Journalists covering police departments and other beats can get too cozy with their sources, not reporting significant news, says Washington and Lee University journalism professor Edward Wasserman in a Miami Herald commentary. Wasserman cites the case of a police reporter who had learned of minor wrongdoing involving town cops. Writing a story on it would come at the cost of the reporter’s continued access to valuable sources within the police department.
Wasserman says the beat system requires reporters to get to know the people who control the information their coverage depends on, so they can call on those sources and rely on them, a system that is not conducive to tough, adversarial reporting. “Beats have got to go'” Wasserman concludes. “They’re an endemic conflict of interest. Fortunately, they are going, and while Internet scribes have areas of interest and expertise, they have so far resisted institutionalizing themselves in the sclerotic fashion of traditional news media. Reporters can be smart and informed, and still be free.”