In March, the Membership Puzzle Project, which I direct, announced its Join the Beat initiative. We invited applications from beat reporters who want to figure out how to work in a more “networked” fashion. I also wrote a concept paper that explains this idea:
So here is what I mean by a networked beat: when a beat reporter plus a knowledge community positioned around the beat work together — routinely — to produce better, richer, and more three-dimensional coverage. The hard part is “routinely.” Journalism is built on routines: producing on deadline. A networked beat goes beyond special projects that depend on contributions from readers. It incorporates knowledgeable contributors into the way the beat normally functions.
Today we are announcing the cohort of beat reporters who will try to put that concept into practice. Each will work on his or her own reporting projects and independently experiment with how to bring knowledge and intelligence from “the people formerly known as the audience” into their beats— not once or twice but routinely. They will then share what they are learning with other beat reporters trying to do something similar with their own beats. What one reporter is learning in Toronto could be useful to another in North Carolina, and vice versa. Membership Puzzle Project will surface the lessons, connect the parts and keep the experiment in touch with itself.
Project director for Join the Beat is Melanie Sill, an experienced editor who has led newsrooms in Raleigh, Sacramento and Los Angeles. Here are the reporters who will participate.
Eric Berger, Ars Technica (rocket development/ space)
Rob Edwards, the Ferret (environment)
Maite Vermeulen, De Correspondent (migration)
Alia Dharssi and Lauren Kaljur, Discourse Media (environment and sustainability)
Meghan McCarty Carino, KPCC (commuting/ mobility)
Zachery Eanes, Herald-Sun (housing and gentrification)
Nicholas Keung, Toronto Star (immigration)
Will Carless and Aaron Sankin, Reveal/ CIR (Hate beat)
Stephen Babcock, Technical.ly (Baltimore/DC tech community)
Here’s more detail on how they will be approaching the problem of adding a network of knowledgable users to the normal conduct of beat reporting
Eric Berger, ArsTechnica
Editor: Jay Timmer
Beat: Global aerospace industry and rocket development
The challenge I seek to address is the rapidly changing nature of the global aerospace industry. After a lull in innovation during the 1990s, the launch industry has undergone a renaissance with a host of new technology and concepts such as rapid reusability, 3D printing, and commercial heavy lift. There is a lot of hype amid this process. With a rocket newsletter, we seek to provide clarity amid the confusion, and helping readers stay on top of emerging trends. To do so, I will rely on input from our well-informed readers.
My greatest need in this environment is the freedom to experiment, innovate, and learn from mistakes. I am hoping to draw upon the lessons and experiences of others throughout the process.
Reporter: Rob Edwards, The Ferret, Scotland
Editor: Rachel Hamada, head of engagement and innovation
The biggest challenge faced by The Ferret is making investigative journalism in Scotland economically sustainable. We have made considerable progress in the last two years, but still have a way to go. We need to find new ways of continuing to grow our operations and generate income, by increasing subscriptions, winning grants and selling services. A vital part of that process will be finding innovative ways of involving our readers in our research, story-telling and decision-making.
This will help to inform a greater range of stories on our platform that are of interest and relevance to our existing audience and should also help to bring in new readers. We hope to develop innovative environmental news products that will help to bring together communities of interest in Scotland. Our greatest need is capacity and I aim to bring the wider editorial team in on this work while leading on it overall. The aim from this experiment would be to see if the “networked beat” approach can be monetised enough to guarantee the capacity it requires to be sustainable.
Maite Vermeulen, De Correspondent, The Netherlands
Editor: Rosan Smits
Challenges/opportunities I hope to tackle:
- Structuring networks. I want to find ways in which to use my different networks (members/readers, experts, other journalists, migrants) in a more structured way, allowing the network to provide input in logical places in the story process. Main question would be: do my stories and questions end up with the right people at the right time?
- Saving time. Working with a networked beat creates added value, but also costs a lot of time. Especially contact with readers/members is time consuming and not always relevant to my reporting. How do I structure this contact to save time? And how do I focus the contact with networks in such a way that it generates truly relevant input for my story?
My biggest needs would be to think of models for structuring networks. To learn from other examples.
Alia Dharssi & Lauren Kaljur, The Discourse (Canada)
Editor: Lindsay Sample
Beat: Environment and Sustainable Development (paired beats)
Alia says: My greatest opportunity is to hear insights from people concerned about upcoming investigations related to Canada’s refugee system, as well as responsible consumption and production, and use these insights to produce compelling and useful investigations for my audience. My greatest challenge is to find and build relationships with the people/members who can provide these insights. I need support to brainstorm how to go about reaching out to potential members for my networked beat, such as opportunities to speak to people who have done it, to learn from people with expertise in building online communities and to brainstorm with people who can support me.
Lauren says: My greatest opportunity is to hear insights from people affected by wildfires and to relay those lessons-learned to other communities across Canada. My greatest challenge is to build these relationships remotely, sustain them, and to share their information and stories in ways that further inspire action/engagement. To do this, I need to commit to deliberate experimentation and testing, fueled with ideas from my fellow experimenters at Join the Beat.
Together, our opportunity is to collaborate in ways that maximize impact, through idea-sharing and leveraging our individual networked beats to maximize one another’s work. Our shared challenge is that neither of our beats have an obvious gathering “space” through which we can engage networks. The needs are to make collaboration and idea-sharing “work” into our workflow so it’s not just another thing to do and to combat the siloed tendency of beat reporting.
Meghan McCarty Carino, KPCC Southern California Public Radio
Editor: Sandra Oshiro
Beat: Commuting & Mobility
My two main objectives are
1) Being better able to utilize experts and highly engaged audience members to inform and generate coverage. To do this I need to identify and reach out to potential participants, organize regular communication with them through something like an email newsletter, social media group or online forum and build time to cultivate and check in with such sources into my workflow. I could probably use the most help identifying the most useful platform for interacting with sources in this context and formalizing the steps to do so in my workflow.
2) Create a space where “members” are enabled to not only interact with me, but with each other to leverage a multitude of perspectives to problem-solve and to expose frequently siloed groups to interact, particularly within the context of polarizing subjects like street safety/road diets or gentrification/densification around transit. The biggest challenge in this would be identifying the best technical platform, whether that be something like a Facebook Group or some other kind of online or real life social experience, and steering the rules of the environment to encourage constructive interaction not just trolling.
Zachery Eanes, Herald-Sun and News & Observer, Durham/ Raleigh, NC
Editor: Mark Schultz, Mary Cornatzer
Beat: Gentrification in Durham/ housing and development/ Triangle
1) Our challenge in this gentrification series is to find sources and viewpoints that usually never make it into the media. The people most often pushed out by gentrification (older, poor, nonwhite) often have the fewest outlets to voice their concerns and opinions. But there is opportunity in that challenge. We can tell rich and contextual stories of the changes in Durham, if we are able to find voices that are usually never heard. Hopefully we will also find stories that we would have never found on our own. Another challenge is to find experts on this area, who can lend their knowledge to the story. So far, we have been able to attract a lot of experts to come speak to us in group settings, which was really helpful for our first story in the series.
2) Our biggest need is to build an open and inviting community on this issue, so that residents in Durham feel comfortable talking with media members about their neighborhoods. I have found there can be an inherent distrust of traditional media outlets, because residents who don’t often interact with us feel like we are going to take advantage of them. So we desperately need to build an inviting space that those people feel comfortable being candid with us. We have started a Facebook page, which has been extremely helpful in building discussion, but I am not sure if poor and elderly people, who are often the ones being pushed out by gentrification, are going to gravitate toward that platform. So we need to figure out how to bridge the digital space with the physical space.
Nicholas Keung, Toronto Star
Editor: Janet Hurley
I think the networked beat approach works nicely for me with the immigration beat cos it’s a very niched beat. The stories often involve vulnerable migrants and refugees who do not have full rights in Canada. Many of them are unfamiliar with how the media works, hence their stories don’t appear in press releases. So a networked approach is a practice of trust building as much as community building. For generating story ideas, it’s a very effective approach. However, I’m kinda hesitant about counting on the “members” of the network to contribute to stories or moderate our publication’s social media platforms. I don’t know what role they can play. Obviously, there are different types of members: experts, lawyers, advocates and migrants themselves. So I think maybe there could be different roles each could play. Need to find out what that role would be.
The challenges include developing trust, determining roles and responsibilities, marketing and promotion, resource and support from within the newsroom. Reporters are already overworked. These days, few reporters could afford the time to develop sources and build contacts by attending conferences and events for networking with people related to our beats. More and more we are working from our desks and dealing with people we have never met but could only recognize their voices. How do we adapt the traditional way of professional networking and development in an internet age? It’s sort of moving forward from traditional courtship and dating online. Building trust will be a huge part to make it work for the reporters and the members of their network.
Stephen Babcock, Technical.ly
Editor: Zack Seward
Beat: Tech community, Baltimore and DC
Additionally, our community is growing, and we would benefit from tools that could help reach more people. During our pilot, we’ve identified that membership must come from our newsroom. We want to explore how to tie it directly to our reporting.
Biggest needs: Resources describing methods and digital tools that have been used to reach members on a source level. Resources on successful membership models.
Will Carless & Aaron Sankin, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Editor: Andy Donohue
Beat: The new era of hate in America
We have an enthusiastic and engaged following with our weekly newsletter investigating hate in America, The Hate Report. We want to find ways of channeling those qualities into sustained action and activity, and considering the topic, to draw on the unique life experiences of our subscribers. We’ll need to find the right ways and right rhythm to do that. And we’ll have to find ways to open up unfinished investigations in ways that are fair and safe for the people being covered.