across. Just listen. And consequently ask the right questions. That’s the way the best content is created. Believe it or not.

Time. In today’s fast paced world, where the audience is constantly presented with bite size information and media snippets; where we cultivate and nurture a short attention span, there’s not much room for time in the creative process.

It’s so not the 21st century, to allow ourselves the time to develop good content. And though there are some who promote Quick & Quality; working in a speedy rush inheres to a Quick & Dirty result. I totally agree with Van Meurs here. Please, take the necessary time. Do your job right. The way it’s supposed to be done.

Verification. I’ve referred to source verification in articles like Life is worth Learning and All-round Digital. However you look at it, this remains a fundamental of creating good and reliable content. Always check your source. Then go right back and check, and check, and check again.

Important preconditions

Van Meurs was very lucky. He had a terrific boss who gave him trust, space and responsibilities. Most of us aren’t that lucky. Nonetheless, there are a few things you can do yourself.

You can start by earning your boss’ trust. Show him that you can deliver and that you can handle responsibility. If he’s a good one, he gradually cut you some slack. If not, you should move on — get yourself a better boss.


As one who has worked as a content developer (and loved it!) and who’s now very much an accidental blogger (and loves it!), he’d probably sneer at me too. Even so, the Nestor Rudie Van Meurs has definitely got the stuff I want to be made of —should I ever be blessed to reach his age.

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