Monthly Archives: December 2011

Tweeting in court – a student reporter’s guide

Note: This site is very much under construction, but I didn’t want to wait to post this one. Merry Christmas

The Lord Chief Justice has this morning issued guidance saying journalists no longer need to apply for permission to tweet from court proceedings in England and Wales (but not Scotland).

The full official guidance document can be found here, but here are the important paragraphs (emphasis is mine).

9) Where a member of the public, who is in court, wishes to use live text- based communications during court proceedings an application for permission to activate and use, in silent mode, a mobile phone, small laptop or similar piece of equipment, solely in order to make live, text- based communications of the proceedings will need to be made. The application may be made formally or informally (for instance by communicating a request to the judge through court staff).

10) It is presumed that a representative of the media or a legal commentator using live, text-based communications from court does not pose a danger of interference to the proper administration of justice in the individual case. This is because the most obvious purpose of permitting the use of live, text-based communications would be to enable the media to produce fair and accurate reports of the proceedings. As such, a representative of the media or a legal commentator who wishes to use live, text-based communications from court may do so without making an application to the court.

So, while memers of the public will still have to ask first, reporters will not. The upshot of this for student reporters is that you will need to ensure court officials are aware that you are reporters – particularly if the press bench is full and you are reporting from the public gallery.

It should be obvious, but remains worth pointing out that permission to tweet from court does not override the Contempt of Court Act, Magistrates Court Act or other reporting restrictions imposed by the court. There’s a good amount of trust being placed in reporters to know what they can and can’t report from a courtroom – particularly without the luxury of time to double check copy or obtain legal advice before it’s published.

This is made increasingly difficult because Twitter tends to feel like a “fire and forget” medium when you’re using it, but problematic tweets tend to obtain a life of their own. If you get a tweet wrong, you can’t just remove it – like you would a web article – if it’s been retweeted by others. Once it’s out there, it’s out there – which places a good deal of responsibility on the reporter to know their media law. For your own safety, I would strongly recommend against tweeting from court unless you have passed the NCTJ Court Reporting exam.

Finally, it’s likely that the new guidance will take a while to become common knowledge in regional courtrooms, so it’d probably be worth printing out a copy of the pdf linked above if you intend on tweeting from proceedings in the near future. However, I should also like to draw attention to the final paragraph:

16) Permission to use live, text-based communications from court may be withdrawn by the court at any time.

If I know the wonderful team at, for example, Sheffield Magistrates’ Court – and I think I do – the instances of withdrawal of peromission will be proportional to the vigour with which you make your case. Be polite, be professional and most of all, don’t be smug. You’ll be fine.

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Using the iPad as a reporting tool

Interesting post by Henry Taylor at WannabeHacks on using the iPad as a mobile reporting tool.

There are several advantages to using an iPad in the field over the conventional set-up of a laptop and mobile dongle. For a start, an iPad is smaller and thinner than most laptops and has a considerably better battery life. Weight wise, an iPad weighs far less than a standard laptop and once you add in a protective case (if you need it) and a laptop charger, you’ll quickly wish you owned something lighter after a day spent trudging your patch.

It’s worth noting that while the article refers specifically to iPad 2, there’s nothing in there that can’t run on an original iPad. Also, the purpose of the Photosync app in a world where iOS 5’s Photostream functionality automatically syncs content to your laptop isn’t made clear. Sadly Photostream doesn’t sync videos, Photosync does.

There’s a slightly more geeky and in depth (albeit a little out of date, being pre-iOS 4.2) account of a day in the life of an iPad wielding reporter here. The part about SoundNote is well worth a read.

Running SoundNotes, sitting at the opposite end of the room to the speaker, the internal microphone picked up sound well enough for clear playback (with a slight background ‘taptaptap’ from me typing on the iPad screen occasionally) and as advertised, when I got home to write the article I simply tapped the text for a salient point and got the speaker’s words verbatim.

And while we’re on using tech to make your reporting better, here’s BBC 5 Live’s Nick Garnett explaining how he used his iPhone to report live from the Manchester riots.

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