Rosie DiManno thinks courts should ban live reporting

Rosie DiManno doesn’t think laptops, cellphones or BlackBerrys should be allowed in courtrooms, because reporters should be more than stenographers, she says.

In her Toronto Star column, DiManno writes, “I’m not a stenographer. No reporter should be. Otherwise, the job could be done by a tape recorder and fixed camera”

She points out that while Canadian courts each have a “court reporter” that transcribes every word, this “unfiltered testimony — or conversation between trial participants — isn’t journalism.”

DiManno’s column was inspired by suggestions from convicted killer Russell Williams’ defence lawyers, who recently argued Canadian courts should reaccess allowing journalists to report live from court proceedings.

In fact, DiManno doesn’t see much value in the live courtroom reporting she’s seen lately.

“It’s a mad rush to get the story out, although much of the time the file resembles no real story at all but rather something approximating stream of consciousness. The bulletin-writing is bad, grammar atrocious, nuance and context non-existent. But polish doesn’t matter because it’s all about the immediacy — instantaneous journalism.”

She notes that “even veteran reporters had difficulty listening to the evidence while at the same time tweeting it. This is far different from note-taking, where the material can be reviewed, checked, and a story structure plotted. The details went out cold — or hot, rather — like a choppy telegram, just endless on-the-fly regurgitation.

“A newspaper story imposes structure and narrative and distills pertinent facts. Sometimes, depending on the job description, the writer’s role is also to analyze. But tweeting is like verbal belching. It is not — how many times do I have to say this? — journalism, even if some very good journalists are being ordered to assume the task.”

Missing from DiManno’s argument is that this so-called “instantaneous journalism” is still in its infancy. Surely, journalists will get better at telling stories on the fly. It should also be noted that it’s not just Twitter in the courtroom: live blog systems like ScribbleLive and Cover It Live allow journalists to write posts well beyond Twitter’s 140-character limit.