1 Reason Journalists are Best for Ghostwriting Memoirs


I’ve previously written about why journalists make great ghostwriters: They are skilled at getting into somebody’s head and bringing out their thoughts, emotions, feelings, and words. They also know how to research, interview, write, and accept feedback and criticism.

Recently, I’ve come across another reason why a journalist can be so valuable to a client needing a ghostwriter: Journalists understand public relations.

I majored in journalism in college. Everyone had to select one of three areas of emphasis: newspaper, radio, or public relations. While I chose newspapers because I wanted to be (and was) a sportswriter, I came to understand that the same journalistic principles of truth, accuracy, and fairness apply in the real world of corporations, government agencies, nonprofits, and the entertainment industry. 

Where there’s controversy, there’s a need for public relations. It’s why crisis communications exist: to help people and organizations protect themselves when a disruption rears its ugly head.

Ghostwriters with journalism backgrounds are not afraid of scandal or other uncomfortable situations because truth is an absolute defense. 

A man I’ll call Johnny recently reached out to me telling me of his friend, a real estate tycoon, who wants to have his memoir ghostwritten. Johnny presented his friend as a rags-to-riches story but also admitted that controversy has followed his friend, and he showed me articles in which his friend was accused of sex trafficking, which he and his friend vehemently deny.

(I should stop here and point out that I have not met the tycoon and do not know where the truth lies. At this juncture, it doesn’t matter, and it might never matter.)

I told Johnny that to do a memoir right, his friend will have to face the controversy head on and not ignore it. He understood and said the tycoon will be willing to talk about it openly.

What I also made clear to Johnny is that my job is to determine how compelling the story is. If I decide it is worth my time, I will do everything in my power to make sure the tycoon tells his story his way in his voice. I would remind him that controversy is not a bad thing, that it could sell books—provided he face the controversy directly.

Here’s where a journalist ghostwriter comes in handy: A journalist can play devil’s advocate and tell the client that the average Joe might think this or that, so how would he respond?

Also, a journalist could do research and uncover previously reported stories that feature negative claims about the client. How would the client answer those comments?

A ghostwriter tells the story; a ghostwriter with a journalism background goes one step further. He helps the client understand the landscape, the situations and circumstances behind the story, the differing and opposite viewpoints, and navigate all those obstacles and landmines effectively to tell the client’s story in the client’s voice and viewpoint.

In other words, the ghostwriter with a journalism background helps the client shape the narrative the client’s way. It’s still true and honest and accurate and fair, but it’s the client’s truth, honesty and accuracy. That is exactly what public relations does.

I don’t yet know if I will end up working on this project. The tycoon isn’t in town until later this month, so we can’t yet meet. But Johnny emailed me to say he enjoyed talking to me, spoke to the tycoon and they are excited. The tycoon will want to meet me in person, so it’s a good thing he lives close enough to drive. I suggested the three of us meet, and Johnny seemed open to that. 

As I often say, we’ll see. But whether the tycoon works with me or not, he would be wise to find a ghostwriter with a journalism background. Looking to partner with the right ghostwriter in NYC or another location? Contact Lee today!

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