Court Assignment Details

JOURNALISM & THE LAW
SPRING  2017

A TIP SHEET ON HOW TO TURN A COURT DECISION INTO A NEWS STORY FOR THE PURPOSES THIS CLASS

1. PURPOSE:

The purpose of this assignment is to challenge you to transform a heavy, jargon-ridden, footnoted opinion rendered by a court into a readable news story. Not an easy task.

2. WHY:

Citizens rarely read court decisions. But it is the court decisions that form the building blocks of our society. Hence, the most essential question- Who Will Tell the People?

The answer? You. It is your job as a journalist to read the decision, decipher it, parse it out and tell the general public what it means and how it affects them. Without you, and without the service you provide your communities, we would have no way of transmitting cultural knowledge. Judges will write law but it will stay bottled in the courtroom settings, steeped in ambiguous language, and the very people who are the party impacted by the court decisions will only learn about the law when they come face to face with it. That, of course, would spell the end of democracy, hence your role.

3. STRUCTURE:

NEWS STORY

COURT DECISION

NEWS STORY

HEADLINE

The court’s final word

It is usually a good place to look for a headline

Ex. Court legalizes same sex marriage

HEADLINE news story has a headline. It is your job to think it up and make sure it accurately reflects the content

LEAD:

This is usually contained in the beginning of the case summary, just need you to understand what it means.

Stories usually have summary leads, summing up the issue in a lay person’s language. Ex. Same-sex individuals will no longer have to call themselves “domestic partners.” Today, in an unanimous/ close decision,   the Supreme Court said same sex couples have the same human rights as their heterosexual counterparts.

SOURCES:

*Legal opinions are written by a designated writer, a judge or a justice who expresses the opinion of the court.

*Dissenting Opinions

Just like in a news story a writer is looking to offer the readers balance, meaning people who agree or disagree, in court opinions, judges or justices may disagree with the majority. Hence, a  dissenting opinion

*Concurring Opinions

Sometimes, jurists reach the same final conclusions, but for different reasons. Hence, a court decision may have one or more concurring opinions.

*For our purposes, the judges/justices will be your sources. (In a real life scenario, a story like this will also have sources such as lawyers, analysts as well as regular people who are impacted by the decision)

It is your job as the journalist to include “direct quotes” from all sides.

It is here that you also need to rely on your reading and comprehension skills.

There is no particular quote number you need to include, but as a general principle, you should be guided by meaning and look for novelty, originality and relevance when you make decisions whose quotes to include.

LANGUAGE:

Can be very technical

Do not use words you do not understand. Copying and pasting the quotes will not help your story.

LENGTH:

vary  in length

I require 1,500 words.

 

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