Electronic communication — including the use of social media and online posting — is banned in the courtroom where the Jerry Sandusky trial will proceed, and for a news media that has become more reliant on the digital type of coverage, reporting is going to have to go back to its roots.
“Most media outlets were probably counting on tweeting and filing stories directly from the courtroom, but now they’ll have to change their plans,” said John Dillon, a senior lecturer in Penn State’s journalism department. “Reporters are going to be stuck doing it the old-fashioned way now.”
Senior Judge John Cleland originally ordered on May 30 that reporters would be permitted cell phones and laptops for electronic communication while in the courtroom, but they would not be allowed to transmit or broadcast photographs or verbatim quotes from the trial proceedings. Cleland amended the original order on June 4 to not allow any devices for electronic communication to be used during trial proceedings. Because reporters have been tweeting and transmitting verbatim quotes throughout the hearings in the case, Cleland ruled it would be too difficult to enforce the rule, so he banned electronic communication altogether.
Jim Koval, Communications Manager of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, said Cleland is abiding by the rules laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which stipulate that quotes may not be broadcast live verbatim from a trial court.
Koval said he is optimistic that the ban will curtail the competition between news outlets and allow reporters to put more focus on their writing.
Dillon said that he thinks the competitive nature will still be present among reporters. He said that the execution of how reporters will file stories will be different, because they have to do it outside the courtroom, but that is the only thing that will change.
Dillon also said communication limitations are unfortunate because technology has improved the way journalists report on court proceedings, and without this coverage, the public may be left in the dark.
Cindy Simmons, a senior lecturer of the Penn State College of Communications and Affiliate Law Faculty, wrote in an email that she also finds the ban disconcerting.
“The suggestion that there should not be almost real-time verbatim quotes is troubling because it implies that for this trial, the proceedings should not be as fully public as news media allow,” Simmons wrote.
Dillon said the timing of when the stories will be filed is now completely reliant on when Cleland issues recesses, which can occur only a couple of times in a day. Because reporters are not allowed back into court if they leave until the end of a recess, Dillon said it wouldn’t be feasible for a news organization that only has one reporter in the courtroom to have updates whenever large events happen and still cover the events that are happening at that time.