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Jun 30, 2022 2 min read

Don’t Got the Beat

A photo of police tape that says “Police Line, Do Not Cross” except “Cross” is covered by a yellow and blue parrot.
Police line, do not parrot (Photo illustration by Valerie Osier)

Newsrooms often give one of the most emotionally demanding and delicate jobs in journalism – the crime beat – to our least experienced and supported young reporters.

In the wake of the mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school, reporters from all over the nation swarmed the small town peppering residents, victims’ families and authorities with questions.

In addition to the stories of heartbreak and systemic incompetence that ended up on the page, another narrative developed on journalism twitter: how covering crime — and not just mass death, even chasing scanner traffic — can be traumatic, and because of the way we structure our newsrooms, that trauma falls disproportionately on our least experienced, least supported reporters.

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At a lot of media companies, the crime beat is new reporter purgatory. This is probably your first job out of college: listen to scanner traffic and when something newsworthy happens, you run out and report it.  

In one sense, it’s journalism on easy mode — the stories literally come to you — and in that sense, it’s understandable to put a young reporter on it. But that inexperience creates a real imbalance between the journalist and power, asking the least experienced writers to hold their own against career law enforcement bureaucrats and professional communicators. And because there’s so much to cover, new reporters often only have time to get the police account of things, and rarely get a chance to actually follow up to see if the person arrested actually ends up facing trial.

You’re going to hear from two different young reporters, Rebecca White from KPBX and Valerie Osier, on the effects of this, and why, for the health of our communities and the mental health of young reporters, the crime beat has to go.

What we cover:

  • The status quo of many traditional newsrooms. Coverage is a mile wide and an inch deep, with many too under-resourced to have their reporters follow up on cases as they’re going through the judicial system. (12:20)
  • The many traumas of the crime beat: from seeing dead bodies to hearing horrific stories and then having to suck it up and file a story. (35:04)
  • "So that was where you just have to go: that was really terrible and I'm very disturbed, but deadline is 9 pm and I'll have to cry afterwards." (36:48)
  • What does responsible public safety reporting look like? (50:00)
  • (BONUS: Hear Luke sing Disney at 6:11).
  • ProPublica (read this story on a Tennessee judge who jailed Black children)
  • InvestigateWest (listen to our chat with reporter Wilson Criscione on pretrial services in Washington here)
  • The Inlander usually takes the approach of looking at cases more deeply (read their coverage of deaths at Eastern State Hospital)
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