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One of mob covering BIG beat vs. "own" small beat

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Joe Williams, Sep 28, 2010.


Cover BIG beat vs. own "small" beat?

  1. Give me the HUGE story

    8 vote(s)
  2. Better to be THE expert

    15 vote(s)
  3. Job's the same either way

    5 vote(s)
  1. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    Wall Street Journal story today reported 275 credentials for Miami Heat Media Day, compared to 60 a year ago. There are reports that ESPN, across its various outlets, could have as many as five people traveling with the Wade-James-Bosh crew this season. The Palm Beach Post had dropped NBA coverage as a staff position but just made a premium hire to jump on the hype bandwagon.

    So I'm wondering, which do you prefer: Being one of a huge media mob covering a BIG, arguably HUGE story? Or owning your own small beat, where you are the authority, the expert, the likely place to find scoops and so on?

    What's more satisfying? Being where the action is or being "the man" or "the woman" on all things [fill in the blank]?

    On the smaller beat -- for the smaller audience, most likely -- you probably have a better shot at generating scoops. You can cultivate sources more completely, have more 1-on-1 access and become identified with the beat you cover. You can also "manage" the news, and save something for Thursday if you're already booked up for Wednesday.

    On the bigger beat, there is more overall interest in your work and a larger audience. You have more "cover" for tough questions -- other reporters around for safety-in-numbers security compared to being the only (or one of a few) inquisitors of some lordly player, coach, manager, exec or administrator. But you also face group journalism, cliques, more false alarms to chase down and probably less access overall to the folks you cover.

    Wondering which appeals to you more?
  2. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I've done both and I definitely preferred the big beat. Breaking news doesn't mean a ton when you're the only guy traveling.
  3. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    As I said on the other thread, they're estimating that 30 credentials have been requested for every home and road game for the Miami Heat this season.
  4. Shaggy

    Shaggy Guest

    My biggest beef with being on a big beat was the group journalism, the thought that I had to go with this angle on this day because I know my competitor will.

    Being one of the mob really handcuffs you and puts you at the mercy of the mob on day-to-day stories. I worked at a paper that had an ME that demanded that we covered every angle that everyone else covered.

    Many of you that covered the Final Four, the Super Bowl, and other huge events can speak to this: The mob takes a story idea and the whole pack just runs with it. It's incredible. Tyler Hansbrough tries hard. Jerome Bettis is playing a Super Bowl in his hometown. He Hate Me is in the Super Bowl!

    I hated how unoriginal those fucking angles were. And I had to write about them because everyone else was and my ME would wonder why we didn't have a Hansbrough-gives-a-lot-of-effort story.

    Of course, my M.E. never thought past the cliches when it came to sports topics so perhaps I was just unlucky.

    I was never on a small beat by myself other than high schools. But the big beats are great for the exposure, but like anything, has a lot of crappy sides to it.

    I'm not a beat writer anymore and I honestly don't miss it that much.
  5. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Yeah, Super Bowl journalism may be the worst there is in the business. I'll bet if you lined up the main stories of the papers covering the Super Bowl, they are virtually identical in what the main stories are for a week leading up to the game.

    It's similar for most national events like Final Four, Masters etc... It's easy, but it's boring.

    If you're talking about an extended period of time, like a beat, it shouldn't have to be that way. I think the competition drives you to think outside of the box and try to come up with an enterprise story or a feature that hasn't been done 100 times already.

    The biggest pluses to being alone on a small beat are you can get to know your subject better and decide what you want to write. Not having competition for me was a real negative. I'm sure some would disagree.
  6. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Hate the mob. Though in our business it's good that there IS a mob still in some places.

    275 for Heat media day is insane.
  7. HanSenSE

    HanSenSE Well-Known Member

    I'm always curious when I hear numbers like this, because I'm sure that doesn't mean 275 reporters. I always figure most are offair TV types, assistant producers, coffee fetchers, fashion consultant for TV Azteca, ect.
  8. murphyc

    murphyc Well-Known Member

    My hunch is I'm in the minority on this board, but I prefer being the big fish in a small pond. Being the only one at an event or meeting is good for me because I get exclusives or stories I can hold over and not have to worry about that information being elsewhere first.
  9. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    How exclusive is it if you're the only one going after it?

    I'm not trying to be funny, I had a beat like that for two years.
  10. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    The bigger beats are preferable as long as are at a paper of record for that beat. If you're a peripheral person covering it, it sucks. Almost impossible to get a foothold. And even if you do, your paper doesn't care. Nor do your readers. The only reason to cover a big beat at a peripheral paper is to generate clips for the next opening.

    That being said, it really, REALLY sucks to cover a small beat. Tree falling in a forest. On sports, in particular, people don't even give a damn about really, really interesting stories generated from that beat. If you care at all about being read, it's a fate worse than purgatory. And I don't think that is ego talking. Most of us go into journalism in order to make a difference, inform/entertain, be where the action is. Or some combination of those things. Covering a small beat with little to no fan interest feels like journalistic masturbation and nothing more significant.

    I would say that other than the New York beats, for the most part the pack covering a big beat is smaller than you think. Even on an MLB beat in most cities, there are only about 5-6 reporters who actually matter. At most. Probably 2-3 in most cities. Same with college beats. You have to look out for the ESPNs of the world, too, but only on the really big stuff.

    But what can suck about a big beat is the choreography by the coach and/or media people. Like I said, there are usually at most 5-6 real reporters covering a beat on a daily basis. But you still have to go through an absurd song-and-dance every day with press conferences, "access," etc., etc. It's ridiculous to be one of three people waiting for "access."
  11. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    A smaller beat that's fairly well read is fun. I cover a FCS school that has a growing fan base where I get a ton of feedback and reaction on stories. I'm also the only mainstream media outlet that covers said school on a regular basis, so I've built a following across the state and country with alumni from the school.

    Now, say, covering Florida International for the Miami Herald would fall into more of what Dick's talking about above. Tiny beat, not a great following. No real interest from the community. Stories get bad play. There's just no upside.
  12. Screwball

    Screwball Member

    I disagree. Yes, it can be annoying to see Big Paper get the credit for the story everyone has, and even more annoying to see Big Paper get the credit for following your story.

    However, if you're not making Big Paper sweat, you're not doing your job. You should be breaking your share of stories, big and small. Do that, and thanks to the Internet, everyone interested in that beat will know who you are.
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