The Beat Goes On: As newsrooms restructure, so should coverage areas.

Author:Gallagher, Tim
Position:Business of news

The most important decision every editor faces is what to cover. As newsrooms shrink, I suggest a colossal rehaul of our rote thinking about our beats or coverage structure.

Reporting in too many newsrooms is defined by perspectives and missions developed decades ago. We assigned reporters based on geography, or according to definable branches of government we deemed critical.

Immediate availability of information has obliterated that structure. TV and Twitter cover live-breaking news. Most government agencies live stream the meetings that we dutifully assign reporters to cover. Much government information is online.

If we want to connect with readers, it is best to reflect how what's important to them has changed. We do not live our lives in the linear constraints of a newspaper beat structure. Since I left newsrooms more than a decade ago, I have experienced my community in a deeper, more meaningful way that has little to do with the way my newsroom used to put these topics in a beat box. These recommendations might require leaving some traditional areas behind or at least de-emphasizing them. I am suggesting that these coverage areas are more important than those. Or at least, these ideas could be incorporated under traditional beat structures.

The first beat might require a team of reporters who would cover the topic of "Equity" in your community. Are you covering the ideas of how people are treated by powerful structures in your community? Take apart the federal and state subsidized payments to those in your community to see if the money goes to those who need it or to those who know how to work the system. Examine environmental decisions and how they affect people. We all cover courts but covering "criminal justice" forces one to examine the system's fairness to people by their age, sex and ethnicity.

Report the consequences of affordable housing (more on that later) and how it affects people living paycheck-to-paycheck. In many communities, the number of jobs is growing but the pay for these jobs is at minimum wage or above. The consequences are severe. Explain how children are affected when both parents or single parents can't afford to care for them during the work day.

Not-for-profits seem to make the news only when a treasurer is embezzling funds. Yet, the number of non-profits in each community is growing often faster than the for-profit sector. Find out whether these groups are addressing the inequity in the community. Examine...

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