Nicholas Stuart is a columnist with the Canberra Times.
Nick Stuart has written three books,
Kevin Rudd: An Unauthorised Political Biography;
What Goes Up: Behind the 2007 Election; and
Rudd's Way: November 2007 - June 2010.
Monday, October 15, 2012
REPORTING THE COURTS
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 . . .
AND WRITING A COURT STORY
(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
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.
of the way the journalists have selected:
sources they have used
excerpts of the evidence they have focused on
they paraphrased evidence and court proceedings
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.
FOR REPORTING AND WRITING THE COURT STORY
The basic court story
-eg. Stephen David Loggins, 35
accused’s plea (guilty/not guilty), if it has been entered
·Loggins has pleaded not
guilty to the charge of armed robbery
·If not, state “no plea has been entered”
of how the crime or dispute occurred
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
-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
names of other parties
and accused (criminal case)
and defendant (civil case)
-witnesses (if they can be identified)
·Address to the court by counsel and
evidence of witnesses
·Judge’s/magistrate’s comments on sentencing
of courtroom action (only if it is newsworthy)
of the accused after sentencing (only if it is newsworthy)
present in the court (only if it is newsworthy)
·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
-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
Tommasi, the console operator, told the court Loggins approached him
brandishing a rifle.
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.
QUESTIONS FOR COMPREHENSION AND DISCUSSION
FROM THE WEEK NINE READING, THE
JOURNALIST’S GUIDE TO MEDIA LAW, BY MARK PEARSON AND MARK POLDEN.
1.Pearson and Polden write that covering the courts
can be a stressful experience for novice reporters. What conditions contribute
2.What is Pearson and Polden’s “golden rule” for
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
5.From reading the chapter, what is your overall
impression about the attitude of courts towards openness and transparency of
do you think is the rationale for the many laws and procedures that restrict
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
EXERCISES TO IDENTIFY NEWS LEADS,
ANGLES AND SOURCES FOR COURT REPORTS
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