Q&A with crime and courts reporter Jennifer Kraus
What's it like to be a real-life crime reporter?
My name is Jennifer Kraus. I am a staff writer with the Brainerd (Minn.) Dispatch.
I’ve been with the Brainerd Dispatch for 21 years and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I love sharing people’s stories and sharing important information that needs to be shared.
I have two children, Mackenzie, 19, and Jake, 16 (turns 17 on July 22); and an 11-year-old Springer Spaniel named Reese. They are my world.
Q. Describe an average day in the life of a crime reporter?
A. Each day is different as you never know when something will happen. As a crime reporter, I go through a lot of police reports, in-custody lists for several counties as well as court reports, looking up complaints and trying to stay on top of cases. We listen to the police scanner and when something happens - it doesn't matter what I am doing - I gather my things and take off to head to the scene to get the story.
Q. Have you ever had to report on someone you know?
A. I don’t think so. I may know of them or a friend may have known them, but I don’t think I have written about anyone I know about a crime.
Q. How do you decompress after covering a challenging case?
A. Sometimes just taking a break in the breakroom or going outside to take a few minutes to take some deep breaths. Sometimes talking it out with a coworker to process some of the information.
Q. What is the hardest part or most frustrating part of your job?
A. It’s frustrating when people don’t call you back. Or when you are at the scene and they (law enforcement or firefighters) know why you’re there and they don’t come talk to you right away, just to make you wait, which could be hours.
Q. What are the limits when it comes to reporting autopsy and crime scene information?
A. Autopsy results we would report on and would make it understandable to the public, and would generally be pretty generic. Wouldn’t use their scientific terms.Crime scene information we would also keep pretty general and would include color, but wouldn’t report on any gruesome, gross details. We also leave out graphic details involving sexual assaults.
Q. In an emotionally charged case, how do you remain impartial and objective in reporting the case? Do you struggle with suppressing or overcoming your own emotions and instincts at such times?
A. I’ve been doing this for so long that remaining impartial and objective is natural for me. Reporters do not report their opinions, we report the news. We are professionals and everyone is innocent until proven guilty. We report both sides and are happy when both sides speak to us. In the back of my mind, I also remember that everyone has a story and a reason why they do bad things. For instance, a convicted killer may have a mom or dad or a kid who they are protecting or they are a victim of abuse themselves or whatever the case is to why they did what they did. No, it doesn't make it right, but I am not God so I do not have the right to judge them.
The second part of your question again is I don’t have those issues. This may sound bad but in more difficult cases try to not really think about it - I kinda zone out the reality so to speak and AGAIN report what is happening from the judge to attorneys to the defendant and victims. Crime reporters should not show emotion - but at the same time show compassion - if that makes sense. Showing compassion helps people trust you to tell you their story - so you can show compassion and inside have no emotion to do your job.
Q. How did you become a crime reporter at the Brainerd Dispatch? Was it something you evolved into?
A. I started at the Brainerd Dispatch as an education and county reporter. All of us reporters did a variety of things and covered any crime stories when the crime reporter was gone. When now Editor Matt Erickson left his position as the crime reporter, I filled it. I think at the time I was asked if I wanted to do it and I said sure.
Q. When you arrive at a crime scene, what’s generally happening? How do you go about reporting?
A. I observe the scene and write down what I see. I talk to witnesses while I wait for the police chief or sheriff to come talk to me.
Q. How do you go about getting witnesses, detectives, family members to talk to you?
A. I just go up and ask them. Explain who I am and what I am doing. Then casually talk to them first and then start asking questions.
Q. In your role as a crime reporter, as a necessity you focus on the negative side of Brainerd. What are some positive aspects that you’d like to talk about or report on?
A. Thinking back to when you started as a crime reporter, what’s the one or two things you wish you knew then? Staying persistent in getting a story, while also understanding you are not going to get the whole story in one day. There’s always more that can be written about.
Q. Where do you find stories? How important are court records and documents to your work?
A. People call in tips or you find them on social media or I find them in the police reports. Court documents are very important. Also, getting to know law enforcement officials, first responders, court officials, helps in developing tips.
Q. In your opinion, what makes for a well-written crime story?
A. Getting as much information in the story and attending the court hearings to get the judges and the attorney comments, as well as the defendant and victim impact statements.
Also if you can get the people to personally tell you what happened — both sides — makes a good story. Before or after the sentencing.