Marching to the Beat

Ted Nesi

Ted Nesi

In many news shops the job of “Beat Reporter” has gone the same way as the Anchor wardrobe allowance.

Back in the day, Reporters were assigned to beats and that was there job. But as staffs shrunk and Reporters were asked to do more stories with less resources, the Beat Reporter became a dinosaur.

And while many stations have long given up on have Reporters cover beats, at one Nexstar station, the job is alive and well.

WPRI (Providence) Reporters Ted Nesi and Dan McGowan work the beats, coveringCity Hall and stopping by the cop shop every day. The show up at budget meetings and keep tabs on local schools.

Dan McGowan

Dan McGowan

Andrew Heyward writes Nesi and McGowan pound those beats and more as digital-first reporters at WPRI. They’re no one’s idea of a stereotypical TV reporter. In a 1940’s movie, they’d be the “newsmen” wearing fedoras with press tickets in the hat band. But in a day when the lines between digital and broadcast are blurring, their work is a critical differentiator for WPRI. “Our brand is depth,” says their boss, News Director Karen Rezendes. “They bring that and more.”

And while the two news hounds have been watchdogs in target-rich Rhode Island way too long to be called “innovative,” they’re now part of a growing trend: local stations using digital journalists to strengthen their enterprise reporting.

Nesi was a print reporter at a Rhode Island business weekly when he emailed then-GM Jay Howell in 2010, pitching himself as a blogger who could write about business and politics. Howell went for it — Nesi thinks his very affordable newspaper salary didn’t hurt — and soon Nesi’s writing caught the eye of the station’s main investigative reporter, Tim White. With White’s support, Nesi started appearing on TV as well, moving from guest panelist and analyst to regular player on White’s Sunday Newsmakers show.

Dan McGowan’s veins have their own ink quotient. He was working at a local news startup and developing a reputation for breaking stories at City Hall when he got a call from Nesi in 2012: “They’re going to hire another one of me.” McGowan still covers City Hall and other Providence news. He stops by police headquarters every morning to grab a stack of police reports that he can share with the newsroom. McGowan’s Facebook Group, Dan McGowan’s Scoop on Providence Politics, has close to 7000 members who share leads, feedback, and long conversations with public officials and ordinary residents.

The two reporters and Rezendes see their work as part of a larger station strategy that exploits the respective strengths of the broadcast and digital platforms to achieve a result that’s bigger than either of them on its own. Says Nesi, sounding a lot like a news director himself: “It’s one important puzzle piece in putting together a newsroom and set of news products that drive loyalty and earn the trust of our viewers and readers.”

“These beats that sound like they could be dry and boring actually do have value beyond the articles themselves,” agrees McGowan.

To which Nesi adds: “We went down the rabbit hole, looked around, and came back up with the three carrots.”

H/T Cronkite News Lab