It has been many years since I last did any court reporting and I remember the scramble to get out of court and either get to the court press room or recover your mobile from security. Recording devices like cameras and microphones are banned in UK courts.
Have things changed at all? Would it be OK for a reporter to follow this American example and (from the brilliant Spokesman Review – the paper which practically invented the open newsroom) tweet progress – presumably using a mobile phone?
But in a 24/7 media age, what is contemporaneous? Increasingly, newspapers feel the need to file to only one deadline: now, online.
In fairness to MacNae’s expert editors, this is from the 18th edition published in 2005 and the newer book is better with online matters and the forthcoming edition even better. But the advice it gives on being contemporaneous is from another age: hardly any evening papers publish more than one edition, and most of them are essentially morning papers now anyway, printed over night to save money and time.
So surely “at the earliest opportunity” is now. It’s as soon as the reporter has gathered his or her thoughts, deciphered the notebook scribblings, wrote the story and emailed it or phoned it in to the newsdesk.
Judges are not the most web-savvy people (see here), so for time being the next day’s edition will be enough. But how long before the senior judges and the Ministry of Justice wake up to the fact that the whole issue of “earliest opportunity” has changed?
The Society of Editors is already warning that the Contempt of Court laws need to be shaken up to cope with multi-media realities. So how long before the powers that be take court reporting law into the 21st century?
Thanks to Alison at the Liverpool Daily Post for kicking off the debate on Twitter today. She asked whether newspapers whould break exclusive court reports online, to which I ask another question: why not?