Opening Statements

We Can Work It Out

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Illustration by Francisco Caceres

As traditional media dwindles, fewer journalists than ever are covering the courts. But that doesn’t mean the courts aren’t being covered. Thanks to social media, blogs and Twitter, user-generated content is surging.

That shift raises questions about who is seen as a legal journalist today and how these new journalists can navigate the courtroom-by-courtroom rules regarding public access. No matter who is covering the courts, tension exists between protecting the interests of litigants and allowing the public and reporters access to courtroom proceedings.

Leave it to the progressive 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to be on the cutting edge of finding ways to resolve that tension.

Late last year the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit’s Public Information and Community Outreach Committee held a conference where they began addressing the issue.

“The media landscape’s changed a lot in recent years,” says David Madden, a PICO officer. “We want journalists to understand how the courts operate, and vice versa. There are new content providers, and we should make an effort to get to know who they are. And they should learn the court processes and proceedings.”

PICO’s goal was to include many nontraditional journalists in the conference, titled New Media in the Courtroom: How Blogs, Twitter and Social Media are Changing Legal Reporting. More than 100 attendees—including judges, Stanford University journalism professors, bloggers and traditional reporters—brainstormed about how all sides can better interact while preserving the rights of litigants, as well as judges’ rights to manage their courtrooms.

The 9th Circuit is the only federal circuit with a committee devoted exclusively to media. PICO’s mission, according to Madden, is to improve public understanding of the courts through regular workshops and events. But it’s a two-way street, he says. “Courts should understand what’s going on in the media.”

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