Former Times-News reporter offers tips for covering courts and crime
APRIL 13, 2011
You have to be compassionate and show your personality when reporting, Keren Rivas said.
Rivas was a reporter for the Times-News for six years and a 2004 Elon alumnus. Now she “has come over to the dark side to public relations” as Assistant Director of University Relations for Academic Communication, she said.
Rivas gave tips for reporting on crime and the courts to budding reporters at Elon University in a reporting class on April 13.
Rivas, who is originally from Peru, wrote on the court and crime beat for the Times-News. At first, one of her editors thought she might not be capable of the job, since there is so much legalese and court jargon and the U.S. court system differs from her home country’s, she said.
But another editor of hers had faith in her and took her under his wing, she said.
“This is the beat you want to do because it’s always different,” she said.
Police scanners are a great source for crime stories, she said.
But reporters need to be careful because the initial reports are not always accurate.
“I know we’re used to Tweeting, getting it out in the paper and online,” she said. “Don’t rush, check the facts.”
Just because a name is written in an official document, Rivas said reporters shouldn’t rush to put that name out in the world.
“Words carry a lot of weight and affect a lot of people,” she said.
Descriptions from the scanner can be hilarious and wrong, according to Rivas.
A caller can say the suspect is a white male in a black car, but it can end up being the opposite, a black male in a white car, she said.
Or a reporter can write the suspect was in a car that was red in color, police speak, when they meant to say they were in a red car.
Reporters and stories must also treat every side and everyone involved with the same level of respect to be fair to people in the community. People should make their own judgments.
It’s important not to put bias into a story, to talk about the accused and accuser in the same way, she said.
Reporters should develop relationships with sources, attorneys, lawyers, judges, police officers, security guards, clerks and others. Important information might be shared with a friendly, compassionate reporter who wants “to get the story right, not just first,” she said.
Introduce yourself to judges and others, let them know you’re reporting on the story, Rivas said. It’s good for them to know you’re there because then they may be more open to giving a quote after the court proceeding and confirming information or court terms.
Rivas mentioned a few websites that Times-News reporters and she use:
- alamancelivescanner.com-An online version of the police and fire department scanners for Alamance County.
- pacer.gov-Where federal records are listed. A subscription is required.
- alamance-nc.com/d/register-of-deeds.html-Property transactions in Alamance County.
View Rivas’ slideshow here.
Rivas on reporting compassionately
Rivas on reporting with fairness