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Journalism Practice

Deadline: February 1st 2020

Special Issue:

The State of the News Beat: Expertise and division of labour in current newsrooms

More than hundred years after their inception, news beats reporting is facing transformative changes. The major roles they played in modern journalism – both on stage and behind the scenes – is now threatened by a series of layoffs and downsizing, growing reliance on a smaller workforce with fewer years of experience, who are expected to cover broader and growingly complex domains; the demise of older beats and the emergence of new ones, not necessarily along traditional thematic and geographical lines.

The existing scholarly literature doesn't supply a coherent and updated picture on current structures of newsrooms, the prevailing division of labor inside and outside them, and the social, cultural and epistemic consequences of these aspects on published and unpublished news contents. Interestingly, scholars agree that beats were born in late 19th century, culminated in the second half of the 20th century, and transformed since the beginning of the 21st century following trends of downsizing, restructuring, digitization and the rise of online sourcing and social media. However, the actual nature of this transformation remains unclear. While the classic studies that focused on entire beat system are growingly outdated, recent works cannot encompass the current state of the beat system due to their overwhelming focus on single beats.

This theoretical and empirical void gives rise to a series of questions. Are we facing the death of the news beat, as some scholars lament, or the end of their “golden era” during which beats served as the leading principle of division of labor in journalism; as the assembly-line for most news; as journalistic “micro-cultures”; as domains of knowledge and expertise and as venues where journalists make friends and enemies? Are there alternative modes of professional and non-professional reporting and principles of division of labor that can substitute for the dwindling beat system?  

The special issue wishes to answer these and other questions and map the current state of the news beats in their broadest sense.  

Suggested topics

Possible areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Emerging modes of division of labour in current newsrooms (e.g. topic teams, “obsessions”, single-issue newsrooms, personal franchise sites, specialized blogs, press clubs, combined newsrooms).
  • Comparative studies on mixes of beats and other modes of reporting across organizations. For example: small, mid-sized and metro / national news outlets; comparisons across media, types of ownership, format (elite and popular) and nationality (including democratic and non-democratic countries).
  • Comparisons between beats (e.g. old and new beats, online and offline; “soft” and “hard”; scientific and “common-sensical”). 
  • Epistemic aspects of beats and alternative modes of reporting: knowledge, expertise in different beats; modes of recruitment; training, socialization, skill set acquisition and different stages in the shift from novice to expert reporting.
  • Life cycles of beats: the emergence, maturation, decline and death of news beats.
  • Coverage of reporter-less beats: e.g., using plagiarism and content lifting, reliance on general assignment reporters and aggregation.  


Submission guidelines

If you are interested in participating in this special issue, please submit an extended abstract (500-750 words), accompanied by a 100-150- word bio introducing your relevant expertise Abstracts should be sent no later than February 1, 2020 to: beats.specialissue@bgu.ac.il Upon selection, scholars will be invited to submit full papers.

Article submissions should be about 8,000 words in length, including references, and are subject to full blind peer-review, in accordance with the peer-review procedure of Journalism Practice. Manuscripts will be submitted through the journal’s ScholarOne website.


  • Deadline for submission of extended abstracts: February 1st 2020.
  • Decision on abstracts: March 15th 2020
  • Deadline for final submission: September 1st 2020.
  • Publication: Online first after acceptance, and later in a forthcoming issue of Journalism Practice.

Journalism Practice

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Editorial information

Guest editor:

Zvi Reich: Ben Gurion University of the Negev

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