The results of a recent case study on the impact of live blogging a high profile civil jury trial are nothing short of amazing. High traffic, search engine performance, dialogue, community building, and investment community interest (portfolio company stock prices impacted by verdicts) are all outcomes of such blogging. A viable business model for such reporting may be within our reach.

Using some of the same techniques Dominic Dunn’s reporting the OJ Simpson Trial, Jane Genova of Genova Writing & More, blogged the Rhode Island Lead Paint Trial at her blog, Law and More. The trial pitted lead paint victims against four defendants – Sherwin-Williams (SHW), NL Industries (NL), Millennium Holdings (MNHG0 and Atlantic-Richfield.

As ValuePlays, my source for this post explains:

[Genova] undertook this project in order to learn more about how to use digital technology as a real-time tool in event-coverage, advocating a point of view, developing new business for her communications boutique, enhancing her brandname, expanding her network, and integrating social media with mainstream media (MSM).

The four-month RI lead paint trial was conducted in downtown Providence, which was within commuting distance from her Connecticut residence. ..[S]he believed were unjustly accused of creating a public nuisance. Her original stance was to be an objective Greek Chorus. But within about a week, she began to argue in favor of the defense’s position.

Dialogue and interaction created:

  • During the 15 months Jane Genova has blogged about lead-paint issues, particularly litigation and threats of litigation, there have been over 1000 posts so far. About 490 of them were done during the four-month trial and so far about 510 more post-verdict.
  • This relative large number of posts – during the trial, about three to six daily – not only kept readers totally informed. It also functioned as a search engine optimization (SEO) tactic to attract high rankings on Google and other search engines. Search engines tend to be attracted to frequent postings each day.
  • In response to the posts, there have been about 3500 emails to her from security analysts, hedge-fund operators, employees at the defendants’ companies, shareholders, attorneys not involved in the case, attorneys who handle other legal issues for the defendants, a plaintiff attorney assisting with a similar public-nuisance trial in St. Louis, and those who wanted to comment off-the-record.
  • There have been about 175 phone calls. The lion’s share have been from security analysts and hedge-fund operators. Those calls were long and involved and, on the average, lasted about 35 minutes. A handful were from former Sherwin-Williams employees who wondered if the defense should have presented a case. Now and then the public relations representative from Prism Public Affairs Gregg Perry would call to alert the blogger of breaking developments. One was from media, CRAIN’S CLEVELAND, for an interview right after the verdict.
  • There were about 12 invitations to lunch.
  • Because of the legal sensitivities of the issue, there have been relatively few comments.

Traffic and search engine impact:

  • On the first day of trial… there were 1000 visitors to the blog. By the end of the week, that number of daily visitors when court was in session grew to about 3000. For the remainder of the trial, the average number of daily visitors when court was in session was about 4500. Most of these used RSS feeds, which picked up each new blog post on the trial automatically.
  • During the eight days of jury deliberation, daily visitors numbered about 7000. On the day of the verdict, there were 12,000 visitors. There were also a high number of visitors on each day of a posting of an interview with a juror. The total visitor count for the juror interviews was about 24,000. Several readers, including Gregg Perry, said that the jury interviews were the most helpful posts. THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL reporter Peter Lord sent the blogger an email that he was upset that she had scooped him on the jury interviews.
  • Because of the large number of posts and heavy traffic into the blog, the posts made the first page of Google categories concerning the trial on a regular basis. They ranked number-one on Google about 600 times, in various categories such as ‘RI lead paint,’ ‘Sherwin-Williams,’ ‘NL Industries,’ ‘lead poisoning.’
  • Wall Street bulletin boards, particularly those covering the defendants such as Sherwin-Williams and NL Industries, regularly picked up blog posts and linked to them. Insurance companies also had links on their bulletin boards, stating that the coverage was engaging on a subject that was ‘as boring as watching lead paint dry.’
  • High-profile blogs such as Overlawyered.com, Pointoflaw.com, and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL Law Blog cited coverage from her blog posts and often provided links to them. Those links further increased Google pick-up and high rankings. The Manhattan Institute’s Walter Olson provided an exclusive interview to the blog.
  • The mainstream media (MSM) frequently quoted from the blogs posts. It was widely noted that CRAIN’S CLEVELAND, which is based where Sherwin-Williams is headquartered, chose to interview only the blogger after the verdict. The clip from the interview had wide circulation.
  • Postings about the opposition frequently were picked up by Google and other search engines and placed in the sections of search engines covering the opposition. This gave the four defendants an opportunity to express its point of view on the opponent’s territory.

Strategy:

  • Frequent (three to six daily) posting of provocative material or breaking news on the blog. Use of keywords that would attract Google and other search engines. This served to scoop mainstream media and provide candid analysis of events. Readers seemed to like highly opinioned content.
  • Putting a human face on the trial. The blogger, before the trial started, explained her background in Jersey City, New Jersey, a political-machine town that mirrored corruption in Providence. She disclosed that as she grew up in a tenement, she chewed paint chips. Her mother and grandmother demanded the landlord supply paint to cover over the layers that were flaking. Gradually she let out details of her current life…
  • Providing drama in coverage. This was a technique the blogger from analyzing Dominick Dunne’s print coverage of court trials. Readers want the story. Therefore, she was heavy on narrative and on including tidbits of gossip such as hairstyles and sensible shoes.
  • Following up quickly to phone calls, emails and requests for lunch.
  • Developing and maintaining insider sources of information. This often entailed doing favors for them such as posting on her blog plugs for their special events, programs, and conferences.
  • Listening to readers who requested that trial coverage be split from the original communications blog and continued on a separate legally-oriented blog. Jane Genova then created the law and more blog.

This is great stuff and easily the seminal piece on the how to and impact of live trial blogging. I’ll see if we can line up Jane for an interview and story at LexBlog.