FAQ: All About Beats The Voice Handbook
The Voice Stylebook
Morgue (2008-2011)
Morgue (2003-2008)
Indices: Author | Subject

Beats || Briefs || Coverage || Busy? || Reluctant Subjects || Examples || Inappropriate info || Credit

What is a beat? A "beat" is a specific area covered by a reporter, who is responsible for gathering information from that area for the paper. At the Voice, the reporter covers small items in a "brief" format. Items on your beat may translate into longer news items later.

What is a brief? A "brief" is a very short story, consisting of just a few sentences, that serves as the following:

  • very quick information (e.g. where to pick up caps and gowns)
  • information that wouldn't make a long story (e.g. officer elections)
  • previews of upcoming events (e.g. notice of an open house next week).
Beats || Briefs || Coverage || Busy? || Reluctant Subjects || Examples || Inappropriate info || Credit

What do I cover for my beat?

  1. If your beat is a specific department, you cover everything happening in that department, e.g.
    • classes going on field trips
    • professors publishing articles or books
    • speakers sponsored by the department
    • department clubs or honoraries' activities

  2. If your beat is a particular club, you cover the club itself, e.g.
    • dinners hosted by the club
    • activities sponsored by the club
    • members activities such as retreats, award ceremonies, etc.
For example, if you're covering the Sunshine Club and six members plan to attend a leadership conference, listing their names along with where and when they'll attend what conference would make a terrific brief.

Beats || Briefs || Coverage || Busy? || Reluctant Subjects || Examples || Inappropriate info || Credit

I'm so busy; how can I cover a beat? This is not a time-consuming activity. Usually, you only need five minutes to ask someone what's happening and get the information, and five minutes to type it.

To be an effective reporter, you should cultivate contacts. These people will know who you are and your job. Once they know this information, they'll approach you with stories to make your job easier.

If possible, talk with the former beat reporter to get an assessment of trends, upcoming stories and personalities on the beat. Typically he or she can instruct you on who will be a good or bad source. However, remember they may have had a personality conflict with a source, so ultimately judge the source on your own.

Next, contact the people involved, e.g. professors in the department (I've provided some contacts!) or members of the club. You may even want to briefly address the club and introduce yourself.

(NOTE: Stories that aren't necessarily briefs might be something that we can cover elsewhere in the paper. Pass your story ideas along to the editor-in-chief.)

Covering the beat:

  1. Look through the morgue for articles that will provide background, trends, issues and personalities. This will save you a lot of time and make sure you don't miss an important event that annually occurs on your beat. It's an invaluable resource to the new reporter if the former beat reporter has left.
  2. Search the Internet for reliable Web sites about organizations on your beat. Facebook can often provide up-to-date contact information for organization officers. I've provided links to state and national beat sources via Comm-Stop. Remember: The Internet makes it easier to unintentionally plagiarize someone else's work. Avoid this by sourcing what you find online. Also, too much searching can slow you down; you've got to meet your deadlines!

  3. Once you've done some background research on the beat, send an e-mail to a professor or club president indicating who you are and what you want. Of course, if you stop here, you may not get a response and get frustrated.

  4. Make an appointment with key contacts and introduce yourself. Give them your name, phone number and e-mail, which makes it easy for them to contact you. Then stop by once a week and ask if there is anything they'd like to have in The Voice. If you do this regularly, you'll typically have no problem getting information. Remember: Work hard to establish a good relationship with your contacts as A) they will be more likely to give you tips on where to find news and B) they can often provide quotes to put events in context after they happen.
  5. If you go to a meeting, grab an agenda, or get minutes of meetings, reports and other documents for background, which will be helpful when you need to write an article. Don't get stuck on local material as a national issue can be used with a local angle. Don't be afraid to go to the library to get books on your topic to give you needed background on important issues.
Beats || Briefs || Coverage || Busy? || Reluctant Subjects || Examples || Inappropriate info || Credit

What if I get someone who doesn't want to be in the Voice? Most people are delighted there's an interest in their area. Some people, however, have had bad experiences in the past. They are usually someone who was previously burned by a reporter and who may blame you for it. But most departments have more than one professor. If you sense one won't help, ask someone else. I guarantee there is at least one professor who wants publicity for the department. REMEMBER: You're doing them a favor by giving them good publicity for their department or club. Once they realize that, they'll be thrilled to see your smiling face.

Examples of briefs
Here are some acceptable briefs:

  • The English honorary, Sigma Tau Delta, is sponsoring a "Dead Poet's Reading" on Tuesday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. Students wishing to participate should contact Hanna Banana by Nov. 1 at 460-8888.
  • The Boll Weevil has chosen this year's theme: "What a Rush!" Students wishing to work on the yearbook should call Dr. Ronald Sitton at 460-1183.
  • The Spanish House will have a reception on Wednesday, Nov. 3 from 7-9 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
  • The Biology Club has elected new officers, including Hosea Plain, president; Doris Jones, vice-president; Sam Sneed, treasurer, and William Hearst, secretary.
  • The following students have submitted works for the Student Art Show: Melva Walker, Deanna Turbin, John Bishop, Phil Jones, Thomas Hart Benton, Jeremy Bentham and Marian Morrison.

  • The Business Club recently traveled to St. Louis to tour the Budweiser Brewery. Those attending included Adam Wentworth, Bill Bradley, George Bush, Enola Gay and Mata Hari.
Here are some unacceptable briefs:

The Art Club had a meeting. Not enough information provided. Indicate when it occurred and what happened.

The Biology Club elected officers this week. Not enough information. Name those elected, and MAKE SURE you correctly spell the names.

The Sunshine Club is having a party Wednesday, Sept. 12.This brief hasn't indicated where the party will happen. Also, this must be submitted in time to be published prior to the event. If it was published on Monday, Sept. 8, for publication on Friday, Sept. 14, this brief would be useless.

Beats || Briefs || Coverage || Busy? || Reluctant Subjects || Examples || Inappropriate info || Credit

What information is not appropriate for a brief? We don't publish rumors, innuendo or lies. Make sure you get fact, not exaggeration — usually this is not a problem. ALWAYS check the accuracy of your information.

How do I get credit for my briefs? Submit briefs by noon Mondays for inclusion in the "Around Campus" column. Every issue we'd like to feature upcoming activities or recent events with the names of people involved. Names make news. This helps us provide better coverage of the campus.

Submit your brief following news format and style to Dr. Sitton via Web CT, then save a copy for yourself. This is the only truly short story you are allowed to submit. All other stories must be much longer.

Briefs must be turned in at least once every three weeks to gain credit. You are not obliged to cover the briefs as stories. They may be assigned to other reporters for a full story. However, if you'd like to follow-up with a story, please contact Dr. Sitton or the editor. You will submit a page of all submitted briefs with your portfolio on a full-sized sheet of paper (8-1/2 x 11).

If you don't understand something in this Web note, please e-mail Dr. Sitton.

(Images used here under Educational Fair Use).
©UAM Student Publications 2004-2011
Revised 092711 — http://www.uamont.edu/Organizations/TheVoice/sm/