Keren Rivas comes to Elon University to talk about crime and courts reporting

By Daniel Temple
October 8, 2008- Keren Rivas, a former Elon student and court reporter for the Burlington Times-Union, was on campus to talk to students about crime and court reporting.  Rivas, who was born and raised in Peru, offered bits of advice on criminal reporting and included stories from her own experience. 

Keren Rivas, reporter, Burlington Times-Union

Keren Rivas, reporter, Burlington Times-Union


Ask Questions


One of the first points that Rivas addressed was the necessity of asking questions.  Asking questions, she said, is perhaps one of the most important things to remember, especially as a court reporter. 

It is often said that there is no such thing as a dumb question, and certainly Rivas would agree.  She believes that questions are vital, especially in a genre of reporting that can be unfamiliar and confusing. 

“Prosecutors and attorneys would rather you ask them for clarification then for you to print something that isn’t accurate,” said Rivas.

As Rivas pointed out, sometimes it’s better to go off record with court officials simply to get a better sense of the criminal justice system.  This will not only help you understand what you need to know, she said, it will also help you establish important trust relationships with key figures. 


Learn the People


Rivas explained that in order to be effective in obtaining information, one must be able to indentify with the people surrounding the story. 

“You need to learn the clerks and introduce yourself to the judges,” she said, “that’s the thing about courts; you need to know where to look and who to ask.”

The more a reporter understands about whom’s being reported, the more in-depth and intimate they can get with their story.  And of course when situations arise where you meet a new official or attorney, it doesn’t hurt, as Rivas admittedly pointed out,

“To act like you’re new to the scene and play dumb,” she said, “they’re more likely to let you in on things they wouldn’t normally say.”


Learn the System

as it is important to learn the people you’re working with, it’s also vital to understand the system you will be working in.  At all times, Rivas carries with her a small law book that gives specific legislature on print regulations. 

Rivas also commented on the importance of looking up and memorizing several terms and definitions.  Along those same lines she said how it was good to be fluent in “cop-speak”, the term for police related jargon. 

Rivas then proceeded to pass out same helpful sheets that listed a number of key terms and phrases.  She said that she and her co-workers also used these sheets as a resource, whenever they were unsure of a word or an expression. 


Always Respond, Be There First!


Another essential part of court reporting that Rivas talked about was always respond to a potential lead and try to be the first ones there.  Rivas told a couple of stories in which she responded quickly and it led to  valuable information and material. 

“This one time we showed up for a murder and they were still putting up the tape,” she said, “we got to see the woman who was shot, where it happened, how it happened…just because we got there when the police did.” 

Rivas stressed that you always have to be ready for a story as well, because they can happen at any time.

“You can never really afford to take a day off,” Rivas laughed. 


Police Scanner: Court Reporter’s Best Friend


A valuable instrument Rivas talked about in criminal reporting was a police scanner.  Reporters listen in on police scanners in order to obtain leads on potential stories.  They can often be used to get a jump on the competition and be the first ones at the scene. 

“We have the scanner on 24/7 in the newsroom,” Rivas explained, “one of the first things I do when I get to the office is tune into the police scanner.”

However Rivas also discussed the problems that can come with using a scanner to obtain information.  She told a story in which the Times-Union rushed a kidnapping story to the public after hearing it on a scanner, only to find out later that a kidnapping never even occurred. 

“There’s two things to know about the scanner,” said Rivas, “they’re great for getting information, and they can also mislead you completely.”

 Take Criticism and Deal with Jerks


One thing that Rivas said was unavoidable in her profession was dealing with people with a less than positive attitude. 

“You’re going to get a lot of criticism as a reporter,” said Rivas, “you have to be real thick skinned.  You’re going to run into jerks.”

In these encounters, Rivas advised, it is best to simply move on to the next highest official, and try to get answers from them. 

“The best thing you can do in these situations,” Rivas claimed, “is wait, hold back your emotions, and move on to someone else. 















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One Comment on “Keren Rivas comes to Elon University to talk about crime and courts reporting”

  1. Janna Says:

    Hobie, you have a good headline and it is great to see the still photo and video clip. You have an incredibly weak lead here. First of all, Keren is from the Burlington Times-News, which is the LOCAL newspaper, so she lives here and she wasn’t visiting town. Second, and most important, she gave dozens of tips that were of significant value and it was weak reporting to write that a reporter came to a reporting class to tell people to “ask questions.” All student reporters understand that asking questions is their business – her point went beyond that shallow account of what she said. You need to deepen the content and throw out all that weak stuff about asking questions. You have the video; there are plenty of other strong parts you can pick out and incorporate or you can write an umbrella lead where you include several key points in a little round-up in the first few sentences.

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