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Reporting Crime News from the Scene

By

A photo of a crime scene

Covering crime news often puts reporters under editorial and ethical pressure to get the story.

Photo © Getty Images
Flashing lights, yellow police tape and blaring sirens provide the backdrop for countless crime news stories in cities across the country. Set yourself and your breaking news coverage apart from your competitors by remembering a list of standards you can apply to most crime news assignments.

Crime News Requires Sensitivity for the Victims

What is just a standard news assignment for you is a life-changing tragedy for the victims of crime. Too often, thoughtless reporters jam microphones or tape recorders into the faces of people who've just lost a loved one.

It's easy for any reporter to become part of the herd of media covering crime news, but decide right now that you will take a different approach. Stick to your decision even when you see competitors rushing to get pictures or interviews with a grieving family member.

While you may feel that you'll get beat on the story, remember crime victims have rights, which include the right not to speak to reporters. If you take a softer approach, you may land the interview that your overly-aggressive rivals fail to get.

Show the victims and their families compassion and give them some space. If you can't get their faces on camera, just talk with them. A simple conversation without a bunch of electronic equipment or even a reporter's notepad can produce information for your story. When other reporters are pushy, be patient.

Crime News Shouldn't Change Your Ethical Standards

Even veteran reporters can feel anxiety and stress while on the scene of crime news. Chances are, you're rushing to meet a deadline and have to get information quickly. But even though crime news doesn't happen to fit your schedule, it's not a time to lower your ethical standards so you can get your story finished.

A common ploy is to conduct an interview with a victim or family member without asking. TV reporters and their videographers are often masters at recording sound and video while making it appear they're just casually standing around. While it's true that a news crew on a public street can shoot video of a crime scene, an ethical line is crossed when a reporter tricks someone into an interview.

Another ethical line is crossed -- literally -- when reporters and their crews try to maneuver their way past the yellow crime scene tape that police use to set up a boundary. A photographer will try to get closer to the action to get that front page photo. This reckless behavior can cause injury if there's wreckage or debris laying around or can lead to a ticket or an arrest.

Set a code of conduct to maintain, even when you're under enormous pressure. Prepare yourself for the ethical dilemmas you may face so that you don't compromise your values in covering crime news.

Crime News Demands Digging for the Truth

While you're being sensitive to the victims and making sure you don't break standard rules of ethics, you still have to be aggressive in getting the information needed to write a crime news story. Passive behavior won't get results.

Working with police in covering crime news can be frustrating if you don't already have a good relationship with them. Sometimes, investigators may appear to be uncooperative just to make your job tougher.

Remember their job is to solve the crime and protect lives and property. It's their decision whether they have the time to stop what they're doing to appear live on a 6:00 newscast.

Work your police department sources for information, but be ready to be disappointed. Major details will likely have to be approved by supervisors before they can be released. Worse, the nuggets of information you spent hours trying to get will be announced to everyone at a news conference, so that the edge you hoped for is taken from you.

Be persistent, but not disrespectful. Police do have the authority to take you into custody if you're being a nuisance or are hindering their investigation. Before it gets to that point, call your newsroom to have a supervisor get involved. You won't get the story if you are physically removed from the scene.

Crime news coverage may be routine, but each instance is unique in the challenges you'll face. Bolster your skills so that the next time you hear the sirens, you'll be better prepared.

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