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3-1 Gathering the News

There are several methods of ensuring that the newspaper covers all segments of the community.

The Beat System

Editors may assign reporters in a beat system.  Beat systems may be either geographical or functional in nature.  For instance, a reporter may be assigned to cover everything which happens in the Hollywood.  This is a geographical beat.  Or, a reporter may be assigned to cover anything related to housing, crime, or politics --a functional beat.  Each reporter becomes familiar with the personnel and the news sources in his area and visits them regularly to find out what has happened or what is planned.

It may be necessary to set up special beat systems to cover large or complex events.  For example, an Armed Forces Day may require a special beat system for several days preceding, during and after the event.

The keys to a successful beat system are dependability and a personable attitude.  A dependable reporter gets to know his news sources and visits them regularly.  If a reporter is assigned to cover post training activities, he should become acquainted with the post or unit G-3 staff and with the training officers and noncommissioned offices of the major subordinate units.  He should arrange a convenient time for visiting these people and keep appointments faithfully.  When he does, his visits will be anticipated and his sources may have information prepared for him in advance.

A personable attitude is important because the reporter who antagonizes his sources, either by his behavior or appearance, is cutting his own throat.   The reporter's job is to develop contacts who will lead him to newsworthy events, not to discourage people from talking to him.  The reporter should always be polite, punctual, neat, and he should display proper military courtesy.

Editors might use a combination of geographical and functional (sometimes called subject) beats.  The key is to fix responsibility on the writers to ensure adequate, balanced reporting on all aspects of the military community.

Editors may also combine the beat system with special assignments, or they may operate their newsgathering system on a straight assignment basis only.  A reporter might be given a general assignment to see what the city council is doing this week.  Or, he might be given a special assignment to cover a recent surge in  freeway shootings.

To ensure that responsibility for an assignment has been placed on the reporter, and to pass along the essential coordinating instructions to the reporter, editors should use assignment sheets.  The assignment sheet indicates the topic, possible points of contact, known information about the event, a suggested slug (the administrative title of the article used in tracking the article through the production phase of publication), and the deadline.  The assignment sheet may be a preprinted form or it can be a slip of paper torn from a notebook.  Both the editor and the journalist should have a copy of the assignment sheet.

Regardless of which system is used, editors should NOT restrain the initiative of their reporters.  New journalists need guidance, but their initiative to find and cover-(report) news must also be developed.

However, journalists must keep the editor informed about the stories on which they are working.  Editors must be able to plan what their paper is going to use and what the lead stories will be.  Keeping the editor informed may also save the writer numerous hours if the editor has already assigned someone else to cover the story.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

Copyright   SweetHaven Publishing Services
All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015