bummer beat
n. An assignment that requires a journalist to cover a tragic news story, such as a murder, accident, or natural disaster.
In this novel, a California TV reporter covers a good Samaritan story while deciding whether to pursue a new relationship or go back to her ex-fiance. At her fourth-rate Los Angeles local news station, Kate Bradley works the Bummer Beat, covering tragedies and tenaciously getting interviews that other reporters can't.
—“Good Sam,” Kirkus Reviews, April 02, 2014
Get a group of reporters together and inevitably the talk turns to "Covering the Bummer Beat." Natural disasters, plane crashes, missing children, accidents, murders. It's about death and destruction, weeping survivors, and the demand — on deadline — for poignant quotes and sound bites and vivid descriptions.
—“The Bummer Beat: Covering Tragedy and Victims,” The Poynter Institute, October 15, 1997
1996 (earliest)
We have a report on the relationship between those who suffer tragedy and those who cover it, from NPR's Brooke Gladstone.

BROOKE GLADSTONE, Reporter: The public watches in horror as reporters are dispatched in battalions in pursuit of the bereaved. The public is transfixed by the images, but uneasy, wondering, 'Should we be eavesdropping on another's sorrow?'

BOB STEELE, Ethicist, Pointer Institute for Media Studies: I remember very well when the Lockerbie tragedy happened, and the video of the one mother, which showed her on the floor of the airport in New York, crying uncontrollably upon learning that her daughter was on that flight. The video I saw is heart-wrenching. At the same time, as intrusive as it is, to me, that particular piece of video was the wailing of a nation.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Bob Steele [sp] is a specialist in the ethics of journalism at the Pointer Institute for Media Studies. He coined the term for what some reporters now call the 'bummer beat.'

BOB STEELE: Many journalists tell me that they will go out to the home of somebody whose family has been part of a tragedy, and they'll drive by the house five, six, seven, eight times and not stop and, instead, drive down to the corner and put a quarter in the pay phone and call back to the office and tell their editor or news director, 'Nobody was there. I guess we don't have a story.'
—“Media Must Walk a Fine Line When Reporting Tragedy,” National Public Radio, March 03, 1996
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