Crime reporting tips for beginners

byBob Eggington
Jan 18, 2011 in Specialized Topics

Covering crime is one of the most challenging journalistic roles. It requires integrity, sensitivity, accuracy and an awareness of all that is going on around you. Here are the basic rules for reporting on crime.

People want to read about crime. It sells newspapers, TV advertising and book. It's about greed, violence, sex, revenge - all the really powerful human emotions. Sometimes crime reflects important issues in society: corruption, drugs, homelessness, hunger, lack of education, or whatever. And sometimes it is just a good story, with no wider implications. Either way, you need to cover it properly. Your audience expects it. So here are some things to remember about crime reporting.

1: Everything is built on the basics of good journalism

In crime reporting as in all other specialisms, you must first have acquired the basic skills of journalism. Your copy must be accurate. It must be spelled correctly. You must have facts to support every sentence you write. Your copy must be clear and unambiguous. It must capture the interest of the audience.

You must have facts to support every sentence you write

2: Success is built on integrity

Your personal and professional behaviour must be above reproach. You must be honest, thorough, trustworthy and fair-minded. You must be considerate and compassionate. Do not abuse the power or responsibility of your position. Accept criticism where it is justified. Correct your mistakes. Be punctual. Deliver your work on time and be a good colleague.

Do not abuse the power or responsibility of your position

3: Gather all the facts

This is a requirement of all journalism, but perhaps especially so of crime. The American newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer (the Pulitzer Prize is named after him) was very keen on crime reporting. He always wanted his reporters to provide 'details, details, details'. Readers want to know everything about a crime. What kind of mask were the raiders wearing? What colour was the getaway car? What was the weather like? The more facts, the better the story. So work hard, keep digging, keep adding facts.

The more facts, the better the story

4: Know your patch

The good crime reporter does not sit around waiting for the next bank raid to happen. To work effectively, you must have excellent contacts with all the relevant agencies, police, government bodies, courts, press officers etc. Cultivate these people. Make sure they have your contact numbers. You need a close working relationship, so that when a big story happens, they ring you to tell you about it, rather than you having to chase them for information.

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