Keren Rivas shares advice for covering courts and crimes

Becoming a good courts and crime reporter takes commitment and passion.

Keren Rivas has learned this as the beat reporter at the Burlington Times-News. She explained the tricks of the trade to student journalists in the Reporting for the Public Good class.

“You are seen as the enemy on most crime scenes,” Rivas said.

Because of this, reporters must find ways to get around obstacles and still get a solid story.

First of all, she recommends that reporters listen to the scanners to find leads for stories. But she warned against publishing everything that comes across the scanners, because often it may sound different than the truth.

She focused on the importance of confirming things to prevent unnecessary panic in the community.

One way to avoid confusion is to actually go to the crime scene. Not only will it be easier to get the full story, but it will also provide better details.

“You’re going to see things that you might not like,” Rivas said, “but you have to be ready for it.”

A hindrance reporters often face at crime scenes is the police. Officers are sometimes unwilling to discuss things with reporters.

“Having an attitude is not going to help you when you’re dealing with cops,” she said.

Rivas gave advice on how to get past this hurdle.

First of all, she said reporters should stay out of officials’ way, so that the officers have no reason to be frustrated with them.

Secondly, she recommended that reporters learn what each badge and symbol stands for regarding the position on the force. That way, the reporter can find the most important person.

Then, the reporters must build relationships with that person. That way, they have a source for other stories.

This also applies in the court. Reporters should introduce themselves to the judges and know the clerks.

“Everything you experience in courts involves people and emotions,” Rivas said.

This creates a very sensitive issue, because people are directly affected by what the reporter writes.

The biggest thing reporters must remember is to never convict people ahead of time. Even after people are arrested, they are still “accused of” something or “allegedly” did something.

There is also no victim. There is a prosecuting witness.

Something very important for reporters to be aware of are Public Records Laws. All reporters should know them, so they can use them for their advantage.

Rivas encouraged journalists to be very careful, but bold.

“We have made mistakes and we have learned so you don’t have to,” Rivas said.

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