Court Technology Conference: Journalism and the Courts

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I will relate my experiences at this year’s Court Technology Conference 2009, hosted by the National Center for the State Courts in Denver from September 22nd to 24th.  Here is the first article in this series:

Keynote Speech – Ari Shapiro, NPR Justice Correspondent

The Verdict on New Technologies

Let’s start this report by touting the mention of our flagship publication – the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin – by Ari Shapiro, NPR’s justice correspondent, the keynote speaker at the CTC for our article about courts that are Tweeting. (State high court joins the ‘Twitterati’ – service ‘boosts communication by Bethany Krajelis.) Shaprio talked about the need for the courts to make documents, especially opinions more readily available.  Shapiro spoke of his challenge in getting copies of opinions from the US Supreme Court in a timely fashion.  Shapiro also spoke about the concern with blogging that may be severely adverse to the court but because they are able to get copies of opinions quicker than a legitimate source, the blog may suddenly become the primary source of the court – just due to availability of opinions.

Ari Shapiro asked “Can we please get rid of PACER? …PACER is a huge obstacle in reporting about the courts.”  PACER is the US District Court and Bankruptcy court’s online information system. He went on to speak about the need for an easier interface to obtain court documents.  To further emphasize the challenge faced by reporters in getting court documents, he supplied a quote from a colleague who said, “Why do I have to struggle so hard to provide your side of the story.”

Shapiro also talked about cases where jurors were using their iPhones to do Internet research, and another juror from Arkansas who was tweeting during the trial.  “So Jonathan what did you today?  Oh, nothing I just gave away $12 million dollars of somebody else’s money.”  Shapiro went on to say that it’s up to the judges to inform jurors that they shouldn’t be doing this.

Shapiro talked about how the entire media landscape has changed with the new Web 2.0 technologies.  “We no longer just turning on the news and absorbing information from a sage old white man sitting in a chair behind a desk.  We are linking, commenting, interacting and in some cases affecting the news as it happens.” When it came to light that the justice department may have fired US attorneys inappropriately, the justice department released 3,000 pages of documents at 9:00 p.m. NPR gathered half a dozen editors and reporters working their way through the pile around a table to put a story together for the following morning at 5:00 a.m. At the same time these materials came out, released the raw information and people from all over the country picked the information apart and commented on the information well before the NPR story ran at 5:00 a.m. the following morning.  This is an example of “crowd sourcing”.

Comments: Shapiro’s presentation was very applicable to the issue of courts keeping up with the public demand for information.  If the journalists themselves are having difficulty information, how does this affect the general public?

To watch the video of this presentation, visit the National Center of the Courts CTC Web site.


~ by CDLB on October 15, 2009.

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