Nieman Foundation at Harvard
America’s Test Kitchen, “the Consumer Reports of cooking,” wants to grow to new platforms
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
May 28, 2009, 8 a.m.

Dan Froomkin: How to better use our biggest assets, beat reporters

[Here’s part three of Dan’s essay on the ills facing American newspapers; you can catch up on the first two parts here. His conclusion runs tomorrow. —Josh]

If we believe our newsrooms have value, then the greatest prizes are the reporters who know and care about their beats. In 2004, not long after I stepped down as editor of, I wrote two essays in the Online Journalism Review about my hopes for online newspapers, my frustration at the pace of change and my belief that beat reporters could be our secret weapon online. I argued then — and I still believe now — that if we can better exploit and market the deep, full-bodied understanding that beat reporters have of their areas of expertise, we hugely increase our value proposition to our readers. So we should celebrate our beat reporters, and take advantage of online opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge.

Knowledgeable beat reporters aren’t just stenographers, they are translators, educators, referees and analysts. If we’ve got people in our newsroom who really understand how a certain city or county works, or who are experts in certain policy areas, they should be sharing and showcasing their expertise in live discussions and blogs; should be answering reader questions and composing FAQs, should be on Facebook and Twitter, should be publishing and allowing readers to contribute to their beat notes, and should be writing and updating primers on key players and key issues. And much of the material they create for online should end up in the paper as well — quite possibly instead of the dry incremental news stories they currently produce. They should essentially become the anchor for a community of people who share an interest in that beat. And by making it clear that our beat reporters are not faceless drones, but knowledgeable and accessible figures, we can reconnect with readers who may otherwise decide they may as well go somewhere else for their news.

A renewed emphasis on beat reporting would be good for our newsgathering efforts overall, as well. It would remind us of the value of keeping experienced, knowledgeable, well-sourced journalists covering the same communities or topics over time; and it might encourage us to revisit our beat structures for the new era, as well as create mini-beats for urgent topics that we otherwise only cover reactively.

Tomorrow: Dan’s five-point plan for reconnecting with readers.

Photo by J.D. Lasica used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     May 28, 2009, 8 a.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Dan Froomkin on news' future
Show comments  
Show tags
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
America’s Test Kitchen, “the Consumer Reports of cooking,” wants to grow to new platforms
“We’d like to move to other platforms, particularly as we see the changes in how people consume television.”
A program from Poynter and ONA is helping foster a community of female leaders in digital media
The Women’s Leadership Academy provides camaraderie and concrete advice beyond a bundle of platitudes.
Come talk ad blockers with Nieman Lab and a set of experts in New York
We’re having our first event in New York City with industry leaders: Wednesday, December 2 at 6 p.m.
What to read next
How one blog helped spark The New York Times’ digital evolution
“I certainly had editors tell me that I shouldn’t be wasting my time on Bird Week. But that was the best part of City Room…We were like unsupervised children.”
572News outlets left and right (and up, down, and center) are embracing virtual reality technology
Among those experimenting is The Wall Street Journal, which plans to open source its 360-degree mobile video and VR technology and hopes to turn VR into more of a mainstay of its storytelling.
502Podcasting in 2015 feels a lot like blogging circa 2004: exciting, evolving, and trouble for incumbents
The same trends we saw a decade ago — professionalization on one hand, platformization on the other — sure seem to be playing out again.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
The Orange County Register
GateHouse Media
Davis Wiki
Investigative News Network
MediaNews Group