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Your assignment is to write a news story from this audio recording of a news conference about an arrest by local police. Remember to text questions to the spokesperson.
Covering crime, accidents & courtrooms lecture notes
YOUR PREPARATION— do some background research, if at all possible, even on breaking stories.
- Preparing for the crime story — initial reporting often at the scene; most information comes from police, victim(s) and witness(es); think convergence (audio/video, digital camera); timing is important; always check the police report, but do your own reporting; check news library upon return from crime scene.
- Preparing for accident and fire stories — check the official report first; if you’re on the scene, you’ll need to get basic information (what hap- pened, where, victim information, injuries, witnesses).
- Preparing for the court story — most stories are follow-ups; often diffi- cult and complex, so ask attorneys and judges lots of questions before and/or after court sessions and during recesses.
WRITING THE STORY
- The crime story — chronological order vs. inverted pyramid; possible “so what” sidebars.
- Accident and fire stories — observe and actively solicit information; keep digital recorder and camera handy, and collect basic information; question person in charge; try to find and interview witnesses; try to find friends or relatives of the victims; interview the victims if possible; talk with others at the scene; be sensitive to victims and their families; sketch elements of the scene on paper; record your interviews.
Several tips for police stories:
- Names, ages, addresses, condition of victims.
- Witness accounts and/or police re-creation.
- When and where accident occurred.
- Why or how it happened, or who was at fault (as determined by officials).
Fires are more difficult and dangerous because they’re active, more confusing; fire tips:
- Names, ages, addresses of those killed, injured, missing.
- Name of building owner or landowner.
- Value of building and contents, or land value.
- Whether building and contents were insured.
- When fire started, who reported, level of response.
- Cause of fire, if known.
The court story — news value is paramount.
- Avoiding libelous statements — accuracy is critical; ask lots of ques- tions; everything in open court is fair game, but no privilege for spectator comments during a recess.
- A typical first story — arrest and charges.
- Follow-up story: First court appearance — reporters must know about basics of law, federal and state court organization, and procedure.
- Follow-up story: Preliminary hearing — in some states, defendants are indicted by a grand jury.
- Follow-up story: Arraignment— pleas and plea bargaining happen at this stage; motions for disclosure or suppression of evidence, and for a change of venue, can follow.
- Follow-up story: Trial testimony — jury selection, opening state- ments, examination of witnesses (direct, cross, re-direct) including rebuttal witnesses, jury deliberation
- Follow-up story: Verdict — juries can “hang”; after a conviction, some juries can recommend a sentence; sentencing usually comes at a sentencing hearing
III. OTHER ISSUES IN CRIME AND COURT REPORTING
- The free-press/fair-trial controversy — the Sheppard case; O.J. Simpson case.
- Gag orders and closed trials — currently, courts generally support trials being open to the public and the media (Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia).
- Covering sex crimes.
- Sex crime victims — concerns about victim names being made public.Sex crime offenders — generally, proceedings are open except for some youthful witnesses.
- Press-bar guidelines — not legal contracts; many media groups are withdrawing because of concerns the guidelines could become mandatory.
- Cameras in the courtroom— generally allowed (in 47 states and in some lower federal courts).
- Coverage of minority groups — avoid gratuitous mentions of race in crime stories; also, sexual orientation should be off limits unless it is the focus of a story (Dahmer case in Milwaukee).
- Coverage of terrorism— alleged terrorists being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
- Issues of taste and ethics.
- Reporting details of crimes.
- Reporting confessions and prior convictions.
- Identifying juveniles — editors must decide.