A beat is a particular topic or subject area that a reporter covers. Most journalists working in print and online news cover beats. A reporter can cover a particular beat for a period of many years.
Types of Reporting Beats
Some of the most basic beats include, in the news section, cops, courts, town government and school board. The arts and entertainment section can also be divided up into beats including coverage of movies, TV, the performing arts and so on. Sports reporters are, not surprisingly, assigned to specific beats like football, basketball, baseball and so on. News organizations large enough to have foreign bureaus, such as The Associated Press, will have reporters stationed in major world capitals such as London, Moscow, and Beijing.
But on larger papers with more staffers, beats can get even more specific. For instance, the business news section might be divided into separate beats for specific industries such as manufacturing, high-tech and so on. News outlets that can afford to produce their own science sections may have beat reporters who cover such fields as astronomy and biotechnology.
There are several advantages to being a beat reporter. First, beats allow reporters to cover the subjects they are most passionate about. If you love movies, chances are you'll be excited at the chance to be a film critic or cover the movie industry. If you're a political junkie, then nothing will suit you more than to cover politics at the local, state or national level.
Expertise on a Topic
Covering a beat also allows you to build up your expertise on a topic. Any good reporter can bang out a crime story or cover a court hearing, but the experienced beat reporter will know the ins and outs in a way that beginners just won't.
Sources and Authority
Also, spending time on a beat enables you to build up a good collection of sources on that beat, so that you can get good stories and get them quickly.
In short, a reporter who has spent a lot of time covering a particular beat can write about it with an authority that someone else just couldn't match.
The downside of all this familiarity is that a beat can sometimes get boring after a while. Many reporters, after spending several years covering a beat, will crave a change of scenery and new challenges, so editors often switch reporters around in order to keep the coverage fresh.
Thorough and In-Depth Reporting Advantage
Beat reporting is also what distinguishes newspapers - and some news websites - from other forms of media, such as local TV news. Newspapers, better-staffed than most broadcast news outlets, have beat reporters produce coverage that's more thorough and in-depth than what's usually seen on TV news.