Not long ago, news organizations would cover news by jurisdiction.
This was a widely accepted practice.
And while some continue to operate this way, many are turning this news strategy on its head – doing away with geographic lines and moving toward regional coverage of larger issues.
Today’s newsroom is creating beats to meet the needs of consumers.
Mark Hamrick, Washington bureau chief and senior economic analyst with Bankrate, says content diversification is critical to keeping up with audience demand.
“If one is looking to attract an audience – and everyone is – [news organizations] need to have content that is unique, authoritative, useful, potentially entertaining, and visually appealing,” Hamrick said.
Pre-internet, households maybe had a clock radio, car radio, and TV set in the family room. There also may have been a newspaper subscription.
But social media changed this picture.
On any given story, search engines show what journalism enterprises are producing all at once. Many folks only read stories their friends share.
“Fewer people are going to home pages to find content,” Hamrick said. “It’s no longer simple to have people around a table talking about what the audience needs to see. We have to anticipate what the audience wants and try to match the current demands of the marketplace.”
Breaking Down the District Lines
In the DC area, newsrooms essentially had a desk to cover news from DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
The Washington Post itself previously had three people covering the DC beat, said Washington Post reporter Aaron Davis, who covers District politics and government.
A few months ago, the newspaper posted an ad for a new colleague to work alongside Davis.
The Post now is looking to cover the District as a city in transition – economically, racially, and socially.
“The race issue in DC is a pretty interesting issue,” Davis said, during a panel discussion for the Society of Professional Journalists. “It started a majority of black. Now, it’s a majority of none, but it’s still very segregated, and this goes back to economic issues.”
Education Week and PBS NewsHour reporter Kavitha Cardoza previously covered education and poverty for DC’s WAMU-FM 88.5.
Cardoza said WAMU is adding several new beats to its newsroom.
Among them: Race and ethnicity, transportation and development, education and inequality, and culture. WAMU previously split up DC news by geography.
From the PR side, though, new beats only translate into PR doing better homework to find the right person in the newsroom.
“As a PR person, you need to determine what you want to communicate and turn it into news,” says Julian Teixeira, senior director of communications with National Council of La Raza. “You can’t take a round peg and fit it into a square hole. Good media relations is always following the media, seeing who’s covering what, and providing the information to get coverage.”
Generations of Consumers
Even a news organization like Bankrate, which traditionally has covered finance since the 1970s, has had to be flexible with coverage.
Its original focus loosely was banking and credit cards.
But the financial needs of an elderly consumer is different from a millennial.
“We basically have five generations we’re serving – everyone from teens to those up to 100,” says Bankrate chief content officer Lou Ferrara. “When you start with that premise, you automatically end up looking at things in a very different way.”
Ferrara previously served many years with the Associated Press.
“The news business is looking at people living longer and more people,” Ferrara said.
When you factor in race relations, socioeconomic status, the wealth gap, and sexual orientation – all big challenges for news organizations to cover – Ferrara said news agencies must consider what’s going to drive traffic and resonate with the consumer.
“You look at the data of what’s driving your revenue and the reality is you have to drive toward that,” he says. “It’s been happening for decades – with circulation, it used to be looking at zipcodes. Now, it’s data and topics – what people are consuming and what’s appealing to your audience. I think newsrooms are in for a radical change in the upcoming years.”