Justice & Journalism spotlights high tech in court coverage

Monday, December 10, 2012

WASHINGTON — The uses — and challenges — of new technology were highlights at the 2012 Justice & Journalism conference Dec. 5-6 at the Newseum, conducted by the First Amendment Center in cooperation with the federal judiciary.

The 13-year series of meetings cosponsored by the Judicial Branch Committee of the Judicial Conference consists of working sessions to examine issues of access, information and accountability.

“The goal is informing the public better about the daily work of the federal courts,” said Gene Policinski, First Amendment Center senior vice president and executive director, who leads the discussions.

Val Hoeppner, director of education and training at the Diversity Institute, briefed the group of judges and journalists about new devices, applications and uses of items such as cell phones that can provide instant information on individuals nearby, as well as access to background and personal data.

One concern about instant identification was that it might endanger witnesses testifying confidentially, or identify potential jurors whose identities the court might wish to keep secret for safety reasons.

The group also heard from judges who lead committees studying potential juror misuse of mobile devices. Misuse ranges from conducting independent searches for information to disclosing verdicts before they’re read in open court.

There also was an update on the experimental use of cameras in federal courtrooms, limited to civil cases, with cameras controlled by the court, and release of videotaped proceedings later rather than live.

Attendees also heard about a new project, Seigenthaler News Service, which involves students at Middle Tennessee State University reporting for traditional news outlets on federal courts and agencies in the Nashville area. The Justice & Journalism group likely will meet in early to mid-2013 to discuss ways to encourage other colleges and universities to replicate the SNS project, which began in September.

MTSU faculty member Wendell Rawls, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The New York Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, oversees the news-service project. He told the group that SNS was providing daily, high-quality news reports to The Tennessean of Nashville and to its own website, seigenthalernewsservice.com. He also noted that several federal judges whose courts are in Nashville had briefed students and provided materials to help the journalists better understand the terms and operations of the courts.

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