Newsrooms' "greatest prizes are the reporters who know and care about their beats," says journalist Dan Froomkin in this short piece about the importance of beat reporting (from the Nieman Journalism Lab).
"Beat reporting: What does it take to be the best?" asks Chip Scanlan—and he offers some answers from effective beat reporters. You may have to scroll down a bit. (from the Poynter Institute)
The best reporters cover their beats as completely as possible by talking to diverse sources. See this advice from journalism professor Yanick Rice Lamb (from the Society of Professional Journalists website).
Journalist Laura Amico says that using a deep beat reporting model means her reporting has a guiding principle and keeps people at its center (from the Online News Association).
FOIA—FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
Both state and federal governments say that most public business should be conducted in public. But at some point, every journalist will encounter an official who tries to keep secret information that should be public. When you do, you need to be clear about how to proceed. Below are some especially good sites to help you.
The Investigative Reporters & Editors FOIA Resource Center is the site for anything FOIA, including helpful information about the Act, links to help you file a request and a collection of documents from previously filed requests.
Here's the U.S. Department of Justice's Web page on how to use FOIA.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a FOIA Wiki with helpful links and information.
You can generate a FOIA request, make sure it goes to the right agency and organize multiple requests at RCFP's iFOIA page.