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BRINGING COURT STORIES TO LIFE

Television is often at a disadvantage when it comes to covering court stories. Even when cameras are allowed in court, the video and audio quality is often marginal. Stories often wind up being told with soundbites from lawyers interviewed in a hurry (up against a wall) and file video from the crime scene.

This tip sheet offers some alternatives for you to consider. Consult our guide to Internet resources on covering crime and criminal justice for links that can add context to your reporting. We also have a resource guide for covering the police beat.


Concentrate on Characters
  • Find someone who can help you tell the story behind the story. Instead of reusing file video to describe what the case is about, take someone who was on the scene when the crime or accident happened back to that place and have them tell you what they saw and felt.

  • Instead of shooting court documents and pulling out quotes which you voice in track, have someone connected to the story read from the documents, bringing them to life.

  • Decide on a central character. It may not always be the defendant. Consider stories that revolve around a witness, or the attorneys, or the judge in the case. Be sure to shoot plenty of closeups of your central characters.

Break the Code

  • If possible, plan ahead for covering specific cases. Learn the technical terms that may be used. Track down an expert you can call on at short notice to help you understand the day's developments.

  • Lawyers and judges often speak in jargon. If you must use their sound, be sure you translate it for viewers. Be clear and direct. Complete the picture with a phrase like: "that means..." or "in other words..."


Tell the Story

  • Testimony can be compelling, even when the pictures aren't. If it's strong, you can build a story from courtroom elements. If you can, get the testimony on camera; if not, you may need to read it yourself over other video. Use the actual words from the courtroom to give viewers the sense that they were there.
  • In some cases, the place where the incident happened can be a central character in the story. There may be differences in testimony which you can illustrate in a standup at that location.

  • Try to get pictures of the evidence in a case. Judges often will allow access to photos or even the evidence itself. Shoot as much as possible, so you can use different video as the trial progresses.

 

 

Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009
 

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