Beat reporting, also known as specialized reporting, is a genre of journalism that can be described as the craft of in-depth reporting on a particular issue, sector, organization or institution over time. Beat reporters build up a base of knowledge on and gain familiarity with the topic, allowing them to provide insight and commentary in addition to reporting straight facts. Generally, beat reporters will also build up a rapport with sources that they visit again and again, allowing for trust to build between the journalist and his/her source of information. This distinguishes them from other journalists who might cover similar stories from time to time.
Journalists become invested in the beats they are reporting for, and become passionate about mastering that beat. Beat reporters often deal with the same sources day after day, and must return to those sources regardless of their relationship with them. Those sources may or may not be pleased with the reporting of the reporters. It is pertinent that beat reporters contact their sources quickly, obtain all necessary information, and write on deadline.
Daily beat reporting, in contrast to investigative writing, presents credible information from reliable sources. Often, investigative writing is attributed to unofficial sources (Karrirer). According to media sociologists, beat reporting occurs because of the limited time reporters are given to cover stories. For big scoops, beats are not necessarily as useful as other journalism types. Some of the best inside stories, for example Bay of Pigs and Watergate, did not come from beat reporting.
Beat reporters collect information from each person they meet while reporting. They routinely call, visit, and e-mail sources to obtain any new information for articles. When reporters have experience on a specific beat, they are able to gain both knowledge and sources to lead them to new stories relating to that beat. Beats are able to help reporters define their roles as journalists, and also avoid overlap of stories within the newsroom.
The term comes from the noun beat in the sense of an assigned regular route or habitual path, as for a policeman. By analogy, the beat of a reporter is the topic they have been assigned for reporting. Similarly, a beat reporter will follow the same routes or habitual paths in collecting new information on a specified topic.
Several organizations award prizes for beat reporting, of which the Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting, discontinued in 2007, is possibly the best known. Other awards that have a category for beat reporting include the Gerald Loeb Awards, the Canadian National Newspaper Awards, and the SEJ Awards.
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