This project wants to help you cover your beat in a different way

February 18, 2019

For a lot of reporters, their beat is the topic they cover. Their sources help make sense of that topic, and their audiences are the people who read/watch/listen/engage. But what happens when you mash all those things together?

Last year, 10 reporters from several countries took part in a project to find out. It’s called “Join the Beat,” from The Membership Puzzle Project, and it’s looking for its next group of reporters.

The basic idea is that reporters who cover a beat, regularly report on a topic or want to begin doing so, work to build a group of their most engaged readers to help make their journalism better, said Ariel Zirulnick with the Membership Puzzle Project.

Related: Members don’t want a gate around the journalism they’re supporting’

Applications for the second year of Join the Beat are due Feb. 20. In 2018, journalists from Southern California Radio/KPCC, The Toronto Star and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting were among the first “Join the Beat” class members.

At Reveal, two reporters decided to tap into their readership to cover hate. They asked for volunteers to monitor alt-right media. They vetted them and sent out assignments. They shared the results in their reporting and a newsletter. And one of their volunteers identified an anti-kosher app. One week after covering it, Apple pulled the app from the App Store.

The people who joined their beat were a force multiplier, Zirulnick said.

A reporter at another partner newsroom, De Correspondent, asked readers for help as she got ready to move to Nigeria to cover migration. The Membership Puzzle Project reports that she’s still finding stories from that process. And a reporter with ArsTechnica launched a newsletter where subscribers helped him find articles and studies.

KPCC’s Ashley Alvarado will lead “Join the Beat” this year, and the five to eight reporters chosen for the project will get bi-weekly calls, individual coaching and the benefit of working with journalists in other newsrooms.

There’s no cost for the journalists who are selected — but there’s no funding. Organizers are looking for journalists in all kinds of newsrooms. If you’re not in a newsroom that has embraced engagement, that’s OK. If you are, that’s OK. If you’re halfway across the world, that’s OK, too. This could be the continuation of a different way to doing journalism, Alvarado said, or the beginning.

“You can dismiss engagement as a bonus activity,” she said. “Here is an opportunity to see what happens when you embrace it as an engine for your journalism at the start.”