Covering crime and the court system can be challenging and fascinating. Loaded with human drama, the courtroom has been compared to the theater where everyone — the attorneys, judge and jury, and the accused — all have their roles. The element of theatre doesn’t stop with the actors. Comedic moments occur, heart wrenching stories told and moments of high drama all happen when the defendant’s freedom, or live, are at stake.
Here are some things to keep in mind when covering a trial.
Select the Most Appropriate Court
Choices of court coverage range from small local courts up to the highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. Visiting a small local court to get your feet wet sounds tempting. The smaller courts are limited in scope; how long can you watch people fuss about traffic tickets. A better starting point would be a state superior Court. Most trials in superior court are for felonies and it’s where you’ll find most court reporters.
Before covering a highly publicized trail, read up on it. Learn everything about the case, the accused, the victims and the attorneys handling the case. Lacking a specific case, a visit to the court clerk’s office can help. A review of the docket can show which trials are beginning on the date you want to visit.
Find a Mentor
Every criminal justice system has at least one journalist that has experience in covering it. Find that person. In smaller communities, you may already know them or it could be as simple as calling the courthouse and asking. In larger areas, a little detective work may be in order. Read articles about cases in the court that you wish to cover and notice the byline. You may find the reporter’s LinkedIn profile or other social media. Send them a brief note asking them to meet.
Research Some More
There are thousands of articles and tips online. Some of the best places to start reading are listed below.
Asking the Right Questions on the Crime Beat
(Rebecca Catalanello, June 6, 2008)
A Reporter’s Cold Case File: Justice for Linda
(Chip Scanlan, January 24, 2006)
Leaving Fingerprints: Inside the Police Beat
(Meg Martin, November 19, 2005)
Smarter Crime Coverage
(Al Tompkins, May 7, 2004)
Court Data Online
(Jonathan Dube, October 16, 2003)
Setting Priorities in Trial Coverage
(Bob Steele, September 4, 2003)
Online Crime Stats Better Than Sourcebooks
(Jonathan Dube, December 5, 2002)
Tips for Covering Cops
(Chip Scanlan, December 3, 2002)
(Sree Sreenivasan, December 2, 2002)
Handle with Care: The Victim’s Perspective
(Bob Steele, May 18, 1996)
First Amendment / FOI Bibliography
(Poynter Online, 2005)
Courts (Federal Law Materials – Judicial Opinions) (LII)
Courts (State) (LII)
Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma
Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Judiciary
FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports
FindLaw Legal News: Crime
Institute for Justice and Journalism (USC Annenberg)
Justice Research and Statistics Association
National Archive of Criminal Justice Data
National Criminal Justice Reference Service
News University (Poynter/Knight Foundation)
Training for Journalists. Anytime. Anywhere.
Office of Justice Programs
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Office for Victims of Crime
The Smoking Gun
Social Statistics Briefing Room: Crime (White House)
Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics
UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention
Victims and the Media Program (Michigan State University)
World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems
Alexander, S.L. Covering the Courts:
A Handbook for Journalists.
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.
Buchanan, Edna. The Corpse Had a Familiar Face:
Covering Miami, America’s Hottest Beat.
New York: Random House, 1987.
Chermak, Steven M. Victims in the News:
Crime and the American News Media.
Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.
Denniston, Lyle W. The Reporter and the Law:
Techniques of Covering the Courts.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.
Ericson, Richard, ed. Crime and the Media.
Brookfield, VT: Dartmouth Publishing, 1995.
Ericson, Richard, Patricia Baranek and Janet Chan.
Crime, Law, and Justice in the News Media.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
Freedman, Warren. Press and Media Access
to the Criminal Courtroom.
New York: Quorum Books, 1988.
Gelman, Mitch. Crime Scene:
On the Streets with a Rookie Police Reporter.
New York: Times Books, 1992.
Gerald, J. Edward. News of Crime:
Courts and Press in Conflict.
Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1984.
Graber, Doris A. Crime News and the Public.
New York: Praeger, 1980.
Gregory, Peter. Court Reporting in Australia.
Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Hinton, Derek. The Criminal Records Manual.
Tempe, AZ: Facts on Demand Press, 2004.
Jewkes, Yvonne. Media and Crime.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004.
Kelly, Patricia A., ed. Police and the Media.
Springfield, IL: Thomas Books, 1987.
Krajicek, David J. Scooped!
New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Lipschultz, Jeremy H. and Michael L. Hilt.
Crime and Local Television News.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.
Lotz, Edward, Roy. Crime and the American Press.
New York: Praeger, 1991.
Martin, Fenton S. and Robert Goehlert.
How to Research the Supreme Court.
Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1992.
Potter, Gary W. and Victor E. Kappeler.
Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1998.
Silver, Kurt. Understanding Crime Statistics:
A Reporter’s Guide.
Columbia, MO: IRE, 2001.
Simpson, Roger and William Cote.
Covering Violence. 2nd edition.
New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
Society of Professional Journalists.
Covering Campus Crime.
Arlington, VA: Student Press Law Center, 1996.
Surette, Ray, ed. Justice and the Media.
Springfield, IL: Thomas Books, 1984.
Media, Crime, and Criminal Justice.
Belmont, CA, 1992.
Best Business Crime Writing of the Year.
New York: Anchor Books, 2002.
Wingate, Anne. Scene of the Crime:
A Writer’s Guide to Crime-Scene Investigations.
Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1992.
Wykes, Maggie. News, Crime and Culture.
Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 2001.
To know more on Crime Bibliography contact NYC Criminal Defense Attorneys.