Law for dummies: A necessary source for journalists

By ALEX FRUIN

Whether you’re covering a murder case, a Ponzi scheme, or even a seemingly simple town hall meeting, if you’re a journalist, you’re going to come in contact with the law. Though a number of courses that deal with law are required to be eligible to graduate from the School of Communication, they mainly focus on the First Amendment rights journalists have (or do not have).

When writing stories, it’s important for journalists to have background knowledge of important court cases as well as a decent overall knowledge of the law of the area they cover. No matter how a story is related to law, FindLaw is a website that can serve as a “Law for Dummies” for anyone — especially journalists.

One part of the FindLaw site is a Learn the Law section that explains legal information of all types in ways that are easy to understand. For example, if a journalist is assigned to cover a case dealing with Civil Rights, FindLaw can direct that person to the basics/background of Civil Law, or more specific types of civil law, such as race or gender discrimination. One popular form of law that is constantly in the news is immigration law—but often it can be confusing to keep straight what states have passed recent statutes. In Miami, immigration law is a very important topic for thousands of news consumers, so it’s important to be able to keep on top of the immigration issue from a local standpoint.

Another great resource for journalists is the “News” tab which provides a feed of many AP articles dealing with law. This can be a great source for journalists looking for a story; since most of the stories are national or international news, a local journalist can use these resources to brainstorm ideas for a localized story. Viewers can also browse through many blogs, which cover a broad range of themes and are updated frequently so anyone can keep up with the most recent law topics.

Once the journalist has read up on the basic background of a topic he or she is researching, FindLaw can also provide local attorneys that can be helpful sources to a story. By just searching for a type of law and zip code, the information for hundreds of local attorneys can be accessed—many of whom may be willing to be interviewed on their topic of expertise. Regardless of level of experience, journalists can use FindLaw for a broad range of activities relating to national, state, or local law.

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