Crimes and court cases have always been some major areas of interests to most Americans, hence why shows such as CSI and Law & Order have been among the most popular television shows today. So it comes as no surprise that the news media has had some of its best moments covering crimes and court cases. One doesn’t need to look any further than the famous O.J. Simpson case last decade to see just how much people love court cases. The craziness and interest that news story caused was unprecedented and changed news coverage forever. Never before had one crime story meant so much to this country and newspapers played a huge role in covering the momentous event. These stories, though, can also be some of the toughest to write because they usually involve an extremely difficult interview with a family member of the victim. It’s always difficult to face those kinds of situations and to make someone relive those tough times usually won’t end well. But it is something that must be done and is one of the tougher parts of being a journalist.
Ironically, Simpson is back in the news and the courtroom again this week, exactly 13 years to the day since he was acquitted for killing his ex-wife and friend (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-oj4-2008oct04,0,1335043.story?track=rss). Simpson would not be as fortunate this time around, as he and a friend, Clarence Stewart, were found guilty of armed robbery and kidnapping after he and Stewart attempted to steal some O.J. Simpson memorabilia from two dealers in Las Vegas last year. Ashley Powers, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, was assigned to write the article and did not disappoint. Her article is a textbook example of how to cover an event like this. She is able to get great details and information to include in the article as well as paint some very powerful pictures. For example, her description of Simpson’s sister’s reaction shows why Powers was assigned to cover this big event. “From the gallery, his sister, Carmelita Durio, wept on a friend’s shoulder. Both defendants were handcuffed and taken into custody. Durio’s weeping became wailing as marshals escorted Simpson from the courtroom.” Powers also does a fine job of taking the information she got and transferring it from the courtroom to the newspaper. She tells us about how the prosecutors “painted Simpson as masterminding” the entire plan and about how Simpson’s attorney countered that accusation. This is overall an excellent article and something that bout Powers and the L.A. Times can be quite proud of.
But, besides the O.J. Simpson article, many of the other articles I found were very quick three paragraph articles that just had the basic information. You could tell it’s something that the writer put up to get something up on the event as soon as possible, which is something newspapers must do now to compete with television, the radio, and other news websites on the internet. It is still surprising to not find more complete articles or articles that the writer might have gone back and edited. These articles are just like the ones that our teacher, Janna Anderson, talked about in class. They include only the most basic information (who, what, when, where, why and how) and sometimes a photo and/or map or graph to go along with the article, such as in the two Associated press articles that I found, one on a North Carolina man getting 27 years in jail for molesting a 14-year-old girl (http://www.charlotteobserver.com/breaking/story/234642.html) and the other about a man killed and three wounded in a fight close to the San Diego State University campus early in the morning of October 4 (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-sdsu5-2008oct05,0,893225.story). This goes back to what I talked about in my last article summary on deadline reporting. At a newspaper, you want to get the information up on a story as soon as possible, as long as it’s the correct information of course. They call the local authorities to make sure all the information they have is correct and see if there is anything else they can add to the article. This is what the vast majority of crime articles will be in a newspaper, at least on the online version of the paper. This way, they can keep up with the fast world today and the reader’s insatiable want of instant information. Obviously, this is not the kind of article you would want in the print version of the paper because you would have to assume that your readership has already heard the basics about the story and that they want to hear new and more detailed information. Thus, you would put up this short story at around 2 in the afternoon and then spend the rest of the afternoon gathering information about the incident and putting together a good story to be printed in the next day’s newspaper.
Another similar story was found in the October 5th edition of the Charlotte Observer. Cleve R. Wootson Jr., along with help from WCNC-TV, wrote an article on a local family who is suing a troubled adult care home (http://www.charlotteobserver.com/breaking/story/234640.html). The family is suing because the facility has been missing a patient, a member of that family, since September 3rd. The article is also a quick piece, lasting only four paragraphs, but it includes more details and more information than the two articles mentioned above. Wootson is even able to get some quotes to go along with the article and some good detailed information, including names of the family member and what was wrong with her. This is a good small article to put into a newspaper or place on a website and then update later. It is a great start and has a good foundation to build upon for a good article.
One of the more interesting sections I found the paper was a part of the Los Angeles Times’ website called ‘The Homicide Report’ (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/homicidereport/). It is an online blog that has just stories of possible homicides in the Los Angeles area, nothing else. Even though that’s the only thing it covers, it surprisingly has more than enough stories to fill a few pages on an actual newspaper. In the three weeks of posting that can be found on the front page of ‘The Homicide Report,’ there are 51 different events listed in the Los Angeles area. It is amazing to see just how many of these events there are going on in one place and how much work the writers who are assigned to this beat have to do to keep up with all that. This blog was a great idea on the part of the Los Angeles Times and is something they can be proud of.