Reporting on crime and court & balancing a watchful eye with authentic reporting to deliver the truth

Multimedia journalism by Mariah Posey | March 6, 2017

Crime Top 10Before jumping into more substantive journalism, young reporters often begin their careers with a police beat, covering everything from fires to suicides. Though unfavorable at times, the beat can provide the opportunity for highly valuable reporting to reporters who can fully embrace the responsibility. When executed correctly — according to chapter four of America’s Best News Writing, “Crime and Courts,” — reporters “play a key role in creating a safe and just society.”

Below are some distinguished examples of civic journalism done by reporters who learned to successfully cover the dramatics of crime and courtrooms without falling into the trap of exaggeration of sensationalism.


Cathy Frye – “Caught in the Web: Evil at the Door” (2003)

85_8101238bWhen Frye chose to delve into uncovering the story of Kacie Woody’s abduction, she could have easily aligned with the “every parent’s nightmare” cliché that has become a staple for journalists. Rather, she scoped out an angle that stayed true to the horror of the events that unfolded while finding an in through a fresh angle. Her writing was selected by her editors as the year’s best non-deadline writing.

She let the events unfold in her writing from a variety of perspectives including Kacie’s, Kacie’s father, one of her online boyfriends, and even the stalker that would go on to kidnap her. Through chronology and a blend of narratives and a series of instant messages, Frye builds the suspense to what is ultimately an unanswerable question:

modelbehavio63: i am going to get off of here but i will leave it connected just in case . . . thanks so much for the help

Tazz2999: anytime but can answer sumthing 4 me

modelbehavior63: whats that?

Tazz2999: what happen to Kacie . . .

Linnet Myers – “Humanity on Trial” (1989)

linnet_5In order to soon win the ASNE award for government reporting, Myers had to adopt the eyes of the citizens and consider what they would most care about. While working for the Chicago Tribune, Myers wrote stories about Chicago’s Violence Court. Throughout the piece, she includes dialogue from the many parties involved, adding life into her writing. She even includes seemingly small commentary such as the judge saying, “You’re off aquarium duty. Do you understand?

Anne Hull – “Metal to Bone, Day 1: Click” (1993)

9_719152741bThe piece that would win Hull the 1994 ASNE award for non-deadline writing wasn’t short by any means. Rather, it was long, in-depth and full of details. Her reconstruction of the events that led up to a teenage boy’s decision to hold a gun to a police woman’s head and pull the trigger took the time to gain an understanding of both sides. She reported informatively and impartially.

“I wanted to bring a mugshot to life and let them learn about the life behind this photograph, and the path that swept this person to crime,” Hull said.

“Metal to Bone,” her three-part series includes exhaustive reporting conducted through shoe-leather and extensive interviewing. What results is reporting that reads similar to that of a novel, but includes authentic happenings and dialogue.

More Examples of Crime and Court Reporting

Sari Horwitz – “Justice in Indian Country” (2014)

Albert Samaha – “This is What They Did For Fun” (2015)

Daniel Engber – “The Strange Case of Anna Stubblefield” (2015)