What Is a Journalism Beat?

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A journalism beat is a continuing assignment a reporter takes on which specializes in one particular classification or entity. A beat journalist may cover government organizations, such as a city hall or a police department, or specialize in a particular topic, such as science or sports. Some beats require a journalist to cover one specific company or sports team.

Taking on a beat assignment can be a deep investment of time and resources for a reporter. Generally, when a new beat is assigned by an editor, the reporter begins by building a contact list of sources who are pertinent to potential stories. Often, this means trust must be built with the sources, especially for a new reporter who may not be familiar with them. Trust may take time to build, and reporters often make sure to not "burn" contacts in a story if it is not necessary to the integrity or credibility of the piece. However, giving favorable treatment to beat sources is usually considered unethical. It is also advisable that a beat reporter avoid making a habit of writing stories that are of more interest to sources than readers. Beat journalists should always write stories aimed at the publication's readership, and avoid becoming too complacent or lazy while on a beat for long periods of time.