Use beat system to generate more online content

A police officer walks a “beat” so he becomes familiar with a neighborhood and the people in it. Similarly, reporters have “beats” — areas of the school they cover throughout the year on a scheduled basis. The idea is the same; beat reporters become intimately familiar with a particular group, club or organization — I often say they’re the most knowledgeable non-members — so when bigger news happens to that club or group (as it often does), we’re already embedded in that group’s culture.

But beats are also a great way to generate content for your website. What follows are some tips, examples and images to help you create a better beat system for your school.

Note: This is an expansion of an article I wrote earlier titled “Work smarter, not harder: Getting stories online.

Beats editors

What do they do?
The beats editors’ job entails reading, editing and posting the dozens of beat reports and sports updates that come in each week. Beats editors (we have five) also determine the newsworthiness of each beat, deleting those that are poorly written or not newsworthy and scheduling the newsworthy ones to post.

How do they schedule beats to post online?
Wordpress allows users to schedule stories to post in the future. Certain beat reports are valid immediately; however, most refer to events that will happen in the future. Beats editors use the calendar to schedule beats to post closer to when they will be newsworthy.

Getting social
Each day, the beats editors also use Twitter to tweet what they consider to be the most newsworthy story of the day.

What does a beat report look like?

Where and how do beats appear on the website?


Space out deadlines

Work smarter, not harder
We’ve always written beats, but they used to be due all at the same time during each print news cycle. Since we moved the beats to the website, we simply shifted our schedule to accommodate the online venue.

How does the schedule work?
We divided the total number of beats (and beat reporters) by three and made A, B and C deadlines over a three-week period. Group A beat reporters have a beat due by Tuesday of Week 1. Group B beats are due the Tuesday of Week 2, and Group C beats are due by the Tuesday of Week 3. Then we repeat the cycle all over again. Beat reporters end up writing about four beats per semester.

Photos of the Day

Similar to written beats
Photographers on staff also participate in the beat system. Photo editors outline a daily photo schedule (in our case, a two-week schedule), and each photographer (we have 10 this year) is required to take a Photo of the Day on his assigned day and submit it via e-mail. The photo editor then posts the photo and cutline to our FlickR account and to the home page of the website.

A partial list of beats

Cover as much as you can
With a larger staff, you can break your beat reports into smaller groups. Every club and activity could be its own beat. For smaller staffs, you’ll want to consolidate your beats. For example, instead of having one reporter cover each academic department, you could have one reporter simply covering “academic departments.”

Some sample beat areas
English department
School board
Chess Club
Breakdancing Club
Student government
Marching band
Athletic teams
Senior Class
Recycling Club
Intramural sports
Nat’l Honor Society
Key Club

If you’d like a PDF version of this post, click here.

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