From bizarre to heartbreaking: the perils and joys of court reporting

Genevieve Alison, court reporter for the Herald Sun. Photo supplied.
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The stories that come from working in courts have cast a spell over Genevieve Alison. She talks to Eden Young.

“I fell in love with journalism … the environment, the fast pace of the news and the newsroom.”

Herald Sun journalist Genevieve Alison was caught by court reporting after working in general rounds when she started out.

She says the Euridice Dixon case – Dixon was murdered when she walked across an inner city park after working at a comedy gig – was one of the hardest she has had to report on.

How did you break into court reporting?

I did work experience in my third year and then ended up applying for the News Corp traineeship. I wasn’t successful the first time round but 12 months later I applied again and was successful. Then I did about two or three years of general reporting, after a few years I started filling in for court reporters more and more whenever people went on annual leave. They had an opening about three years ago and I moved up full time.

Why do you love court reporting?

Every day is different. You go into a different courtroom and there’s a different story, and sometimes they’re quirky and bizarre, and sometimes they’re heartbreaking and sad, but they’re all as important.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Cardinal George Pell or Bob from Broadmeadows. When you go into the justice system and the court process, you’re dealt with the same as everyone else.

How do you approach cases?

I try to put on a little bit of armour. Yes, these are real people, but I’m here to do my job and my job is to write the story and then once you file it, you really try and close it.

It’s not my job to counsel these family members or get caught up on what kind of sentence they got or anything like that. My role is to report the facts.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a court reporter?

There’re usually stories that hit you more so than others, and for me, I find it’s the stories that you can relate to in some way.

The Eurydice Dixon case was quite hard to cover because you found similarities between you and the case. You know, the young woman who was just walking home, had every right to be doing that and her life was taken.

How do you manage the stress?

I find talking about it with colleagues is probably one of the main things that will help. Every day after the Eurydice Dixon hearing we’d sit down and debrief, vent… Just talking it out rather than bottling it up is massive.

What’s your advice for future journalists?

Go that extra step, make that extra call, send that extra email, and do that little bit more. 

Starting at a local paper is a good place to get some stuff published because that was always the hardest thing when applying for jobs, not having any published work.

If you do work experience, most places will allow you to write a couple of articles and it gives you a real understanding of what it’s like in an actual newsroom.

I think for any young reporter, start just doing the general round because it gives you a taste of everything … you can see what you really like.