Analysis: Crime and Courts Reporting

Ultimately, in order to be truly effective as a reporter, one must report on situations that people want to read about. As a result, the public interest in crimes and court cases makes criminal reporting a popular genre.


Crimes and court cases are easy to work with because most of them, at their core, already have a packaged story. They naturally come with a sense of drama and the idea of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong is something that has fascinated readers for centuries.

These 5 examples of criminal writing demonstrate essential components of effective writing. They all are able to entertain as well as inform, but in a manner that is both respectful and dignified.

Caught in the web

By Cathy Frye

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 2003

Frye tells a chilling story about an innocent adolescent and an online sexual predator.

This article does an exceptional job of grabbing the reader’s attention and maintaining a certain level of excitement throughout the piece. From the opening paragraph, Frye vividly depicts the scene of the crime, and then meticulously outlines the background information leading up to the abduction.

Frye also does a marvelous job of maintaining sensitivity. The kidnapping, rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl is an extremely delicate situation, but Frye does well by not sensationalizing it.

One method that Frye employs is the withholding of critical information. She mentions the abduction and the events leading up to it, but not once does she tell of the outcome of the girl until the very end. This really helps in pushing the reader to continue on, as it builds suspense and adds to the elements of mystery and confusion.

Simpson isolated in jail, focuses on future appeal

By Linda Deutsch

Associated Press, 2008

This article talks about O.J Simpson and his current legal woes involving an attempted robbery that occurred close to a year ago.

This article, though not as intense as the Frye article, is still a good example of typical yet effective criminal writing. Celebrities are high profile individuals by status, and so any important news regarding their lives is going to be heavily reported.

It is important to find an angle that isn’t already being covered, while still managing to include the necessary basic information involving the story.

The piece is good because it gives the reader an idea of what O.J will be going through in the months to come. It doesn’t delve too much into past events (such as Simpson’s football career and murder trial) yet it still acknowledges them at points where it pertains to current events. Deutsch also does a good job of remaining impartial and refraining from submitting her opinion on the matter and on Simpson as an individual.

Humanity on Trial

By Linnet Myers

Chicago Tribune, 1989

Myers takes a look at one of Chicago’s busiest criminal courts.

One interesting thing about criminal writing is that it doesn’t have to be limited to reporting on the crime or trial of the crime. Rather there are many different approaches one can take when writing in this genre.

Myers, instead of focusing on one crime and trial, took a much more broad perspective and looked at the actual Criminal Court building. After a brief description of the building itself, Myers goes on to discuss the many trials and cases that go on throughout the year.

The reason that this article is so effective is that Myers allowed herself some flexibility. She was free to write about multiple cases and multiple individuals. She was also able to talk about the criminal justice system and the affect that has on so many Americans.

Overall, this piece is an excellent example of providing a number of angles on a single story. Myers took a simple building and made it represent all that is right and wrong with the U.S legal system.

B.C man found guilty in first-degree murder in fire deaths of five people

The Canadian Press

October 5, 2008

This article looks at the court case of a Canadian man who set a house fire that killed 5 people.

Some reporters such as Cathy Frye will withhold information in order to keep the reader hooked. However some reporters reveal the important information in the beginning of their articles, and then fill in the gaps throughout the remainder of the piece.

This is particularly useful to the reader because they can quickly obtain the information they want, and then choose whether to continue the story or not. In this story, the author does a good job of revealing the information, while still managing to keep the interest level high.

Once the most important information has been revealed, it is the reporter’s job to continue to use material that doesn’t waste the reader’s time. This article does a good job of going into the defendant’s history, as well as giving vivid descriptions of the action in the courtroom.

Metal to Bone, Day 1: Click

By Anne Hull

St. Petersburg Times, 1993

Hull follows the story of an attempted murder on a police officer.

What is so initially striking about this piece is the language that Hull uses to tell her story. Each paragraph is so vividly descriptive that story is dramatically enhanced.
Hull manages to capture her characters in a way that really helps the reader identify with them. She then uses these characters to tell a story from several different points of view.

Rather than use a one dimensional approach to telling her story, Hull weaves it all together, filling in the pieces bit by bit. She’s not just reporting on an issue or event, she’s entertaining the reader with superb diction and an expert’s ability to tell stories.

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