Trial Reporting Groundrules

November 1, 2010

Having worked in broadcast journalism for a number of years, I have often grappled with the correct way to report on trials.  How does one balance the legitimate public need to know about courtroom proceedings against the also legitimate need for the justice system to remain untainted?

Back in 1995, I covered the trial of that football player turned movie star in L.A. who was accused of killing his wife.  I found that the OJ Simpson trial is the model for what not to do - not just because it became a circus sideshow, but I also find people ill understand what actually occurred in that courtroom.

Then, just over a year ago, I covered the Strange v Entercom trial in Sacramento;  it was a high profile case of a radio station who sponsored a water drinking contest that took the life of 28 year old Jennifer Strange (see links to that coverage on this blog.)  The judge issued a gag order in that case, which meant I could not speak with either attorney for the case.  So I merely sat in, day after day, took the best notes I could, and presented the public with a daily log of what had occurred.  And I found that was an excellent way to cover a trial.  (Frankly, it doesn't matter what the attorneys say to reporters during a trial anyway, they are just going to spin.)

So that's what I will do in the case of James Long v. Workers Safety and Insurance and the State of North Dakota.  I will observe, take notes, and synthesize the record at the end of each day.  I invite people to compare my notes with the (very expensive) transcript that will be available after the trial to make sure I'm being fair.  I promise to do the best I can to present each side's arguments and witnesses as well as I can.

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