Today I shadowed a NY Daily News reporter while she attended trials at Brooklyn Criminal Supreme Court. The following are some things I learned while running around with her.
  1. Listen carefully!
    You can't record audio in a courtroom and there's a lot of background noise (creaking benches, ruffling paper, snoring). Everyone generally speaks quickly and often times quietly. You also can't just interrupt a trial ask a judge or witness to repeat things. So sit on the edge of your seat, single out who you got to hear, and listen.
  2. Take good notes
    Trials can begin and end within minutes, and usually when they finish, you have to get up and run to the next one. Because of how swiftly everything unfolds, be sure the notes you take are legible and clear. You may not have much time to clean them up before the next trial.
  3. Research before you go in
    You want to know exactly who's who and what's going on while the trials in session. You don't want to waste time trying to understand what the charges are or what they mean when you could be jotting down good quotes and details.
  4. Get the judge, the attorneys, and both sides in the story
    If you are trying to be honest and truthful, don't leave out any of the key players in the trial. Obviously.
  5. Human detail please
    Courtroom stories are horribly boring for the average person. Remember to take notes on how the defendant, plaintiff, attorneys and judge react to the proceedings. Is the defendant stuttering and choking up? Note it! Did the judge interrupt an unruly lawyer? Note it!
  6. The story does not end when the trial ends
    Sometimes drama unfolds when the proceedings are done. Sometimes family members get angry and shout profanities when they're angry with the verdict. Sometimes this happens outside the courtroom. So remember to take note of the immediate events following the verdict in the lobby, or even on the way out the door.
  7. Be chummy with your colleagues
    Be nice to lawyers, judges, and fellow reporters. You need these connections as potential sources. Say hello and introduce yourself! It's ok to help out a fellow reporter if they missed something important in a trial. Though, of course, don't allow others to advantage of you.