Ch. 2 Analysis: Local Reporting and Beats

Miriam Williamson

Local reporting and beats is one of the most common forms of journalism seen today. Most reporters will work for a local paper and write these types of articles at some point in their life. But while they may seem mundane or ordinary, they can still be powerful stories. Some of the most compelling writing comes from local or beat reporting.

In this type of writing, reporters have the benefit of being very familiar with both their subject and audience. They know what their audience cares about, and what they expect to learn about. But it is important to keep the news fresh and interesting.

Like any type of writing, it is important to use characters in these articles, even if it is a broader subject. In Diana K. Sugg’s article, “Death, then a search for kindest of words,” she uses the events and emotions of a patient’s death to examine the way doctors are affected by the more emotionally difficult part of their jobs.

It is important to take a story and present it from a new perspective to the audience. When someone dies, people of course sympathize with the family. But Sugg’s reminds the audience of the troubles the doctors must face also. Brett Anderson also does this in his article, “When food ran short along the path of Hurricane Gustav, the state called on some of the region’s premiere chefs to fill the void.” He takes a national story, that everyone knows about, and relates it to his beat – restaurants and the food industry.

It is important to show the effect the story being told has on people outside of the main story. For example, Anderson gives an example of a woman who benefitted from the chefs’ hard work. “The barbecue was only the second hot meal Jeanette Danos had eaten in more than a week.”

Sometimes, the subjects are much less serious than something like death or natural disaster. In these cases, writers have room to be very creative. Should they keep a playful tone, or make it seem like a more serious subject? In the article, “Is Dumbledore Gay? Depends on Definitions of ‘Is’ and ‘Gay,’” Edward Rothstein chooses the perfect balance between serious and comical. He approaches the story with a sense of seriousness, but because of the subject matter, it is actually humorous how seriously people feel about it.

Rothstein also does a good job of allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. He presents all angles of the issue, but doesn’t insert his own opinion into the story. He gives readers a chance to make up their own opinions, both about whether or not it actually matters, and about Dumbledore’s sexual preference.

Some beat reporting though, is much more serious. It would be inappropriate to joke about it, unless it is some sort of opinion piece. Also, it would be inappropriate to try to center the story on just one person. Articles discussing things like government may be harder to find a central character to use to present the story.

In the article “Long-Term Plan Sought for Terrorist Suspects,” Dana Priest discusses a very serious subject. It is something many people would be interested in simply because it is information they want to know. Not necessarily because it affects them personally, or because they have emotional ties to it (although some may), but just because it is a national issue of importance.

This is also a highly sensitive subject in the area of opinions. The writer could so easily lose her credibility by allowing her own opinions to interrupt her reporting. But she leaves those out, and makes sure to present every possible side equally and fairly.

David Johnston’s “I.R.S. More Likely to Audit the Poor and Not the Rich” is another article about a very serious subject. This is also a sensitive subject. This is a topic most people would be affected by. But I think this article could also fall under explanatory journalism. Because Johnston uses a lot of numbers in a way that readers can understand, it has a lot of the same features as an explanatory journalism story.

Like most articles, there are two very important features to all of these articles. First of all, is the writer’s ability to paint a picture for the reader. By doing this, a writer is able to captivate the audience, and leave a lasting impression.

Also, quotes are very important to a story. They add character and support. Sometimes quotes can be used in a way that adds to the picture, or helps readers relate better. But sometimes, quotes can be used as evidence of what the writer is discussing. By quoting an expert, writers show that they have not only done their homework, but that a certain conclusion is a valid one.

Overall I think the most important part of beat reporting and local reporting is being comfortable with the subject. Most of the time a writer will have a short deadline. So it is important to already have a good, solid feel for the subject.

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One Comment on “Ch. 2 Analysis: Local Reporting and Beats”

  1. Janna Says:

    I am impressed by your choices and analysis. I know you are a good student of great reporting and you are soaking up ideas that will assist you as you grow as a reporter.

    I am telling everyone in class that you should start isolating your “Top Three Tips” on this particular assignment each week into a little info box. Type it in Microsoft Word and then use Grab to make it an image that you can drop into your layout with your synthesis in WordPress. Ask me if you need help. I would like to see everyone doing this on these assignments from now on (and even going back to insert them in the first three assignments).

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