This article answers the question “What is beat in journalism?”. Discover everything about this topic in our expert guide.
A beat in journalism refers to an area of specialization for reporters where their newsgathering efforts are focused on specific subjects or locations. News beats include specializations such as locations and territories, specific entities and organizations, and types of journalism.
If you are a reporter whose specific job requires you to report on journalism and media, then media would be your beat. If you have ever heard of an education correspondent, their beat is education, and so forth. Learning about beats in journalism can help answer the question, “Is journalism a good career?”
Different Types of Beats In Journalism
Katherine Murphy, The Guardian Australia‘s political editor, touched on the importance of specialization in journalism when discussing this media feature. She said: “The journalistic mission remains at its simplest: know your patch and use your knowledge to try to tell readers what’s actually going on.”
Put simply, that’s the point of beats; to have reporters have extra knowledge of a subject matter makes for better reporting, be it with a location, an entity, or a section of their newsroom’s output. Looking for more information on journalism? Check out our guide on journalism scoop!
1. Location Beats
For instance, Martin Chulov is the Middle East correspondent for The Guardian. Therefore, his area of expertise and journalistic focus relates to subjects of countries in that region.
Your first job after journalism school could be covering a local patch. In that case, that patch will be your beat. The expectation would be for you to gather news in that area and cover any relevant breaking stories or press conferences that happen in that area.
2. Entity Beats
There are also specific beats for different entities. To help you understand, consider The White House. A whole host of White House correspondents whose job is to cover all happening in and around the US President’s quarters. For instance, Phil Mattingly is CNN’s Chief White House correspondent, while Peter James Doocy is the White House correspondent for Fox News.
Another example is sports reporters, who have specific franchises as their beats. For instance, James Pearce is a Liverpool FC reporter for The Athletic.
It doesn’t have to be a physical entity to be a beat for news media.
3. Subject Area Beats
Subject area is one the most common journalism beats where reporters focus their news writing efforts on a specific genre of media that is broader than one entity but specialized in one area of news output. For instance, you have political science reporters, crime reporting, and many more subject area-beat reporters.
Another example of this would be the education beat. There might be an editor and reporters who work this specific beat. One of there more renowned reporters in this category is Laura Meckler, who takes on the education beat for The Washington Post.
Beats can also be combined. For instance, you can be an Australian political reporter. Here, the beat you would be working off would be Australia and politics. You might also be wondering, what does off the record mean?
Are Beats In Journalism Disappearing?
The coming of age of online and the 24-hour news cycle has led to many newsrooms needing more resources, with specialists now expected to work outside their known area. We are left asking the question “Is journalism dying?”
Of course, larger newsrooms still have beat reporters but if you are a low-budget organization, affording reporters to have specific beats isn’t always within the realm of possibility. Instead, you expect these reporters to put their hands on the wheel and help with every story they can.
However, the loss of specialization can hurt the quality of the news reports. This point was touched upon in an article entitled ‘Why the demise of specialist reporters is a loss for any democracy’ featured in The Conversation.
Politics editor for the publication, Laura Hood, wrote: “Beat journalism worldwide is disappearing. There are several reasons, among them the corporate and commercial pressures of going digital and competition from social media.” Ms. Hood summarizes that beats in journalism are the lifeblood of quality, in-depth reporting, and they should be preserved despite the extra cost.
What Is The Point of Beats In Journalism?
Of course, there will still be some news organizations that believe that a beat reporter should be able to focus on a broader range of stories. However, there are several reasons for better courses of action than this.
It Enforces Authority
In the article mentioned above in The Conversation, Ms. Hood discussed one of the critical advantages of beat reporting; it enforces authority. She said: “When people read a beat reporter’s byline (their name on the story), they expect expert and factual news and analysis. It’s the opposite of generalist reporting.”
A beat reporter will become the go-to journalist for an audience on their given subject matter. Their expertise might be why people tune in, buy the paper, or click online. If journalists aren’t allowed to specialize, they are less likely to gain the expertise needed to become such an authority. When an organization is known for producing top-notch news reporting with journalists with specific areas of expertise, they become the public’s go-to resource.
It Helps Editors
You can help yourself understand the concept of beat reporting by thinking of a cop who has to respond to crimes when they happen within a specific area. That’s their beat, and they will be sent there by their chief if there is an issue. It works similarly with beat journalists, as editors know they can rely on beat journalists to produce a news story from their specific beat if something happens concerning their area.
It answers the question, “Who does the editor send on this story?” It also ensures that a reporter’s hard work in a specific area gets rewarded. That is because if a journalist has worked hard on a story on their beat, they will be allowed to follow up on it. Practically, a beat journalist already understands restrictions and access to sources and locations within their beat.
When there is a general assignment on a specific subject matter, the beat reporter already knows the fundamentals and is best placed to work on it. If they are good at their job, they already have contacts in the area, which ensures that it’s easier to get reliable sources and more efficient. They also already know the background information and may have previously worked on connected breaking news reports.
Whereas, if a general reporter has to take on a story in an area or subject they are unfamiliar with, they start with a blank canvas. Understanding a story’s background requires time, which is time that a beat reporter has already spent.