The future of journalism: Beats

If you care about the state of news media and the changes that are being driven by social media and digital news distribution, you should be reading the Nieman Journalism Lab blog and the Nieman Reports magazine. Here, you’ll find a stream of provocative thought about the role of journalism and how to secure quality journalism in the changing mediascape.

The Winter 2010 edition of Nieman Reports takes a close look at the importance of beats in news coverage the impact of their disappearance as newsrooms shrink and what might replace them in the future.

Two of the articles stood out for me.

In The Blog as Beat, Juanita Leon illustrates how the focused blog can supplement newsrooms to provide the in-depth, sustained coverage of a beat. Leon argues

I increasingly believe that the role of specialized blogs is to create beats for journalists. Typically, newspaper and TV reporters rely on tips from sources for their stories. Now blogs and journalistic websites like La Silla Vacía are starting to be significant forces in our media ecosystem. With an investigative blog like ours, we have four or five reporters covering one topic in-depth while the traditional beat reporter is expected to cover many issues at once. This means that the reporting we do often becomes a first stop for many newspaper and broadcast political reporters. By gathering expert opinion, inside information, and high-level analysis, we’ve created a hub from which can emerge new angles on news stories.

In It’s Expertise that Matters, Michael Riley argues that expertise has value and new business models will recognize this.

…expertise, exclusivity and depth. Those are the elements, it turns out, that imbue content with value, a process, I would argue, that holds the key to journalism’s future success.The next wave of journalistic progress will channel its power from the underlying principle of the reporter’s beat: the creation by an expert of valuable content that readers need and can’t find anywhere else. This proper emphasis on expertise promises to give rise to a subscription-based business model in which people will pay for exclusive content they value.

You may have missed these articles in the rush to Christmas. If you did, I think you’ll find it worth your time to go back and read them now.