Judge allows live-tweeting, live-blogging during Jerry Sandusky trial

Centre County government

Reporters will be allowed to live-tweet and live-blog during the trial of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on sexual abuse charges, according to a court order issued Wednesday. But they can't broadcast testimony "verbatim."

Unlike members of the public, reporters will be able to bring cell phones, laptops and "similar" devices into the courtroom.

Such devices may be used during trial for electronic based communications. However, the devices may not be used to take or transmit photographs in Courtroom 1 or the satellite courtroom; or to record or broadcast any verbatim account of the proceedings while court is in session.

Although the term "trial" includes jury selection, a court employee said he'll have to check to see if live-tweeting and live-blogging will be permitted then. Because the courtroom will be filled with prospective jurors, media will have to rely on several pool reporters. The question is whether those reporters will end up scooping their competition with their tweets and posts. (This has come up with the White House press pool.)

Reporters who break the rules on using electronic devices could be held in contempt of court, and the reporter and his news outlet "that intentionally and knowingly rebroadcasts or republishes any account prohibited by this order" could lose their media credentials.

For the preliminary hearing in December, Specially Presiding Judge John M. Cleland at first said reporters had to turn their phones off and that laptops could be used "solely for the purpose of note taking." He later relaxed the rules to allow live-tweeting and live-blogging. In the end, Sandusky waived his right to the hearing.

The order outlining rules for jury selection and the trial also defines online media fairly broadly:

... an individual or news organization in the business of gathering, procuring, compiling, editing or publishing news on a daily or weekly basis, and not directly connected to a broadcast or print company. ... Credentials not issued to digital media organizations may be issued to qualifying individuals.

However, just 10 percent of the seats allocated to media will go to digital outlets; 90 percent will be split equally between print and broadcast.

Media credentialing

Media credentials will be issued in advance, coordinated with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association and the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters. They'll use a lottery if requests outnumber seats.

During the trial, seats in the courtroom will be split equally between members of the public and credentialed reporters, at 85 each. Another 100 seats in a satellite courtroom will be available for credentialed media.

Because of limited space during jury selection, media will have to pool reporters; it's possible that a sketch artist will be allowed in for some of the process.

Each broadcast, print and online media outlet will get one media credential for the courtroom, as long as there is space. Six TV networks will get two credentials each: ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC and ESPN.

Seats will be reserved for The Daily Collegian, Centre Daily Times, The Patriot-News, WJAC-TV, WTAJ-TV and WQWK-AM.

Further details:

  • Anyone who leaves the courtroom (including media) while court is in session will not be allowed back in until the start of the next morning or afternoon session.
  • There isn't room for a press filing center, and reporters won't be allowed to use extension cords in the courtroom.
  • Reporters can't conduct interviews in the courtroom, the courthouse, courthouse annex or the parking lots. "Interviews may be conducted in the front yard of the courthouse, but only in areas designated for that purpose by the Sheriff."
  • Jurors may be asked to tell the court if any member of the media (or anyone involved in the case) discusses the facts of the case with them.

The Patriot-News reported Tuesday that four of the victims of the alleged sexual abuse have asked a judge to allow them to testify without stating their names. A fifth has since asked as well. The Patriot-News plans to protect their identities, but it's possible that their names could get out from others in the courtroom.

Jury selection starts Tuesday.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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