Beat reporting

Beat reporting, also known as specialized reporting, is a genre of journalism focused 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.[1]

Journalists become invested in the beats they are reporting for, and become passionate about mastering that beat.[2] Beat reporters often deal with the same sources day after day, and must return to those sources regardless of their relationship with them.[3] Those sources may or may not be pleased with the reporting of the reporters.[3] It is pertinent that beat reporters contact their sources quickly, obtain all necessary information, and write on deadline.[3]

According to media sociologists, beat reporting occurs because of the limited time reporters are given to cover stories.[4] For big scoops, beats are not necessarily as useful as other journalism types.[4] Some of the best inside stories, for example Bay of Pigs and Watergate, did not come from beat reporting.[4]

Beat reporters collect information from each person they meet while reporting.[5] They routinely call, visit, and e-mail sources to obtain any new information for articles.[5] 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.[5] Beats are able to help reporters define their roles as journalists, and also avoid overlap of stories within the newsroom.[5]


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.[6] 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,[7] the Canadian National Newspaper Awards,[8] and the SEJ Awards.[9]


  1. Ralph S. Izard; Hugh M. Culbertson; Donald A. Lambert (1994). "11. The Specialist at Work: Beat Reporting". Fundamentals of News Reporting. Kendall/Hunt. pp. 215ff. ISBN 0-8403-7607-3.
  2. Ryfe, D. M. (2009)Structure, agency, and change in an American newsroom. 665-683
  3. Scanlan, C. (2011). Beat reporting: what does it take to be the best. Poynter Institute.
  4. Berkowitz, Daniel A. (1997) Social Meanings of News: A Text-reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
  5. Galbraith, K. (2010) The Capriciousness of Beats. Nieman Reports, 64(4), 5-6.
  6. V. S. Gupta (2003). Handbook of Reporting and Communication Skills. Concept Publishing Company. p. 50. ISBN 81-8069-043-1.
  7. "Gerald Loeb Awards". UCLA Anderson School of Management. Archived from the original on March 20, 2011. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  8. "List of winners since 1949: Beat Reporting/Journalisme spécialisé". National Newspaper Awards. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  9. "SEJ 2011 Awards — Rules". Society of Environmental Journalists. Archived from the original on July 4, 2011. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
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