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How to choose your reporting beat — Blog

So you want to be a journalist: The Reporter’s Diary

AISFM’s primer on journalism delves into news reporting and explores the various beats and what they entail.  

Civic reporting

Civic Journalism is all about the people and what affects them the most in their daily lives – the roads, the traffic, the water supply and so on. Civic journalism should work towards strengthening communities through news coverage that focuses on citizens’ concerns, encourages civic participation, improves public deliberation and reconnects citizens, candidates and reporters to community life.

Infrastructure reporting

Rapid industrialization and globalization is putting acute pressure on the world’s limited infrastructure. Huge funds from the exchequer are being spent on building railways, roads, ports, airports, telecommunications and electricity generation. A journalist needs to keep a close track of the money and the consequent projects. A reporter on the infrastructure beat must focus articles on ongoing projects and inform readers on what to expect from them, both good and bad.

Crime reporting

Crime stories are always newsworthy and hence a central part of news coverage. Trust me your readers or listeners are always looking for an explanation as to why a crime happened. They ask: “Could it happen to me?”

Crime reporting is not for the faint-hearted and often involves long hours, even longer waits, and dealing with crimes and criminals that are often unsavoury to say the least.

In an ideal world a crime reporter would report the facts and refrain from sensationalising a crime, but in the real world, many readers want the gore and sordid details, so be prepared to get down and dirty.

Health reporting

Health issues are always newsworthy – they are widely reported, and these reports influence physicians, the general public and the government. Reporting on healthcare systems, malnutrition, diseases and malpractice keeps the public informed of emerging epidemics, trends in lifestyle related diseases, and new treatment available.

These days Health reporting is focussing more on preventive treatment, nutrition, fitness, paediatric care, and lifestyle-related diseases. The reason behind this is that an increasing number of news publications and TV channels that people are more interested in preventing serious ailments and keeping themselves healthy.

Environmental reporting

This is the hot beat at the moment. Journalists covering environmental issues cover everything from renewable energy and climate change to pollution and wildlife depletion. These journalists often straddle the Civic and Infrastructure beats and work closely with the Business desk too.

Environmental journalists need to have a wealth of facts at their fingertips and constantly keep themselves abreast of developments in the fields of environmental science, governmental and international policy, and climate change.

Most importantly you must be able to write articles that will give the reader all the information they need in a package that’s easily accessible.

Education reporting

Education is one of the most widely-monitored beats in the newsroom. It is also the one that captures the reader’s attention. Education reporters must have an extensive contact list comprising principals and faculty at the leading schools and universities, and follow events taking place at these institutions.

But most importantly education reporters must wade through the oft tedious governmental education policies and package it in a manner easy to digest by the lay reader. Education reporting can sometimes veer towards activism, especially when it comes to advocating for the education of the economically-struggling.

In India the various common entrance and final exams, and the ensuing results are a fertile ground for articles and news breaks.

Sports reporting

Reporting on sport may seem like a fun way to spend your working life, but for beginners, it’s a slog. Summer days spent in the sweltering heat, covering inter-school football, hockey and cricket tournaments can be sapping, but watching readers’ pore over your article the next day is rewarding indeed.

It is imperative that sports reporters know the nitty-gritties of the sports they are covering. There will be a lot of travel (domestic and international) and the ability to live out of a suitcase is essential. Of course rubbing shoulder with your heroes should be enough to forget those trivial woes.

Entertainment reporting

Yes entertainment reporting does entail meeting the most glamorous people in the world, but it also means having to wait hours for them to show up, if they do at all. While gossip may be at the heart of entertainment reporting these days, journalists will also have to feature-length interviews and profiles, not to mention film and music reviews.

While often regarded as fluff reporting within the industry, entertainment reporters must research their subjects and their canons extensively. And that’s not fluffy at all.

Investigative reporting

To be a good investigative reporter you need to have grit, patience, and above all the bulldog tenacity to stick with a story no matter what obstacles are thrown in your path. A good investigative report could take months to see the light of day, but if done with verve and rigour, its impact could be far-reaching. You must also  possess the ability to coax honest answers out of some very dishonest people, and separate the lies from the truth. This is one of the toughest beats to master, but once mastered it can also be the most rewarding.

Lifestyle reporting

All your readers have a life. Admittedly some may be more exciting than others. Lifestyle reporters have to be on top of trends that make the lives of their readers more fruitful and engaging. From technology and food to travel and design, the key word here is ‘personal’. A lifestyle reporter’s writing must possess flair and no small amount of finesse. They offer their readers a glimpse into a life they aspire to. In this day and age of the burgeoning middle class with an ever increasing expendable income, the lifestyle reporter is becoming an exceedingly competitive beat.

Business reporting

Whether you’d like to admit it or not, money does make the world go round, and while The Beatles claimed it can’t buy you love, it can buy you a shedload of other things. Business journalists track, record, analyze and interpret economic changes on a global scale and the smaller ones that affect your wallet and household budget. Business reporting is now so diverse that it often delves deep into other beats. Once you get to grips with the jargon, and find a way to live with numbers this is a vibrant beat with an amazing future.

Political reporting

OK so it’s not all about sitting with politicos in air-conditioned offices sipping a single malt and shooting the proverbial breeze (although in some parts of the country shooting is a viable option). Political reporting is all about making contacts, cultivating (ego-stroking is more to the point) them, and then milking them for scoops. It’s also about understanding and charting the prevailing winds in the political scene. These skills can be honed over time, but a love for all things political is an absolute necessity.


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