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  • Spencer Norris

Fixing your beat

Well, damn. It's one of those times where you know you can do better.


My coverage hasn't been terrible, but it's nowhere near the quality I know I'm capable of. It's disappointing to know that you're punching below your weight. Only thing to do is to fix it.


I realized that the number one thing I neglected to do early on was really organize my beat. I got hooked into a few long-term stories and put on the blinders. Ugh. Not good.


So, time to fix it. Time to create a plan.


1) Set up alerts for Columbia PD, Sheriff's Office, MU Police, Boone County Fire Dept. (if alerts aren't available, use a webpage watcher). I bought into the adage that the press release is the death of in-depth reporting. That was stupid. Remedy this immediately.

2) Pump out three Sunshines a week to different departments. Keeping a steady stream of background info will be important for deep-dive coverage and understanding what's happening behind the scenes.

3) Set up a weekly 'ideation' time to just spitball on my own.

4) Find humans that will talk. I don't have regular human sources right now, and it's hobbling me. They exist; I've talked with them before. But I need to get that ball rolling, it's long overdue. (At least I know someone at Columbia PD records, which is helpful.)

5) Try to think of a graphics request for each enterprise story. Hell, maybe start with a graphic and work backwards.

6) Eavesdrop at the bar once a week. Switch bars. Decompress, but listen.

7) Set up background talks with experts on public health, policing, gun violence, and other beat topics. Ask them what matters right now, and what I'm missing. One every two weeks, at least.


These are just the basics. Some weeks will be better than others on each, but I need to take my coverage to the next level. I can do it.


I'll probably draft up a tip sheet for the next generation of the public safety and health beat with all the tidbits I wish I knew when I started. These will be on the list, but there's so much more to learn first. In the meantime, it's time to get serious.

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© 2019 by Spencer Norris