Research Finds Expertise Not Considered In Making Newsroom Beat Assignments

Expertise - at least in terms of formal training - does not seem to be a key element in the assignment of reporters to cover special beats, according to an article authored by a research team from the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research and appearing in Newspaper Research Journal.

"The media organizations may have created the specializations to meet the needs of an increasingly complex audience," the authors wrote, "but the organizations studied didn't staff those specialities with individuals certified as experts. Management and reporters at all papers felt that an experienced reporter could cover any beat."

At none of the three papers studied, for example, was foreign news handled by anyone with formal training in that area in terms of university degrees earned or specialized post-graduate training.

The research team consisted of Cox Center Director Dr. Lee B. Becker and three doctoral students in the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, in which the Cox Center is located. The three doctoral students, all of whom have assumed positions as journalism educators, are: Wilson Lowrey, now on the faculty at Mississippi State University, Dane Claussen, now on the faculty at Point Park College in Pittsburgh, and William Anderson, now on the faculty at Lousiana State University.

The article appears in the Fall 2000 issue of Newspaper Research Journal, but was issued in the spring of 2001 because of publication delays. The journal is published by the Newspaper Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

The journal article is the product of a program of research in the Cox Center which examines newsroom structure and journalistic expertise. The research reported in the article is based on intensive interviews and observation at three daily newspapers in the southeastern part of the United States.