Real-Time Court Reporting with Twitter

Tech savvy reporters and judges are now dancing a fine line between the public’s right to know and offering a fair and legal trial.

This week in West Palm Beach, Fla., U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno ruled in favor of allowing reporters to send breaking news messages about court cases — as long as they don’t send them from the courtroom. The Palm Beach Post reported:

“Reporters previously could not post such updates because they were not allowed to bring devices like cell phones and Blackberries into a federal courthouse within the district. …

In his order, Moreno upheld the ban on e-mailing, typing and texting inside the courtroom, saying that those actions “violate the sanctity of the courtroom and disrupt judicial proceedings.” But Moreno said that reporters who agree in writing to follow the rules would be able to step outside the courtroom to send their updates.”

Similar situations involving court reporters and Twitter have been discussed in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Colorado. A judge even declared a mistrial a few weeks ago in Florida after eight jurors admitted to researching their court case online, outside of the courtroom.

Earlier this month, reporter Ron Sylvester of The Wichita Eagle received clearance from a federal judge to use Twitter to report from the courthouse. Sylvester is a pioneer among journalists using Twitter to break tidbits of news in court cases.

Since Sylvester led the way, other papers have followed, including the The Spokesman-Review in Washington, which tweeted closing arguments on a capital murder case in August.

These cases will likely become increasingly common as reporters, judges and jurors grow more comfortable using new information tools for reporting in the 24 hour 60-second news cycle.

(The Palm Beach Post’s Emily Roach sent me the West Palm Beach tip. Full disclosure: I used to work at The Palm Beach Post.)

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