Social media’s coverage of the courts in America is going to play an ever increasing role. One, we have far fewer reporters from local newspapers covering events at the local courthouses. Reporters sitting with lawyers like me waiting for a verdict on a Friday night is no longer routine. Second, the means in which we produce, distribute, and consume the news has changed markedly. What used to be a notes on a pad in a beat reporters hand to be written and edited into stories back in the newsroom, distributed by a paper boy, and consumed in print can be blogged or tweeted from the courtroom. And it doesn’t take a reporter with the production and distribution channels newspapers have historically had. It takes a person with a little ingenuity and local court rules supporting open courts. I’ve run across two resources for following the advancement of social media’s coverage of the courts. One is a ‘publication’ called Connected, I was turned on to by Michel-Adrien Sheppard, a reference librarian at the Supreme Court of Canada. Put out by the National Center for State Courts, Connected covers the ‘Impact of New Media on the Courts.’ Though much of Connected’s coverage is on the impact social media plays on the judicial process itself, there is coverage of how social media is being permitted to cover court proceedings. The second and more interesting resource is OpenCourt, a pilot program in Boston, which Media Attorney Bob Ambrogi turned me onto last May when we were chairing a social media for business development in the law program. Run by WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, and funded by the Knight News Challenge:
OpenCourt is a pilot project that will experiment with how digital technologies can foster the openness of the American courts with the idea that more transparent courts make for a stronger democracy. By live-streaming video of court proceedings and setting up a WiFi network for use by journalists and bloggers, OpenCourt will provide full multimedia access to Quincy District Court just south of Boston. Along with bringing the court online, the long-term goal of OpenCourt is to use our experience in the Quincy District Court to help courts around the country implement technologies and craft digital media policies. To this end, we will be documenting the step-by-step process of wiring the court and creating a forum where those interested in government transparency, the law and technology can connect.
You have to love the underlying mission for this Supreme Court of Massachusett pilot program.
The guiding principle of the project is that justice is to be administered in public and that our live video stream and public archive are extensions of this principle. However, we recognize that there are exceptions to this rule and there are times when the live stream should go offline. These guidelines aim to define these exceptions.
The public’s trust in lawyers and our legal system could only be increased through more open coverage of court proceedings. Judicial proceedings, sitting at the center of a democracy, are not something that ought be sheltered by, often, arbitrary rulings on a judge by judge basis. Today, with limited resources and the mass media looking at itself as entertainment, the only thing we get from the courthouse is coverage of the sensational. The time has come to open our courts to the public eye.