Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
With a scripted daily comedy news show, Mic looks to add a little late night TV to the social video mold
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 washingtonpost.com, 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
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
With a scripted daily comedy news show, Mic looks to add a little late night TV to the social video mold
“We don’t just present a bunch of headlines and say what we think. Our videos are chock-full of facts and research.”
Hoping to redefine “trade publication,” Digiday launches Glossy, a vertical to cover disruption in fashion
“I hate the term ‘trade publication,’ because it implies being a boring cheerleader for the industry.”
The Wall Street Journal website — paywalled from the very beginning — turns 20 years old today
“From the very beginning it was very clear we needed to cover all the same concerns and sensibilities of the print Journal even though we were online and even though we were a young staff.”
What to read next
0
tweets
How Atlas Obscura helps its web audience discover the real world
Events like its upcoming Obscura Day are meant to help the site’s digital readers discover places they previously only read about.
0Inspired by “independent YouTubers,” wary of cable, Vox.com takes its explainer mission to video
“I made one rule starting out: No desks.”
0You can now get personalized Breaking News alerts on Slack
The NBC-owned company’s new Slack bot lets you follow more than 90,000 topics.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
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 ➚
Forbes
Lens
Current TV
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Animal Político
El País
The Blaze
Chicago Tribune
McClatchy
The Daily Beast
Tampa Bay Times
Bloomberg Businessweek