What is specialist journalism? Why is it in a reporter’s interests to develop expertise in a particular ﬁeld? How is it done? These are some of the practical questions this book sets out to address. Contributing authors also pose some critical and ethical questions. Is a specialist reporter to be trusted, simply because he or she knows more about the topic than a colleague? Is he or she siding with the public, the advertiser or the people in the hierarchy of the particular ﬁeld (what the Sir Humphrey Applebys of the world term ‘going native’)? What does recent history tell us about the relationship between the journalist and his or her quarry, such as the police, the travel industry, or celebrities and sports stars? So this is a practical guide aimed at both journalism students and active reporters eager to carve out a niche in a shifting employment market. It is also a critique of modern specialist journalism. Of necessity, there is a limit to the number of specialist topics that any single
volume may explore with such a diverse choice. Some disciplines would be regarded as essential elements in the editorial portfolio of any self-respecting newspaper from the last two centuries. Dust oﬀ an old copy of the News Chronicle, Daily Express or Manchester Guardian and column inches would be ﬁlled by an in-house horse racing correspondent, a theatre critic and religious aﬀairs expert et al. From a Fleet Street-centric perspective, niche topics really took oﬀ in the print
media during the 1980s, with the arrival of the bulky Sunday supplements. In the 1990s the daily broadsheet papers, notably the Guardian, placed correspondents’ oﬀerings into regular pull-out sections, complemented with a lucrative sprinkling of ‘Situations Vacant’ advertising. The Sunday Times continues to produce its sports, travel and business sections, and the Guardian retains its weekly media, education and society supplements, albeit with fewer job adverts. But the real expansion in specialist journalism occurred in the periodicals market. As traditional newspaper circulations continue to decline, the magazine sector has ﬂourished. Thousands of
features from an once employed dedicated defence, farming, Court of Appeal and local government correspondents are more likely to carry copy from correspondents acknowledged as authorities on social internet websites, home entertainment technology, consumer protection, human rights, the pharmaceutical business and freedom of information et al. This book oﬀers a selection of typical specialist vocations likely to be of interest to
the aspiring reporter, sprinkled with informative ‘A Day in the Life Of’ contributions from working journalists. Subjects such as sport, crime, health and politics could each ﬁll the pages of a substantial textbook, but the objective is to provide students and professional writers with a taste of key topics. Sports journalists go through a similar procedure whether they are reporting on football games, rugby matches, cycle events or alpine winter sports races. They need to hear the verdicts of the team coach and leading athletes, the lessons learned and the preparations for the next big game or race. Specialist local government reporters and political journalists working in Parliament secure access to people in the public eye and hold them to account in tandem. General news reporters and health correspondents have no lesser or greater access to hospital patients or nursing staﬀ and travel writers contend with airport security checks, delayed ﬂights, crowds and queues at holiday destinations (along with the rest of us). The authors have drawn out common themes within their disciplines, considered some of the ethical and practical dilemmas facing working journalists and shine a spotlight on positive and negative aspects of the profession. What is it that deﬁnes a ‘specialist’ reporter from a ‘general’ reporter?
Common sense dictates that specialist skills are derived from either educational study (such as knowledge of the law) or from ﬁrst-hand experience (for example ‘coalface’ politics). A reporter is unlikely to be regarded as an expert on a discipline by token of his/her academic qualiﬁcations. Is a ‘general’ reporter (including general sports reporters) in-expert? Surely not. Gavin MacFadyen, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism,2 and Flat Earth News author Nick Davies3
have made the same point at media conferences that any journalism requires an element of investigative eﬀort by the reporter. Any self-respecting scribe must look behind the press release hand-out and check the facts, ﬁgures, quotes and assertions. Why should it be diﬀerent for a general news reporter? Trainees and reporters are expected to cope with the traditional specialist areas
such as crime, education, political and business stories. A general news reporter would be ridiculed for declining an instruction to cover an agricultural show on the basis that ‘I don’t know much about farming’, or seek to excuse him/herself from an ecumenical story, or steer clear of reviewing a theatre performance on similar grounds. Newsdesks and editors expect any reporter to be suﬃciently trained to cover court cases – from the relatively mundane to a major murder trial – without committing contempt of court or missing out key details of the case. That does not mean they are legal aﬀairs specialists. Alternatively the expectations of the industry veer towards the overly optimistic and unrealistic demand that the reporter should be able to turn his or her hand to anything.