Beat reporting refers to thematic specialization and routines (places to go, people to see) in journalism. The term reflects the distinction between general assignment reporters and specialized (beat) reporters covering a specific area (beat) as well as the subject-matter or geographic divisions between areas of reporting by which media organizations seek to structure the social environment they cover. Beat reporting marks the beginning of modern journalism. It was invented at the end of the 19th century in the United States with the aim to increase the efficiency of journalistic work. Thus it relates to the professionalization and rationalization of newspaper journalism and the transformation of newspapers into a mass product. In everyday work, beat reporting has undeniable advantages. It saves resources since beat reporters are very experienced on their beat and know well where and how to get exactly the information they need. Due to their long-term relationship of trust with relevant sources, beat reporters obtain exclusive, trustworthy, and newsworthy information. Along with this specialization come, however, several challenges; for example, the diversity of views represented in a beat might be limited, which can also affect the diversity of news coverage. At the extreme, this can even lead to pack journalism as a form of groupthink. Concerning the reporter–source relationship, there are three risks of losing professional distance: (a) If beat reporters become too loyal toward their sources, they can be instrumentalized; (b) being too adversarial toward their sources might entail a loss of trust and an increasing cynicism of the audience; (c) if beat reporters start feeling like advocates of their own interests, they might behave as activists rather than detached observers. Most recently, online journalism has changed the understanding of beat journalism (e.g., data journalism, local online beat) compared to the traditional understanding. Research on beat journalism has so far focused on stable, high-income democracies and on the political beat as the most fundamental and prominent beat.
Melanie Magin and Peter Maurer
Edson C. Tandoc, Jr. and Andrew Duffy
News routines refer to patterns of outcome-oriented behavior, structured by ideological and organizational contexts, regularly enacted or invoked by newsworkers engaged in constructing the news, acting individually but thinking collectively. They are enacted by journalists to make their daily work more efficient and invoked to preserve their autonomy. They help make newswork more predictable and journalism more stable. Studies have documented various routines at different stages of news construction. In the access and observation stage, studies have focused on the beat system and journalists’ sourcing patterns, which determine the range of information and events they get to know about. In the selection and filtering stage, studies have examined how news values shape news selection and even deselection of articles. In the editing and processing stage, studies have examined practices associated with writing, such as the use of the inverted pyramid format and the use of direct quotes, as well as with editing and verification. Scholars have also focused on the impact of automation on news writing and editing. In the distribution stage, studies have explored live coverage as well as the use of social media to disseminate news. Finally, in the interpretation stage, studies have explored the tracking and monitoring of audience feedback via web analytics and social media, which also affect editorial decisions. But aside from making work more manageable, news routines also have two main consequences on news work: They drive newsworkers into the arms of authorities who are set up to give them information, and they increase the risk of compromising journalists’ autonomy. While they structure how journalists do their work, news routines are also structured by larger forces. The need for efficiency stems from the motivation for profitability in market-oriented news organizations. News routines also prescribe how news processes ought to be done, distinguishing news construction from other forms of work but also functioning as a form of control. Since they arise out of the practical needs of the organization and the field, news routines will adapt and emerge as journalists are confronted by a changing set of practical needs. Such adaptation opens the way to new information structures and new ideologies.