Monday, October 15, 2012


Those in my journalism tutorials will be aware the next couple of weeks are involved with reporting the courts. Your assignment will be worth about a third of the marks for the course.

The details of the work are on the Moodle page.

This is a bit extra . . .

5572 REPORTING - 2012
WEEKS 9 to 11

 (Today is the beginning of Week 10, as your reference point.)

Over the next three weeks we will be focussing on the requirements for reporting and writing court stories. Details about the visit to the Magistrates Court are on the Moodle site. In the week beginning Monday 8 October (ie, week nine), the Monday is a public holiday and so the lecture and classes that day will not be held. Classes on the Tuesday will be held as normal. In lieu of the week nine lecture, slides for an introductory lecture about reporting the courts have been put on the Moodle site. What follows below is materials for you to work on with your tutors during the classes in weeks nine to eleven. Students in the Monday classes can begin working on the exercises in this document; the main thing I ask you to do before your visit to the Magistrates Court in week ten is to prepare by doing the reading set for week nine and working through the Magistrates Court media information package that has also been posted on the Moodle site in week nine.

In the readings and lecture slides, you will see how a court hearing is conducted, the main players involved in those hearings and what you, as a reporter, are allowed to write about. Remember, you should only report on evidence which is presented to the court and, for your own, sake, you should only report what you heard. If you missed some of the evidence, do not rely on a third-hand account from someone else who was in the court at the time.

In classes we are going to look at how you write court reports because as you will find when you return to court to cover a case (or may have already found if you have been back), court reporting can be unpredictable. The judicial system does not exist to deliver a supply of newsworthy cases for journalists to write about and, as a result, there can be parts of a hearing when the evidence is very procedural and contains little public interest and news value.

Nonetheless, as a court reporter, you must have your wits about you and always be ready to take note of any evidence which will help you piece together the story. Like all journalistic activities, writing about court proceedings demands accuracy, balance and an ability to work to deadline. On the next page of this handout is a guide to what you might include in a story. You won’t always be able to include all this detail because sometimes you won’t have been in the court to hear the relevant piece of evidence.

Read the handout below, Reporting and Writing the Court Story, and work to apply it to the activities we do in class this week and next. Return to this guide when you are writing your court story for assessment.

·      Take note of the way the journalists have selected:
-     the news angles
-     the sources they have used
-     the excerpts of the evidence they have focused on
-     the way they paraphrased evidence and court proceedings

·      Importantly, there are three ways which you might choose to lead a court story
the verdict: whether a person is guilty or not guilty
the sentence: the jail term or fine or community service given to the defendant
key evidence which highlights an important part of the hearing.

WEEKS 9 to 11

The basic court story
·      Full name
·      Age (if provided)
-       eg. Stephen David Loggins, 35
·      The accused’s plea (guilty/not guilty), if it has been entered
·      If not, state “no plea has been entered”

·      Details of how the crime or dispute occurred
·      The result or, if the case is continuing, a statement with details of next hearing
-       eg. The hearing continues tomorrow.
-       eg. The matter has been adjourned for two weeks

·      If case has concluded:
-       details of the sentence (criminal case) or court order (civil case)

·      Name of the court where proceedings have been held

Comprehensive court story might also include the following
·      Full names of other parties
Ø Prosecution and accused (criminal case)
Ø Plaintiff and defendant (civil case)
Ø Names and titles of:

-       judge/magistrate
-       prosecutor
-       defence counsel
-       witnesses (if they can be identified)
·      Address to the court by counsel and judge/magistrate
·      The evidence of witnesses
·      Judge’s/magistrate’s comments on sentencing

·      Observation of courtroom action (only if it is newsworthy)
·      Reaction of the accused after sentencing (only if it is newsworthy)
·      Individuals present in the court (only if it is newsworthy)

The story
·      Consider the most newsworthy angle for your story
-       Was it the decision: guilty or not guilty?
-       Was it the sentence?
-       Was it key evidence?
·      A court case entails hours, days and sometimes weeks of evidence, which is not all newsworthy, nor can it all be directly quoted
-      most of your story will require paraphrasing and summarising of the evidence .
·      Your story should include details in the dot points above under the heading, “The basic court story”.
·      Quote evidence as you would quote a source, for example:
John Tommasi, the console operator, told the court Loggins approached him brandishing a rifle.
“I just completely panicked and screamed and then he started shouting at me to get the cash out of the till or he’d blow my head off,” Mr Tommasi said.
·      If the court case has not reached a conclusion, indicate its status.
-       The hearing is continuing.
-       The hearing has been adjourned until next week.

-       After being found guilty on one count of armed robbery, Loggins will be sentenced next week.


1.    Pearson and Polden write that covering the courts can be a stressful experience for novice reporters. What conditions contribute to that?
2.    What is Pearson and Polden’s “golden rule” for court reporting?
3.    What is the difference between exhibits and documents that are termed MFI (marked for identification)?
4.    What is the difference between a cumulative and a concurrent sentence?
5.    From reading the chapter, what is your overall impression about the attitude of courts towards openness and transparency of justice?
6.     What do you think is the rationale for the many laws and procedures that restrict reporting?

At the end of the chapter Pearson and Polden have listed 10 discussion questions and exercises. You can do any or all of them, but I would recommend at the least doing questions three, six and eight.


Below, you will find several court reports and questions that have been drawn from the 2011 curriculum for 5572 Reporting, so please ignore the week 11 heading. First, there are two stories, “Theft of a $35 pizza costs man $400” and “Nurse tried to speak before death”, where the news leads, news angles and news sources are identified. Then there is a report, “Ex-NRL star jailed for drug dealing”, where you are asked to identify the news lead, angle and source yourself. A further three news reports are provided for you to practice the identifying process.    

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