The simple answer is, "Yes."
But that’s a little too simple. I should elaborate. Journalists pride themselves (many of them do, anyway; I certainly did during my news days) on being jacks of all trades and masters of none. At a dinner party, they can usually dazzle an uncritical listener with how much they know about many things — and it works as long as no one probes too deep. But there are several things that most reporters at most newspapers don’t know much at all about (and I hope you’re not including TV people as "reporters," as very few of them get anything):
- Religion — I have the impression (but no stats to back it up) that the press is slightly more secular than the public at large. I mean that in two ways: First, on a personal level — lots of journalists have never been to church or have quit going (for some reason, the profession seems to draw a lot of "fallen-away" Catholics) — but also professionally. There are still plenty of people of faith in newsrooms, but relatively few who take a sufficient interest in religions other than their own, to the extent that they could write authoritatively about them. You’ll find that’s also true of the general population, but in most fields, journalists make it their business to pick up a little something about everything around them, whether it touches them personally or not. Here’s where the professional tendency comes in. The secular notion that seeps through all of society — that religion is a private matter, with no place in the public sphere — is as prevalent in newsrooms as in the corridors of government. This dampens — in the area of religion — the natural tendency journalists usually have to pry into things that are "none of their business." Most every paper has one or two people who are an exception to this rule — who take a keen interest in religion as religion, beyond their own personal beliefs. Those are the people who are specifically assigned to cover the subject. The problem, and the blundering, tends to come in when you have folks from other beats jumping in to help out on a religion story. While you can take, say, a political reporter and have him go cover a crime story and rely on him to know what to do, that’s just not as true with the religion beat. And given the unpredictable ebb and flow of news, there are always going to be people covering things outside their usual areas.
- The Military — There are about as few veterans in newsrooms as you find in most white-collar workplaces where most of the people are under the age of 50. Most journalists, unless they have had personal experience or have worked hard to learn about the military sphere of life, know less about it than they do about other lines of work they have never done personally. For instance, almost no journalists have ever been lawyers, cops or politicians. But they interact with those people a LOT more than they do with people in military service. There just aren’t as many opportunities to hang with the military as there are with, say, cops. Therefore, less learning occurs.
- Weapons of any kind — It might seem like this might fall under "military," but the problem extends far beyond that sphere. All reporters at some time end up doing a basic crime story. And that’s where they are likely to embarrass themselves seriously. How bad is it? I have during my career as an editor run across many a malaprop such as, "Police say the suspect fired at the clerk with a shotgun, but the bullet missed him." And I’ve seen things just as bad as that get into the paper — meaning that several people failed to realize that shotguns don’t fire "bullets."
- Money — Math tends not to be journalists’ strong suit. They were good at writing in school, not numbers, and to many people who think nothing of whipping together from scratch a 1,000-word news story requiring multiple sources in a couple of hours, figuring out a percentage change is seen as heavy lifting. This gets worse when the number involve money. Journalists tend to be less interested in money than the average person; its mystique doesn’t grab them, and they don’t grasp it. Most reporters are bright enough to have made a lot more money doing something else. But that didn’t interest them enough.
- Science/Medicine — You see a lot of "health news" in newspapers these days. What you don’t see is a lot of reporting that represents a sense of perspective or in-depth knowledge on these issues. This is improving somewhat, but most journalists are a long way from having the kind of easy familiarity with the sciences, including medical science, that they do with crime, punishment and politics. One reason, among many, would be that they generally don’t interact with physicians or physicists any more than they do with the military.
Anyone who IS conversant with in any of those areas can pretty well write his or her own ticket. Business writers — if they’re any good — are in high demand. Religion writers are in demand, but a little less so, as few papers have more than one or two religion writers, and they have entire staffs devoted to business. Supply and demand.
Few mid-sized papers have anyone devoted to military affairs. But when they do, if that person gets any good at it, once again you have a high-demand commodity. For instance, I was Dave Moniz‘s editor when we started the military beat back in the early ’90s. It was terra incognita for Dave, but he worked hard to develop expertise, and to break down the natural suspicion and even hostility with which most military people regard representatives of the press (I grew up in the military, so I know all about this alienation, and fully understand why it’s there). Anyway, Dave had only done that a handful of years before he went to USAToday to cover the same beat. You’ll see his byline on their front page from time to time.