Writing about crime isn’t always easy, especially if you’re just getting started as a freelancer. We’ve all read newspaper features that report crime in dry monotone, yet we all know how successful a good crime novel can be. As a blogger, the trick is to strike a balance between the two. To engage readers, you need to cover crime compellingly without making it a complete work of fiction.
Here are some tips for writing great blog posts about crime, law, and justice.
Find Reliable, Unbiased Sources
In the modern internet age, fact and fiction coexist side-by-side, and it can be difficult to distinguish the two. Websites with a particular political or social bias often appear like totally legitimate news sources, but editorialize their content in such a way as to make them an unreliable source.
Then you have tabloid sites, like TMZ or the UK’s Daily Mail, who aren’t particularly rigorous about checking their own sources. If you want your story to be taken seriously, avoid these sites like the plague. In fact, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid any editorialized content as a source. Even if it seems to be perfectly journalistic in nature, it’s easy to get lost in all the erroneously added details.
Instead, opt for straightforward reporting from news agencies like the Associated Press. Their reports are often short and to the point, giving you all the critical info you need to form the framework of your story, without slipping in any questionable details or opinions.
Turn Dry Reporting Into a Captivating Story
Try to make your post compelling to the reader. Some people prefer straightforward reporting, but they’re much more likely to visit the aforementioned news agencies to read that kind of content. Instead, give the story a little flair without exaggerating the details or making anything up.
For example, if a report by the Associated Press reads:
“Mr. Thompson says he woke up early in the morning on Saturday, around 6:00am, and found his front door had been bashed in.”
Your story could retain the same facts and information while being more interesting to the reader, like this:
“It was a Saturday morning like any other. Mr. Thompson awoke around 6:00am and discovered something disconcerting; his front door had been bashed in.”
Implying that it was a “Saturday morning like any other” is about as much embellishing as you should allow. It grabs the attention of the reader better than the AP report does, and taking that slight liberty is worth it. Remember, as a blogger, most of your material falls under the editorial category, even if you’re reporting recent news. It needs to be interesting to the reader yet able to pass rigorous fact-checking.
Get to Know Local Law Enforcement
As a blogger, you’ll probably be covering news stories from across the globe, but it still pays to have local contacts in law enforcement. Such individuals can provide valuable insight into a particular story and, if they’re willing, may provide a quote for your article.
Making contacts across the legal spectrum will give you valuable resources for your content. Even if the story you’re covering took place in New York while you live in LA, you can still ask a few Los Angeles criminal lawyers for their take on the story, and possibly include their statements as a quote.
So, how do you develop sources within law enforcement and the legal profession? This free course from Poynter News University will help you get started. It takes about an hour to complete, but the insights and tips it provides are totally it. Once you’ve learned how to cover crime, you’ll master the genre in no time.
You may also enjoy:
Should journalists help catch sources who commit crimes? Pierre Omidyar, Paul Carr, and Sarah Lacy debate