Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Writing about murder- Journaling about journalism

I promised in a twitter message that I would write about my experience on covering my first murder trial.

As this is a journal of my experience, not a news article, you will be reading some of my opinion.
Once again, I am not a lawyer, a judge, or on the jury. This is a story coming from an up-and-coming journalist who is LEARNING. Thus, this article despite my best efforts, may contain an error or two. Treat this like Wikipedia, not the L.A. Times.
Got it? Good.

The night before:
I was in class, stressing out about what I should do for my court article. It had to be on a criminal trial. The teacher was excellent at giving several tips including who I could rely on for information (read: not the court reporter, clerk, or judge. Who is left?) regarding the background of a specific case.

NOTE: I didn't have a clue what I was going to report on last night. So I asked God to help me out.

Morning and Afternoon.

When I went into the court house, everything worked out PERFECTLY. While going through the metal detector, I asked an Sheriff's department officer if he knew of interesting cases today. He said that there was going to be something going on in A-5 at 11. A CLUE!
So I went to A-5 around 10-1030. The judge was hearing several cases.
I approached the baliff's in the room and asked for more information, which they provided.
I also was able to talk to one of the detectives in charge of the investigation. He was also a witness.
I obtained contact info from both the prosecutor and the defense to obtain a statement later.
It really was like a puzzle. Getting one whispered clue about where I should be at such and such a time or who I should talk to to get specific information.
So, some tips for my fellow freelancers and beginning journalists:

Things I have learned last night and today:
1. Baliffs are your best source for background info.
2. Be careful of how loud you ask certain questions and be aware of your surroundings as you don't know who might me behind you e.g. the defendants family.
3. Remember, ANYTHING said in a courtroom is public and can be legally written about. Use your own discretion.
4. Be Bold. Don't be intimidated. Some people won't like you. Some people will. Please the people is not your job, telling the truth as accurately as possible is.
5. Nevertheless, be sensitive. Having had family in prison for crimes, I can tell you it is important to remember what your words will do to the families left in their wake.

Well that, is about it. 'Til next time

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