So you wanna be a crime reporter, huh?
Well pay attention, because the following is a public service announcement, just for you.
Today, some J School students at Concordia University, received a humorous and insightful lecture on crime reporting, from two people in the know.
Pat, is an 18 year veteran of the Montreal police force. Her first 11 years were spent as a patrol officer, and now she is assigned to Community Relations. Dave, is the editor for a Montreal community paper, and he has been a crime reporter for 13 years. He told the audience, "If you can report on crime, you can report on anything."
By that he meant that the subtle nuances and details, that are inherent in crime reporting, can, and will, trip up any reporter. Be you a seasoned vet or a wet-behind-the-ears newbie, you're going to mess up. The key is how well you handle the aftermath of your mistake, and the resiliency of the relationships you cultivated with the police. If you can handle these deftly, honestly, and with the care and respect they deserve, then you should be able to report on absolutely anything.
Trust is a component of any relationship, and it is paramount in a journalist/law enforcement partnership. If a journalist sensationalizes a crime story, or makes the police look bad, then that journalist is going to suffer the severest of consequences - the freeze out!
The police won't return your calls. They won't feed you information. They won't assist you in the future. You'll be blacklisted by the force. In short, you'll become a pariah. So don't cheese them off! If you do, and you were hired as a crime beat reporter, how long do you think you'll be gainfully employed? Obvious to be sure, but keep reminding yourself of those facts.
Dave gave some helpful guidelines to follow;
1) You've heard the expression - You never get a second chance to make a good first impression? Yeah, well don't slouch with these guys, because the first contact is key.
2) Know what you're going to ask, before you call the police. They have neither the time nor the patience for "dead air" - Be prepared, and don't waste their time.
3) Descriptions of people are only printed if the police are looking for someone. (Manhunt, Missing persons, Abductions)
4) PAY ATTENTION!! Ask a ton of questions, because the more information you have, the less likely you'll miss something. Also, a small detail in your initial interview may actually loom large later on. As Dave said, "You can never tell what may become important later."
During Dave's talk, Pat gave knowing smiles and nods of agreement. She also added some tips of her own;
1) Don't ever give the police the, "I'm on a deadline." schtick. Guess what? So are they! Your deadline is not their deadline.
2) Phone them well in advance of your deadline. Let them feel like they're in control of the situation. You'll have a better chance of getting your valuable information that way, no guarantee mind you, but a much better chance.
3) After your initial call (personal visit, or phone call), wait for them to contact you. You're not the only person on a tight schedule, so give them the time to respond that they need.
A crime reporter has to cultivate trust with the police community, and years of effort can evaporate in the blink of an eye, if for but a single instance of carelessness. As Pat mentioned, so eloquently, when describing a journalists appeal to the police,
"Credibility is all you really have."