Rounds, beats and patches
Some journalists concentrate on a particular area of news, such as politics, education, agriculture, etc.. Such specialism is referred to by different names, depending on where you live.
Some of the common names include having a round, a beat, a patch, or more directly, a specialism.
A reporter covering a specialism takes responsibility to make sure that the readers or listeners are helped to understand the full significance of the news concerning that particular topic.
This is an edited piece from The News Manual and unlike other material on this site is not covered by Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.
The role of the specialist
- Knowing the subject and being recognised as an authority on it.
- Knowing the main contacts and having access to them.
- Knowing the history of the story.
- Knowing the context.
Dangers of specialist reporting
- Getting too close to the subject.
- Getting too close to the contacts.
- Becoming compromised by confidential conversations.
- Forgetting the news angle.
- Losing objectivity and judgement.
How to work as a specialist reporter
Research the history of your specialism so you can add authoritative context and analysis. You will be expected to provide a depth of knowledge and explain things when they don't seem to make sense.
You need to have a wide background knowledge of all the main personalities, where they came from, where they are now and how they got there.
Know who does what in the organisations that may feature in your specialism. This will allow you to put your questions to the person best placed to answer with authority.
Understand the political pressures that play out in the specialism. Individual members of governing bodies or any bureacracy may have personal agendas and organisations often contain cliques and factions. You need to know what's going on behind the scenes.
Work on your contacts book to ensure that you have a name and number for every topic that may arise under your specialism. Use social networks and keep Twitter lists in order to follow developments.
If you can’t speak to the person at the top, find out who is just below and keep dropping down the list until you find someone prepared to talk.
Be helpful, without doing deals. There will be some in your specialist area who will be grateful for coverage of something they are working on; equally, there may be some at the top who may not be.
Arrange visits rather than just talk on the phone. These will probably have to be done in your own time. You are more likely to get useful information if you talk to someone face-to-face.
Ensure your contacts understand the nature of the relationship you are building from the start and that your first duty is to your readers, listeners and viewers.
Nurture your contacts and set up a routine of checking in with them. Leave them a number to call if you are going to be away. If they have a story it is important to hand it over to a trusted colleague if you are likely to be unavailable.
Be cautious when any of your contacts is a press officer. Your relationship with such a person will not be the same as with most other contacts. You will need to to keep in mind that the press officer will want to use the relationship they have with you for the purpose of getting their message across.
Always keep in mind that you are supposed to have the news sense, not your contacts. You decide what is a good story, not them. Even if they stress that it's a good story you need to step back and make the call.
Don’t do deals to inflate a story that should remain flat or is not a story at all. Beware of the danger of being manipulated on quiet news days when you are desperate for a story and your contact is desperate for publicity.
Translate jargon and don’t just repeat what the contact says presuming that your audience will understand. Stick to plain language. The specialist needs to understand the complexity of the issue and simplify it in ways that make sense to the non-specialist.
Give your contacts a fair opportunity to get their point of view across to the public. Ensure that you are even-handed and cover interesting and positive developments. Be prepared to give them free copies of your newspaper in which they are featured or recordings of programmes they have appeared in.
Do not be naive. Imagine being asked by your editor, your parents or your partner about what you have done. If you would be ashamed to admit the actions you took to any of these people, then it is likely that what you did was probably wrong.
Specialists must be careful to stay emotionally detached from their round. It is possible to get too close to a topic and lose your objectivity. Once that happens it's hard to put things into context.
To do a specialism well you need to prepare, establish good contacts, rely on your own news sense, translate the jargon, be honest with yourself and be as helpful as you can.
This module is a one of six from The News Manual reproduced here with permission. Unlike other modules on this site, The News Manual modules are not covered by Creative Commons BY-NC-SA. If you want to reproduce any you will need to contact the editor.
Image courtesy of Red Mum and released under Creative Commons