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Tips from Keren Rivas

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Keren Rivas, who previously worked as a reporter for the Burlington Times-News, gave tips on court and crime reporting to Janna Anderson’s class, Reporting for the Public Good.

Crime reporting is not something every reporter wants to do, but it can actually be quite exciting.

“If given the chance, this is a beat you want to do because it’s always different,” Rivas said. “There are murders, scandals, financial theft, etc.”

Rivas gave tips for both finding and writing stories.

Finding stories:

  • Police scanners are a good source of information but are not always accurate so make sure you fact check before publishing anything. Don’t publish names of suspects until they are confirmed. It could be very damaging to their reputation if it is false. Speak to officials to find out facts. You are more likely to get information if you can present what information you already have and ask if it is true.
  • Court records are a great resource to find civil filings (lawsuits, divorces, claims) and criminal files (arrest warrants, search warrants, motions, affidavits).
  • Property transactions can be found online.
  • Federal records can be found at a federal courthouse or sometimes online.
Writing stories:
  • Do not “convict” a person in your writing. This means not calling the suspect a murderer, rapist, robber, etc. Instead use terms like allegedly, accused of, police contend, etc.
  • Similarly, do not use the term “victim.” The person is not a victim until the suspect is convicted.
  • Avoid police jargon. For example, do not use “the car was black in color.” Say “a black car.” Police speak differently and do not use that type of speech in your writing.
  • Find patterns in data
  • Be compassionate. Build relationships with people and they will trust you.
Other things to remember:
  • Get to know officers, clerks, lawyers. They can be great sources of information and helpful when you need to find resources.
  • Develop sources.
  • Always go to the scene, be polite, ask questions but respect privacy.
  • Know police rank insignias.
  • Be thick skinned.

Written by juliasayers

April 15, 2011 at 11:49 am

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