After talking with beat reporters over the past month, Bob and Brooke heard again and again that their beats were being dangerously depopulated. Bob remembers the best story he got while working the crime beat for a small newspaper in Pennsylvania.
BROOKE: The media’s inattention to bell, was not unique to bell. In this hour we consider the sorry state of the erstwhile backbone of the newsroom: the beat reporter.
BOB: Consider the story of scandal at the Veteran’s Administration.
NEWS ANCHOR: “Why is it that it took so long for this story to explode?”
NEWS ANCHOR 2: “I think one of the problems is that we don't pay attention to beat reporters all across the country. There is real value...
BROOKE: Or the depredations of Mexican drug cartels...
NEWS ANCHOR: “Local news trickles up to the national level. If you're losing these beat reporters, you're losing these people with institutional knowledge of what's going on in their cities...
BROOKE: They are journalism’s ground-level watchdogs. Sitting at school board meetings. Cultivating police contacts. Sifting through courthouse filings.
Old-Time Newsreel: Reporters on beats are known as outside men, since they work away from the office most of the time. Every reporter must secure from the people on his beat a steady supply of the everyday happenings which...
BOB: When Hollywood constructs a reporter, its almost always a beat reporter. A PI with a press card, taking down the powerful. So intrepid, and so glamorous...in a sort of slovenly way. News organizations themselves have always played up the drama of the job.
News Anchor: Larry Menard. Crime Beat Reporter. He has a full-time job covering stories that happen day or night. Rain or shine. Crime in the cities and suburbs has increased. So has Larry’s job...this kind of news happens without warning but Larry's there...
BOB: But the spine of the business is degenerating. After talking with beat reporters over the past month, we heard again and again that their beats were being dangerously depopulated. The financial decline of the newspaper business - the birthplace of the beat system - has left many crucial under-covered, poorly covered, or not covered at all. Brooke, you know I was once a beat reporter myself.
BROOKE: Do tell. What were your beats?
BOB: What weren't they. I worked in small paper's in Pennsylvania and Delaware and medium sized papers. Covered the Housing Authority, the Redevelopment Authority, some school boards, covered the police for a couple of years -- in Delaware -- I covered of course a local concern called the DuPont Company.
BROOKE: Did you say you covered the crime beat?
BOB: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
BROOKE: Ok, so give me an example of a scoop you got because of the expertise you acquired covering that beat.
BOB: The biggest, the one that actually got me the hell out of Reading, PA and got me a better job -- was a brazen armed robbery. These guys held up a Sears store at the Berkshire Mall. Broad daylight, Christmastime, a guard was shot to death. The guys fled but were quickly cornered and the leader of the two, fearing going back to prison, put his revolver in his mouth, pulled the trigger, and that was to be that. Except for the fact that the bullet hit the base of his skull. Kind of did a half-circle and came out of the front of his skull effectively lobotomizing him. Off he went first to the hospital and then to jail awaiting trial. He was facing a competency ruling to see if you could stand trial for this crime. And I, because I had all these connections with the cops and all these various jurisdictions began hearing whispers that while in prison he wasn't acting like he was incompetent in any way shape or form, and I got an interview with him. During which interview he not only discussed openly the details of the Berkshire Mall robbery but another similar robbery a couple years earlier in a suburb of Philadelphia for which he had never been suspected. He ended up getting a long prison term for that robbery that he inadvertently confessed to in my interview. How about you your own self?
BROOKE: I started out covering a beat.
BOB: And that was? State Department...Pentagon...NASA...
BROOKE: ...strip mining. I was fired.
BOB: It's so funny because the first time I saw you i said to myself, that is a woman who doesn’t know her strip mining all that well.