By Laura Smith
September 22, 2008
It is not enough for a journalist to sit at a desk, make phone calls, and do some research on the Internet in order to produce an effective story. They must go above and beyond. They must get out in the community, find out what is going on, get detailed facts, and report it back to the public. Both local and beat journalism do just this.
Local reporting adds interest and intrigue to a specific community. It doesn’t just report on a local event or give a laundry list of boring facts about a situation. It focuses on the specific people, the mystery, and the unexpected surrounding the area it chooses to focus on.
Beat reporting does some of the same as local, but goes more in depth. Beat reporting takes a topic or issue and focuses on it for a more extensive amount of time than basic reporting. It shares many of the same characteristics as feature writing with detail and creativity.
One example of both local reporting and beat reporting is a story written by Post-Standard writer, Jonathon Bor, who was covering the health and medicine beat at the time. Bor’s story, “It Fluttered and Became Bruce Murray’s Heart,” was published in May of 1984. His story tells the account of New York resident, Bruce Murray, who received the heart of a 17-year-old boy after suffering from his own diseased heart due to a viral infection. What makes this story true to local reporting is how Bor focuses on local places his audience will recognize. He mentions “Presbyterian Hospital,” the “Onodaga County Civic Center,” and the American Heart Association in Syracuse.
What makes it true to beat reporting is that it is one story among many that Bor had written regarding health and medicine. He spent a good amount of time focusing on this subject as well as this individual story. As the introduction explains in America’s Best Newspaper Writing, Bor spent 48 continuous hours reporting on this story at the hospital, watching the surgery himself. Because of this, Bor is able to give his audience a detailed play by play so to speak of the surgical procedure in chronological order. This attention to detail makes the story personal as well as professional.
Miami Herald reporter, Debbie Cenziper’s, story, “House of Lie$,” is a good example of local reporting. In her story, Cenziper focuses on the Miami-Dade Housing Agency and how its promise to build affordable houses for low-income families was never carried out. She focuses on specific families who live in the area, hoping to receive housing but never did. She writes, “Ozie Porter saved $5,000 earning $10.44 an hour as a cafeteria cook. At 54, the longtime public housing resident is ready to buy her first house.” Like in Bor’s story, Cenziper also speaks of specific local communities, such as “Little Havana” and “Liberty City.” Another unique feature of local reporting that Cenziper incorporates into her story is a sidebar about the housing projects that are currently pending. She gives the current status of the site, the price, and the address. By doing this, she makes her story personally local to the audience.
Daniel Golden gives an excellent example of beat reporting in his Wall Street Journal Story, “College Ties: For Groton Grads, Academic Aren’t Only Keys to Ivies.” In his story, Golden focuses on the controversy over college acceptance and having a “hook” that gets students in. He explains these “hooks” to be factors such as minority status, legacy status, and wealth, which seem to be getting students into college over grades and academics.
He gives direct examples of this, mentioning Henry Park, who got a 1560 on the SATs and was ranked 14th in his class, but because he didn’t have a “hook,” got rejected from all the Ivies he applied to. He then mentioned Lakia Washington, an African-American woman who was admitted to Columbia University due to her minority status, even though she was ranked 60th in her class and only a 1110 on the SATs. These accounts, plus many more, as well as numerous statistics, show that Golden did his homework and delved deep into this story for a good amount of time, the exact requirement of beat reporting.
Local reporting is seen in Fabian Loehe’s story, “Amish Turn to Solar Power for Electricity,” published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. This article takes a look at the Amish community, present in Pennsylvania, and how it is using energy from the sun to run machines and equipment. Through personal narratives of the Amish citizens, Loche brings life to such a seemingly tranquil group of people that many may not realize live only a few miles away. He follows one man in particular, Ben Zook, who began his own solar panel business and describes its positives effects on the Amish community. Loche also incorporates creativity into his story, using puns such as how Zook “saw the light” seven years before when he went into business. This use of creativity highlights the importance of bringing awareness to a group through local reporting.
Beat reporting can be seen again in Wall Street Journal writer Amy Dockser Marcus’s story, “Medical Student Takes On a Rare Disease-His Own.” Her story focuses on medical student and Tulane University heath researcher, Andy Martin’s, attempts at studying his own cancerous cells to try and suppress the illness. Marcus uses a vast number of statistics and professional insight in order to cover her beat, which is Cancer. She gives her audience a brief summary of Martin’s diagnosis back in 2000 and how he is coping now. Another way Marcus makes her story even more detailed and researched is her use of a chart by the National Cancer Institute, displaying the commonality of the different types of Cancer. This dedication to a story shows the amount of time Marcus spent writing her story and how well she covered this particular beat.
Finally, another example of local reporting is seen in Los Angeles Times staff writer, Joe Mozingo’s, story, “25 Metrolink crash victims linked forever by twist of fate.” His story, about the recent crash of the Metrolink 111 train, brings heartache and a sad reality to the people of California. Mozingo takes the time in his story to tell a little bit about each victim: who they were, what they were doing, where they were headed, both physically and emotionally. It is through these personal accounts that Mozingo brings out a little bit of the next-door neighbor in everyone. All these victims were residents of the Los Angeles area and now they are gone. These were people who LA residents would walk by every day without giving another thought as to who they were. Because of stories like Mozingo’s, I’m sure those residents are thinking about them now. It is this personal and heartfelt writing that allows readers to see the vulnerability of those so near to them and realize how much their local community is being affected by this kind of loss.