NET reporter visits CoJMCMonday, February 12, 2018 - 12:45pm
by Andrianna Jacobs, sophomore journalism and broadcast student
On its face, covering agriculture seems like a narrow beat for a journalist, but a reporter for NET News and Harvest Public Media told students his work touches on economics, politics, science, health care, immigration and other areas far beyond farms across the Nebraska.
“It’s a pretty big beat,” said Grant Gerlock, reporter for Harvest Public Media, at an advanced reporting class at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications Feb. 8.
After starting as a reporter and morning drive-time anchor at NET Radio in 2008, Gerlock joined Harvest Public Media 2012. Digging into stories for Harvest, a consortium of public-radio stations in six Midwestern states, has given him the chance to cover stories about coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals.
Gerlock advised the students to cast wide nets among sources as they dig into the nuts and bolts of any story and beat they work on, whether that involves exploring the details of a farm bill in Washington or reporting on drifting herbicides.
“I’m constantly trying to find different angles and different people to talk to,” Gerlock said.
Students in the course are required to cover a beat – such as public safety, religion education, science or agriculture. Gerlock advised them to develop their expertise in such areas by researching them, finding people who are knowledgeable and talking with them, going to meetings and hearings, and following interest groups on Twitter and Facebook.
Students were able to learn from Gerlock’s experiences in covering the agriculture beat. Gerlock, who grew up on an Iowa farm, gave them firsthand advice on how they can develop stories on their beats.
He also shared thoughts on the challenges they may face. For instance, he said he sometimes finds it tricky to write a story because he cannot always include all the details he wants to. He has to work at leaving out jargon and elements that might interest the farmers in his audience but would bore the broader public.
Gerlock also shared stories of how it can be tough to get people to talk to the media, particularly when using a camera. He describes working on a story for TV and he couldn’t get anyone in a room crowded with farmers to speak with him for the broadcast.
Journalists need to build sources through one-on-one contact with people, he said. When he researches stories that require farmers, for instance, he might reach out to other farmers he has interviewed to see if they can put him in touch with friends.
Being active on social media can help in developing sources, as well as knowing what people are talking about, he said.
“Let them know you’re interested,” Gerlock said.
But, like any journalist, he is often pressed for time, especially when working on one-day turnaround pieces. And he must discipline himself to tell stories in a brisk, lively and short way.
“Time constraints help,” Gerlock said. “I’ve got to be able to move along with the story.”
Gerlock said working on a beat can be a satisfying experience if he can find new approaches and sources to break up the monotony of covering familiar issues over and over.
“It’s been a good run so far,” Gerlock said.