One of the impromptu sessions at the informal Talk About Local conference in Birmingham on Saturday discussed crime reporting – instigated by Ed Walker, who is founder of Blog Preston and senior digital producer with Trinity Mirror Regionals:
“Thinking of putting forward a session at #TAL12 on hyperlocals and crime. Reporting it, legal stuff and why you should do it. Of interest?” @ed_walker86
The small group of hyperlocal publishers discussed their individual approaches to crime reporting, and it raised – in my view – pertinent questions about best practice and ethics in the digital era, as well as access to police and courts information.
Delegates had already been briefed on contempt of court by David Banks in a morning session, so this session focused on the how and why, rather than the legal parameters [for a quick and cheap guide to reporting criminal courts, you could look at Sarah Chapman's e-book; for a more in-depth advice see McNae's Essential Law for Journalists].
Ed suggested some of the reasons we might report courts on local news sites, including reader interest and community benefit (my paraphrasing – he might like to elaborate in comments below).
In our discussion, hyperlocal publishers described how they reported crime and some of the issues that had cropped up. One publisher said that since they couldn’t attend court (an issue of blogger manpower), they waited for a result before reporting on a case. A couple of people described occasions when they were asked to remove information relating to specific cases, by individuals named in a published crime report.
A few specific incidents particularly interested me, which I’ll follow up and possibly report in more detail in due course – or please add comments below, if you’ve got relevant examples to share.
In view of the concerns being raised, I mentioned our ‘Open Justice in the Digital Era‘ initiative at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London. In a forthcoming publication, a range of journalists, lawyers and academics discuss the path ahead for the digitisation of courts and legal information.
It will include founder of Talk About Local William Perrin’s ‘Courts Transparency Charter‘, which has sparked some debate around the issues of privacy, rehabilitation of offenders and data protection.
Following the publication of the working papers, the CLJJ is planning to discuss some of the proposals in more detail, to feed into recommendations for the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary and other relevant bodies.
We’d love to hear from hyperlocal publishers. The session on Saturday, at least, indicated that there might be some divergence from a typical journalistic approach (due to resources and mission of the sites) and it seems sensible to include these views in any discussion going forward.
Please contact me via:
- jt.townend [at] gmail [dot] com (for Meeja Law related inquiries)
- judith.townend.1 [at] city.ac.uk (for open justice project inquiries)
- More information about the open justice initiative at bit.ly/openjustice