The difference between a beat reporter and a features writer

Producing acts of journalism to inform a community can get done with different approaches. There are those who follow one community closely and those who offer the broader narrative to a wider audience.

In news parlance, it’s the beat reporter and the features writer, and it’s tied to the idea of choosing deeper impact or larger scale. I’ve developed a better understanding of the differences in these specialties over the last few years, in both hiring, following and familiarizing myself with the work of my peers.

A beat reporter is at her core motivated by relationships. These are people who are deeply sourced and often socially motivated to be at the center of a given community. She wants to know everyone and be the natural first to know everything.

A features writer is motivated by narrative. These are people who are thoughtful and aim to find, develop and share the broader trend of a given community. She wants to provide a long view with fresh perspective.

They’re both valuable and, of course, often journalists serve both ends, but I find that most start from one worldview first. Understanding that can help in hiring and motivating writers with whom you work — and also better knowing your own motivation.

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