Journalists “Need to Know”

One of the biggest complaints judges have about people with the media who cover the courts is they don’t know the rules, or as one judge once told me, “They don’t know what they’re doing.”

It’s also one of the biggest problems for the media. The reason not knowing the rules is a problem FOR the media is because it limits their access.

That wasn’t always necessarily the case — and still isn’t in very rare instances.

Back in the day when reporters had “beats” they had the time and opportunity to not only learn the rules but to get to know judges and court staff and vice-versa.

So they not only learned the process, they knew who to ask if they had questions about it.

These days reporters generally no longer specialize. They and other with the news media, such as TV producers and camera crews, are frequently sent to cover proceedings at courthouses they’ve never been in before. They don’t know where courtrooms, clerks’ offices or those things are located. They don’t know the function of the people who work there. They don’t know where files and documents are located or if, just by glancing at a file, any of the documents in it are sealed.

That causes consternation and disruption, not just for judges, but for staff.

It also causes frustration for the media who are facing deadlines and need access and information fast.

One reporter who has become a rarity in today’s media, AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch, provides an insight on this situation.

Judges, Deutsch says, are process oriented. They focus on making sure everything is done correctly and according to Hoyle, all neat and orderly.

People in the news business, Deutsch explains, are results oriented. They focus on getting the story and how that’s done can sometimes be messy.

Deutsch, who is a 45-year-veteran of covering the courts for The Associated Press, used to impart her wisdom and pearls of  advice at education and training courses for judges and journalists at the National Center for the Courts and Media where she and I served as faculty. The demise of that function of the center a few years ago left few institutional avenues for improving judge-journalist mutual understanding and instructive interaction.

Other resources for journalists do exist. One is the Digital Media Law Project at http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/guides-and-resources.

Others are offered through courts systems, such as the Kansas courts information office and University of Kansas faculty “Law School for Journalists” program.

Court information officers have an association, the Conference of Court Public Information Officers (CCPIO), that has developed a number of resources such as a report on new media’s impact on the judiciary (updated last year), which can be found at http://www.ccpio.org.

A list of members and their contact information is included on that site.  http://ccpio.org/about/members/ Unfortunately, the largest court in the country, the Los Angeles Superior Court, has no representative in that organization, and doesn’t even list one on its own website. I’m not sure if anyone has been named/selected to replace the last person to hold that position left more than two years ago after being accused of leaking information to the online celebrity scandal sheet, TMZ.  http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/19/local/la-me-allan-parachini-20101119  An acting information officer, Mary Hearn, has been holding down the fort ever since.

In the absence of other assistance, the Digital Media Law Project lists an impressive array of resources that are worth checking out, and can be done quickly from anywhere and at any time — even on the way to cover something at a court a reporter or camera crew has never been in before.

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One response to “Journalists “Need to Know”

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