Age court reporter Adam Cooper

Adam Cooper at the Supreme of Court Victoria. Photo Caitlyn Quinn.
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"Some days you could have eight court reporters and still not be across it all. There are so many amazing stories up here." Adam Cooper started as a cadet for the Leader newspaper, before moving on to cover sport for 10 years at Australian Associated Press and joining the The Age in 2010. He talks to Caitlyn Quinn

How did you choose your specialty as a court reporter?

It was sort of a happy accident really. I hadn’t been at The Age long and I was working in sport and I’d spent most of my time working at AAP in sport and was quite keen to do something a bit different. And then one of The Age’s court reporters moved on to do something else and so there was an internal vacancy and I sort of thought, well yeah, it would be interesting. I expressed some interest and they were really keen for me to start.

The Age is now down to one court reporter. Do you think that we’re missing out on lots of stories and information?

Some days you could have eight court reporters and still not be across it all. There are so many amazing stories up here. That’s unfortunately the way of modern journalism. Everyone is sort of struggling with reduced resources and smaller news rooms. It’s unfortunate and it can lead to quite a heavy workload but my boss and I prioritise the case of the day that I follow. Ideally it would be great to have more colleagues covering courts but you could say the same for state rounds and sport. It would be great to have news rooms, more journos and local papers not closing everywhere as well, but unfortunately it’s a sign of the times.

What’s the most important story that you’ve told?

Probably the most important and most significant would be the George Pell one. Just because the significance of who he is and how he was in that position of power and also just how we were able to tell it as well…  [It also] ties in with all the sexual abuse cases, particularly with the church and religious institutions that seem to make up so many of the cases that I cover now. I would say that is the most significant one.

There’s probably no one example, but other ones that we tend to do a lot more now than we did 10 or even 20 years ago, would be domestic violence ones. They would never have been reported previously. Now it’s a real focus… Borce Ristevski would be the most notable domestic homicide in terms of the profile it’s had in the years I covered courts. That would be the standout of those.

How do you cope with the with the stress associated with court reporting?

They’re not pleasant stories. Everyone’s got their way of coping with it. I’m really big on going to the boss and just saying I just need a bit of a breather occasionally. You just need it otherwise it can spiral and effect you. The dedicated court reporters at each media outlet are really good at liaising with each other and we’ll have drinks occasionally. There’s a real sense of comradery and making sure everyone is looking out for each other. I think with the workload and the stress of the cases it tends to be only the court reporters that know exactly what you’re going through. My work is really good at checking up on me and making sure that I’m okay and I regularly ask for help if I need it.

Do you wish you did anything in your career differently?

I covered sport for a really long time at AAP and I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time, but I feel like I did it for too long… I’m pleased that I got out when I did to get a bit of a change and also, I’m pleased that I got into court reporting because it does feel like it’s meaningful. These stories matter to people and they have a real impact on people. There’s no greater buzz than telling the story really well and it feels like a significant story and sometimes occasionally people might email you and say thank you for highlighting this and I get a real kick out of that.

Adam Cooper. Photo Caitlyn Quinn.

What’s your advice for future journalists?

For court reporting, organisation is the key. Keeping detailed notes, and organised notes and keeping a diary and doing all those sorts of nuts and bolts type of stuff can be a bit mundane but it really helps… Having good shorthand because it’s like a dying art but it’s one of those few places that you do need shorthand… It sounds really trite but being approachable and pleasant to people when you’re approaching clerks because they’re the ones with the information and you need them to help you.

Broadly I guess for journalism it would just be, be persistent and don’t be afraid of looking at other ways to tell stories. In terms of finding job opportunities be prepared to go to country papers or country radio stations or news rooms, because it’s always a stepping stone and it helps you in the long run.