In journalism, the term "beat" refers to a specific source for news, a group of sources or a specific news topic. Beat writers are journalists who are assigned to cover specific topics, sources or groups of sources. A sports beat writer typically is assigned to cover a specific sport, league or team, usually for a newspaper. The writer often covers a single beat year-round, even during any offseason for his or her beat. Some writers, however, cover more than one beat, especially if there is little or no overlap between seasons.
Examples of Sports Beats
There are many ways that sports beats can be assigned by a newspaper or other news organization. As a few examples, a sports beat writer might be assigned to cover a professional baseball team, a college basketball league or all of the high school football teams within an area. A writer also might be assigned to cover all of the sports teams for a particular college. Major newspapers in large cities are more likely to have many writers who each cover a specific beat, but smaller newspapers might have fewer writers who each cover multiple beats or beats that are more general.
Covering a Beat
A sports writer covers his or her beat by writing about any news involving that beat, often on a daily basis. In the 21st century, this might include posting on an Internet blog in addition to providing articles for a newspaper. The writer might also provide analysis and feature stories from his or her beat on a regular basis in addition to writing about any news from the beat.
Good sports beat writers will develop professional relationships with people on their beats who are trusted sources of information. Sources often provide writers with tips about breaking news, inside information or certain actions that might take place soon, such as a coach who is about to be fired or a player who will be traded. Having good sources allows a sports beat writer to report news as quickly as possible — ideally, before any other news organization has reported it.
A sports beat writer who is assigned to cover a specific team will usually travel anywhere the team goes, such as to a training camp or to games in other cities. For a training camp that is in a location other than the team's home city, such as spring training in Florida or Arizona for professional baseball teams in the U.S., the writer might spend several weeks in a particular area before returning home. During a team's competitive season, the writer might spend only one day or several days in one city before returning home or moving on to the next city. In some sports, a team's road trip might last for several weeks.
In the early 20th century, writers often traveled with the team, such as on the same train, as part of the team's travel party. One effect of this was that writers were close to the athletes, so they were able to know more about them and even develop personal relationships with them, in some cases. Some people believe that this made writers less likely to publish negative news or critical opinions of the players. By the later part of the 20th century, beat writers began to travel separately from the team, although they went to the same destinations.
To be a successful sports beat writer, a person needs to be able to communicate effectively in writing. He or she also must be good at asking questions that will prompt interview subjects to provide information or to express their thoughts or emotions. In the 21st century, the abilities to use computers and to research information on the Internet also are essential. A writer should be knowledgeable about the sport or sports that his or her beat involves. Experience participating in specific sports is not necessary but can be helpful.
Education and Training
A college education typically is required for a person to become a sports beat writer. A beat writer typically has a degree in journalism, although some might have earned other degrees before becoming journalists. Someone who wants to become a sports beat writer will often complete an internship while attending college or after graduation in order to gain experience at a news organization. In most cases, a writer must begin his or her career at a small newspaper, performing many duties, or covering a minor beat for a larger newspaper before being able to cover a more prestigious beat.