Bouncing between silly stories and serious analysis with college students always energizes me, and even more so when those students are studying journalism.
During The Pathway Journalism Retreat in Jefferson City, Missouri, in September, I had the opportunity to meet students from Hannibal-LaGrange University, Southwest Baptist University and Missouri Baptist University.
And they not only warmed my heart with their positive and entertaining attitudes, but also gave me hope for our future reporters, producers and content providers as well as the media industry overall.
Sharp minds, probing questions and teachable spirits — that’s what I saw in the 12 students participating in the various sessions also attended by area writers and photographers. Several university faculty and staff also were present, including Hannibal-LaGrange president Anthony Allen, one of the featured speakers.
The Pathway staff and correspondents participated and helped organize the event, which is hosted annually by longtime editor Don Hinkle.
Sharing about The Baptist Paper and how it can be a partner resource for Baptists in every state was my primary role in participating in the retreat, but Don also recruited me to share a few practical tips for writers and content producers.
In the Mastering Your Beat session, we talked about what having a beat means — a specific area of focus — and how to develop an understanding of it.
From there, it’s important to build relationships within the beat and to continually look for ways to advance your beat.
The beat reporting concept has always been a favorite of mine because of the depth of understanding that is developed and the speed with which stories can be turned around because of that understanding. It also provides a good pattern for living life.
Beat coverage also ensures someone is paying attention to specific areas and is not only prepared when a story breaks, but also can predict what should be covered along the way.
Mastering your beat requires intentionality, commitment and compassion. You have to truly care about the beat to want to master it, and spending lots of time around the area of focus works wonders in developing a rich understanding.
At the same time, becoming too invested in a beat can sometimes blur the lines between how an advocate might share information versus how media coverage should look.
Remaining a step removed and balancing your beat with other assignments helps keep proper perspective and a clear head for reporting.
And ultimately, the ability to maintain keen awareness of your area along with how it relates to other areas around it is the key that connects all parts together.
We must actively participate to truly understand and clearly share the stories — similar to our faith journey and mastering the beat of disciple making.