I strongly disagree. I set up a social network — the Hershey Home — based on a small, local beat. And frankly, I don’t see why any small-town reporter who possesses the necessary computer skills wouldn’t do that same, no matter how many stories you have to write per week.
Here’s the point most often missed: Successful beatblogging saves, not costs, reporters their time. In a fraction of the time and effort, it accomplishes all these goals that any reporter would share:
- It can drastically increase your quantity of sources
- It can drastically increase the diversity of your sources
- It can positively develop your relationship with sources
- It allows you to stay in constant contact with those sources without picking up the phone and calling them individually
- It encourages those sources to share story ideas or current happenings
- It can lead you into background or context to your stories you wouldn’t otherwise know about
Along with these additional benefits that the new-media types love:
- It encourages a sense of community
- It gets information to people in the form that they choose
- It allows for a depth that the print product can’t achieve
- It makes the news a conversation instead of a declaration
Now if that all were to come at the expense of the print product, we could have a cost/benefit discussion. But it simply doesn’t. A reporter can spend 15-20 minutes per day leading the discussion, then sit back and let the community do everything else for you. They’re happy to be participating, you’re happy to hear from them.
I had 30 residents sign up for my network within two weeks. It’s had its difficulties, which David Cohn is dutifully reporting on beatblogging.org, but it’s also early.
There are many different methods to beatblogging, and I’ll have plenty more to say about it. But I strongly believe this project will make my print product better — to me, the new media benefits are actually secondary.