Introduction to Reporting: Describing Your Beat

April 5, 2016

Beats define what you will cover. They identify the people to interview and the topics to investigate. They highlight the objectives and expectations that you (and your colleagues and supervisor) can use to make better decisions about the stories you tell.

Like a job description, a beat description outlines the tasks and territory of your beat. No matter what media organization you work in, you should have a clear understanding of your coverage area.

Your beat description should include these basics:

  • Which topics and issues fall in your beat?
  • Which public and private institutions and organizations fall in your beat?
  • Which regular meetings or other events will you always cover?
  • Which will you sometimes cover?
  • Which, if any, will you usually ignore?
  • How will you watch for the good stories that come from the meetings you cover?
  • Where are the gathering places — in person and online — you need to frequent?
  • Who are the officials you need to visit regularly?
  • Who are the unofficial experts on the beat?
  • What websites should you check regularly?
  • What social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs) should you follow?
  • What public records will you need to scour?

Taken from Introduction to Reporting: Beat Basics, a self-directed course by Steve Buttry at Poynter NewsU.

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