My court reports have been designed to be published online in The Age or The Herald Sun. Prior to compiling all the necessary information, I completed research online and read articles that dealt with similar subject matters. I tried to be creative and played with the format, toying with shorter pars and choosing the most evocative quotes.
I used elements that many writers of The Age utilise, such as presenting all the information in a simple and chronological order that would garner their attention. My reports have been designed to be published in the next few months leading up to both of the offenders’ next appearances in court. It is imperative that they would be published as soon as possible, as readers do not want to read about events that have happened in the past that no longer affect them or society.
My main consideration in selecting my angles was appealing to Murray Masterton’s “Big Six” News Values as stated in ‘News As It Happens’ as Stephen Lamble says that stories draw on “a combination of values” that appeal to readers.
I specifically focused on human interest.
Both cases deal with the current issue of drug addiction in Australia and I felt this delved deep into one of the three essential elements according to Masterton, ‘timeliness’. Australia is currently plagued with what journalists have been calling a rampant “ice epidemic.” This is a societal issue right now and it separated these two cases from the nine others I sat in on.
The fact that both defendant’s families were willing to take them in and give them a “second chance” in the words of the Magistrate, further appeals to an audience as it gives these cases a humanistic element; that this could have been anyone’s child who has simply fallen into a downward spiral. I believe it is hard not to feel sorry for the two offenders, especially as I was sitting in the courtroom and noticed how remorseful they both were.
There were legal issues while writing my court reports and I had to ensure that I was not breaking any rules. I had to keep contempt in mind, which can be defined as:
‘Words or actions, which interfere with the proper administration of justice or constitute a disregard for the authority of the court.’
In particular, I had to steer clear from ‘subjudice contempt’. According to Lamble, the main aim is “to ensure a fair trial for an accused person in a criminal case.”
The law says that not even the media should “publish anything that would interfere with the process of justice, or report anything that might be construed to indicate a charged person was innocent or guilty.”
I didn’t feel as though I was writing anything unethical. As there was no jury in the Magistrates’ Court, I couldn’t write anything that a juror or that the public could read that would influence their decision. Since they were bail hearings, I felt as if I didn’t have too many ethical decisions to make. Ultimately, I decided to name the informants as they added much to both stories and had valuable insight into both cases.
I did encounter impediments in choosing and writing my reports. I initially attended the County Court, which although didactic, was also slightly disorganised and sporadic. Some of the cases had been in session for months on end, so it was difficult to follow. Often, they did not have sufficient documentation ready for the judge, or they weren’t able to assemble a jury on time, so they would adjourn for the day. I was unable to jot anything down that first day, as no jury was present. I decided to attend the Magistrates’ Court the following week instead.
With regards to Case #1, I realised in the courtroom that I had a contact who was a patient at Riverside Clinic and who now works there. If so inclined, and if he was willing, I would be able to contact him to take this story further and perhaps produce a piece about the realities of rehabilitation and delve deeper into the challenging reality of detoxing.
With regards to Case #2, I would perhaps contact Colchester Medical Clinic in Bayswater to learn about their treatment plans.
I would also return to court on the two dates both defendants are due to return in order to write a follow up story.
 Lamble, S, 2013. News As It Happens. 2nd ed. Australia: Oxford University Press