Magazine article The Quill

Beat: Features

Magazine article The Quill

Beat: Features

Article excerpt

A reporter is a reporter is a reporter. Whether you're covering city council or the regional arts council, every reporter must learn to hone his or her skills on the beat. Features beats can include: arts, music, family/relationships, food, faith and health/fitness. Here are some tips from the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader features department:

Show up at the scene and meet the players.

Good beat reporting requires a journalist to be on location. You can't write a story about the tradition of being Clara in The Nutcracker unless you've seen The Nutcracker. Show up at rehearsals. Talk to the ballerina playing Clara. Talk to some girls who wanted to be Clara but didn't get chosen. Get to know local musicians by attending jam sessions. Schedule to sit in on a moms-of-preschoolers group, a culinary training session or a Pilates class.

Follow the paper trail.

The executive director of the ballet was recently fired and calls you to complain the organization no longer has funds for her salary. Is it true? Don't take her word for it. Get the budget. Is the city's largest arts organization using state grants appropriately? Only the numbers can prove it. Note: Not all organizations get public funds, and therefore aren't required to release budgets under a state's open records law. This is when building relationships matters. Get to know the adversarial board member or the secretary to get copies of budgets early in the reporting process.

Stay in touch.

Get sources home and cell phone numbers. Most stories don't break at 9 a.m.; try more like 10 p.m. Give sources all your digits: work, home and cell numbers. …

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