Beatblogging: A future model for the shrinking newsroom

Ten years down the road, beatblogging is going to be much more important to the news organization than it is now as we’re in the primitive stages of trying to figure it out.

I see it as the future band-aid, if not the solution, to the epidemic of emaciating staff resources.

Let’s first acknowledge that beat reporting is going to undergo some serious evolution as staffs continue to shrink. It won’t much resemble our beats of today, and beatblogging is just one part of that.

We have to figure out how we’re going to cram two, three, four times as many subject areas into the workload of the reporters who remain. Somehow, we have to figure out how to do that without severely under-reporting the communities that depend on that work.

Our current model — attending meetings, working the phones, hoping sources will voluntarily e-mail us with tips — will crumble on top of us. The remaining reporters would be overwhelmed, meetings would conflict, there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day to call all the sources necessary to keep in touch.

That’s already happening if you ask the right reporters, and it’s only going to get worse.

So I’m sending beatblogging in on its off-white horse. I say off-white because it’s not the only evolution necessary, but certainly an important one.

In my personal efforts — which are really stuck in neutral right now as I shift from a mostly discarded Ning network to a not-ready-for-primetime blog — the lack of user activity was the kiss of death. The return on investment wasn’t quite there for me, not just yet.

Ten years from now, that won’t be nearly as much of a problem. There must be Friendster before there’s Facebook. Ten years from now, it’ll be a much easier sell to get a variety of community members contributing to the news process via their computers, or whatever they’re using at that point.

My Ning network never became the set-it-and-forget-it Story Idea Delivery System some might dream it to be — beatblogging and other equally important forms of online interaction will probably never get to that point. They still require the input of the reporter’s time to make it valuable to the readers, and in return valuable to the reporter.

But cultivating that kind of network can drastically increase our return on (time) investment, which is exactly what we need to cram more responsibilities into our schedules. It has the potential to increase our sourcing tenfold, while not increasing our time commitment nearly as much.

And since we know fewer reporters will be left 10 years from now, guess which ones are more likely to survive the slaughter so they can create these beatblogs?

Yep, the ones who have already demonstrated these skills. Better learn ’em now.