What Is a Beat?

Reporters can cover a variety of topics. At NBC News, we have general reporters, who cover just about anything and know a little bit about everything, and beat reporters, who are experts in one topic.

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Joy Wang, NBC News senior editorial director for planning and diversity journalism, talks you through just what a beat is.

What is a beat?

In journalism, a beat is an area of specialization where you have developed sources and proven your expertise with your published stories. Think of it as a cop on the beat. If news breaks within your territory, your editor will know you’re the best person to produce an article or appear on camera. You already know everything about the topic and have the right sources in your phone contacts. 

There are three main kinds of beats:  

  • Territorial beats are defined geographically. It can be as broad as “the Midwest” for a national outlet or as specific as a neighborhood for a local newspaper.   
  • Jurisdictional beats are defined by a government agency, like the Justice Department, or a corporate entity, like Facebook. Jurisdictional beats can also cover such things as a school district, local government or even a major local business. 
  • Topical beats focus on specific issues like politics, weather and health. It might be helpful to be more specific within those broad areas, such as being an expert on one particular politician.   

How do you pick a beat? 

Start with your interests or subjects you know well. Maybe you love trying new foods, or you’re always reading up on the latest tech gadgets. Whatever it is, there may be a beat for it. 

Define exactly what your beat entails 

Figure out what topics and issues fall within your beat. From an editor’s perspective, a narrower one is better. If you’re covering business, for example, should you focus on the stock market or a particular industry? Do you keep track of specific companies within your realm? Whom should you be reaching out to for any updates? The nature of your topic and your news organization may shape how much your beat covers daily news versus longer-term enterprise reporting.