Journalism isn’t like it was in the good ‘ole days where the reporter woke up, moseyed on down to the office for a cup of coffee and typed out his story on an old black Corona typewriter. No, now instead of a Corona, we’ve got Tweets.
While reporters have been able to use online streaming in a courtroom before, it’s been rare, especially in federal cases. But the latest feather in journalistic caps is one that was won by Ron Sylvester, a reporter for the Wichita Eagle. Sylvester was allowed to use Twitter to give constant, live updates on a big racketeering gang trial he is covering. (You can check out Sylvester’s tweets here).
Sylvester isn’t new to using Twitter in court, but this is his first time using it in federal court. Several lawyers raised some objections to using this type of media coverage, but U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten says that since jurors are instructed to avoid the newspaper as well as broadcast and online reports, he was allowed. As the Judge said, “You either trust your jurors to live with the admonishment, or you don’t.”
The messages sent on Twitter (known as “tweets”), are fairly short, being that they are limited to 140 characters. Because of this, the updates sent out via mobile phone or computer may not be especially long or detailed, but they do keep the public up to date in real time. Sylvester, as well as others in support of Twitter being used in all courtrooms maintain that “It does improve public access to the courts.”
Tech-savvy judges across the U.S. are beginning to become more receptive to the idea of different emerging technologies when it comes to reporting courtroom coverage. While federal criminal cases have always lent to being very restrictive, this decision may be opening a path for more change in the federal judiciary system in regard to technology when it comes to reporting. Cameras have always been a no-no with many U.S. Supreme Court Justices, but Marten says even that is probably going to change. In an interview with the Associated Press, he shared his view on blogging from the court room as “The more we can do to open the process to the public, the greater the public understanding – the more legitimacy the public system will have in the eyes of the public.”
The president of the Society of Professional Journalists, Dave Aekens, described Marten’s decision to permit courtroom tweets a “huge” boon for public access. “The technology keeps changing,” Aeikens said. “How we gather and deliver news to people keeps changing. And the courts need to understand that and welcome that.”