Legal Leads: Crime and Court Reporting

By Erin Valentine

Crime reporting is no easy task. Courtrooms consist of cases from neighborhood squabbles to heinous murders. Certain cases can easily become sensationalized in the news. A crime reporter has the responsible of a watchdog. Someone who keeps an eye on civil order and freedom, and who is not afraid to speak out against injustice.

Infographic by Erin Valentine

Infographic by Erin Valentine

“Caught in the Web: Evil at the Door” by Cathy Frye; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 14, 2003

This terrifying story is told, almost completely, from direct quotes from an Internet chat. This is the perfect example of technology today, and the fact that an Internet chat can show the course of an evening, down to the minute. With excruciating detail, and a heavy dose of storytelling elements, Frye brings the reader into the home, and mind, of the victim. The whole concept of developing any relationship is immediately questioned. It is also holds a strong sense of foreshadowing from the very beginning. The reader is aware that something is going to happen to the subject of the story. Yet, we still read on, hoping for a different ending.

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“Humanity on Trial” by Linnet Myers; Chicago Tribune, February 12, 1989

Myers gives an inside look into the revolving door of a courthouse, and the cynical reporters inside waiting to hear the next case. Myers does an amazing job of setting the scene and mixing in statistics so that the reader can both be in the courtroom and see the big picture at the same. She also talks about the rules of the courtroom, which only insiders would know. Courthouses have sticky and sad histories with very little change, and Myers shows that, although a multitude of cases may come in, each has a story behind it and a person crying for a loved one.

“Metal to Bone, Day 1: Click” by Anne Hull; St. Petersburg Times, May 2, 1993

Hull gives another great example of looking beyond just the facts. Instead of just reporting that a gun was pulled on an officer, Hull goes beyond the lines and gets the stories of the officers and the residents. Hull is able to dispel stereotypes, and instead show that some people are scared, stuck or just want to show-off. Crime reporting can go far beyond just regurgitating the facts. There are stories beyond an incident, they just need to be explored and told so others can understand.

Other Examples of Crime and Courts Reporting:

“‘I Saw Death'” by Jeff Kunerth, Stephen Hudak, Denise-Marie Balona and David Breen; Orlando Sentinel, May 24, 2012

The headline of this article makes you almost have to read it. With pictures, direct quotes and experiences, and detailed first-hand accounts, the telling of a death of a marching band member because of hazing is striking. You aren’t just told that the victim with beat up. The situation and ritual of the hazing is explained, and that brings a lot to the story. They were finalists for the 2013 Local Reporting Pulitzer Prize.


“The Day Care Threat: Asleep at Day Care, and in Deadly Peril” by Brad Schrade, Jeremy Olson, Glenn Howatt; StarTribune, May 6, 2012

To pull in readers, Schrade, Olsen and Howatt paint a picture that is terrifying in the essence it is so possible. A parent’s worst nightmares are contained in the first few sentences in their article. This draws you in, because you as the reader want answers. You want to know why an innocent child died. All because a few sentence at the beginning established an emotional connection. They received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting.


“High Court Hears 2 Cases Involving Assisted Suicide” by Linda Greenhouse; The New York Times, January 9, 1997

Greenhouse does a great job of taking issues in the Supreme Court and making them understandable and relatable to readers. This is such an essential part of crime and courts reporting. Stories need to be intelligent and have all of the information, yet they also need to be easy to process. Greenhouse won the Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting in 2008.



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