Attendees of the “From Cuffs to the Courthouse: How to Cover Criminal Justice” panel heard from four journalists currently covering the beat on their experiences. They shared tips on how to be an effective crime and courts reporter.
“I believe that this job is a privilege. It’s not easy,” KLAS-TV Investigative Reporter and panelist Vanessa Murphy said. “But we can change lives. I know it sounds corny, but we can make a difference.”
Creating and building relationships are critical to a reporter’s success when covering this beat, according to #CallingAllJournalists Initiative founder, Rebecca Aguilar. She suggested journalists should make time to meet with judges and police officers in person and ask to be shown around the precinct or courthouse.
Reporters on the criminal justice beat tend to overlook the importance of lawyers as sources, according to Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter, Katelyn Newburg. She said lawyers may not want to talk to reporters on the record, but they are a good resource to provide background, context, or additional information when a big case breaks.
When being called to cover a murder scene, reporters need to keep an eye on or learn about the victims, the survivors, the EMTs, detectives, forensics, firefighters and the coroners, Aguilar said.
One of the things Aguilar did in the beginning of her career was take criminal justice classes at the local community college.
“That’s how I learned about affidavits, arraignments, bond hearing,” Aguilar said. “So, if there’s a community college or college near you, take one. Just take a class. The more you know, the more that you can ask of an attorney or a judge.”
Don’t be afraid of asking questions that might sound stupid to lawyers because at the end of day, they’re people, Newburg said. She adds the importance of lawyers tends to be overlooked in the criminal justice beat. Even if they don’t talk to you on the record, they are usually happy to explain procedural issues.
Criminal justice reporters are covering humanity at its worst, which can take a toll on their mental health. Newburg said having friends outside of the industry to talk to is helpful because they have no idea what your job is. She said It also helps to not constantly think about work, and instead, establish a set time dedicated to reporting.
“Know when to say no,” KSAT reporter Daniela Ibarra said.
All the panelists shared similar words of advice to attendees.
“Don’t be afraid to hold people accountable and use their words to find out what’s true,” Ibarra said.