Writing about criminal facts

Published 12:47 pm Thursday, January 5, 2017

For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to crime stories — not reading them, mind you, but writing them. I guess I should really say I’ve always been drawn to the crime beat.

For nearly my entire newspaper career, I’ve covered crime, law enforcement and courts. When you consider my love of reading science fiction and fantasy, crime may seem an odd choice.

However, any genre’s best stories, whether the fantastic, morbid or historical, have conflict at their core. Will the roguish spaceship pilot figure out who’s trying to kill him? Will the apprentice wizard overcome her fear of the magic she must learn to survive? Will the injured rancher find his horse?

Crime shows human conflict at about its basest level. My very first full trial was horrific, but also included moments where you wanted to cheer. It involved a man who, claiming to be a Nazarite priest, had so lorded over his family that when he killed his own 11-year-old daughter, he managed to have her older sister initially take the fall. He foolishly represented himself at trial and ended up cross-examining his own kids. At one point, he asked his 12-year-old son if he could call him by his nickname. “No, you may not,” the boy replied. That’s when a bunch of my fellow reporters and I looked at each other, knowing we had just captured a major point in the trial.

Covering crime allows us to let you, the public, know where trouble is — it’s part of your right to know. It also allows us to maintain a watchful eye on how law enforcement handles that trouble. Reporting on court proceedings lets you know whether justice is served.

Most of all, though, crime reporting gives you glimpses into the worst and best of the human condition.

Martin L. Cahn is the managing editor of The Farmville Herald. His email address is martin.cahn@farmvilleherald.com.