Walking into a court room for the first time can be daunting for a trainee reporter.
Armed with the right knowledge and training, a journalist will be well-equipped to deal with whatever comes their way.
From reporting the facts of a case to dealing with overzealous court staff, or challenging a court order, BJW tutor Ruth Lumley came up against all of the above while working as a court reporter.
There is nothing like the atmosphere in a court room when you’re waiting for the foreman of the jury to return the verdict at a big trial.
Palpable tension mixed with excitement, victory, sadness, joy, relief and fear as every corner of the room comes together to witness the outcome of a case which has often been weeks or months in the making and is about to change the course of many people’s lives.
The act of saying guilty or not guilty is such a simple one, but the weight behind those words is huge.
At BJW our students experience the magistrates and crown court as part of the course.
Not only does it give them a taste for what is to come, but all those court reporting and law lessons suddenly come to life.
I can still remember the name and the details of the defendant in the case I observed as a journalism student, and I expect many of our students will remember theirs too.
Courts can be a goldmine for stories so keep a regular check on magistrates and crown court lists to see what’s coming up.
Often a reporter will have been following a story as it breaks, or once someone has been arrested.
Keeping your own news diary is imperative so that when it reaches court you won’t miss any important court dates. A newsroom will also have its own diary which you should keep up-to-date in case another reporter needs to cover the case.
Always check that the hearing is going ahead the day before. Cases can be adjourned or court venues can change.
There is nothing worse than turning up to court to find out the hearing won’t be taking place or that it has, but in a different building.
You should also check to see if there are any court orders in place before you start writing. Breach a court order and you could find yourself in contempt of court.
Building relationships with contacts is key, and getting to know the ushers, clerks, solicitors and barristers will work in your favour.
That relationship of trust between you could pay dividends if you miss a vital piece of information.
All those shorthand lessons will pay off as you get what you need down in your notepad. You will have a verbatim note which you can refer to straight away, especially if you need to file your copy quickly, and that you can go back to should anyone dispute what has been reported.
Make sure you have plenty of spare pens too. You don’t want to run out of ink midway through the opening of a murder trial.
Always carry your press card, just in case you are asked for it, and keep a copy of McNae’s in your bag. You never know when you might have to challenge a court order.
Finally, enjoy it. Court reporting is fascinating and a great experience. I’ve never met a reporter who didn’t like it.