Tweeting from court: Suggestions for journalists

Ontario has opened the doors for journalists and lawyers to tweet and use electronic devices in court as of Feb. 1. Up until this point, a judge has had to give special permission to reporters to tweet from court.

Here are the new official rules from the Canadian Centre for Court Technology

Who’s allowed to use electronic devices in the courtroom: Lawyers, paralegals, law students, accredited media

There aren’t any guidelines, best practices for journalists out there – that I could find – but I’ve put together some tips based on some research I’ve done recently.

Here are a few things journalists should keep in mind when heading into court (UPDATED):

1. Respect the court rules the same way you normally would. Check and see if there are any publication bans or other restrictions, such as naming victim(s), accused(s), witnesses, etc., before you start tweeting/live blogging. Publication bans apply to Twitter. Photos, videos are still not permitted in court.
2. The judge has the ultimate say over the use of electronic devices in court. He/she can still dictate when a reporter can/cannot tweet/live blog. Pay attention to what the judge says. If walking into court during a case, inquire if tweeting is permitted.
3. Consult with your editor before heading to court. There are some cases, such as sexual abuse, that you may want to avoid live tweeting.
4. Audio recordings are allowed for note-taking purposes only. They cannot be broadcast under the new rules.
5. Stick to the narrative. Tweet testimony from the Crown, defense to offer balance. Don’t cherry-pick just the juiciest quotes.
6. Give context to your tweets, live blog posts. Distinguish between comments made in court, made outside the court, etc. The same you would in a news story.
7. Routinely link to web updates as the trial progresses to give context to your tweets.
8. If you walk into a trial, don’t just pick up the phone and start tweeting. You may have missed crucial facts in the opening statements. Double check with lawyers, court clerks before putting out any tweets, information. It’s more important to be right than first in any story, particularly in a court case.
9. Be sure your phone use is discreet and unobtrusive. Turn off ringers, any notifications, etc. You don’t want to disrupt court.
10. Use a liveblogging tool such as ScribbleLive to publish updates/tweets from court on your website.  Readers will be able to see your posts from the beginning and put the thread of posts into context.

Example to follow:

Want some tips on live tweeting events, including trials? Check out these links I’ve crowd-sourced on Twitter over the last few days.

How to make your live tweeting of an event indispensable for readers, David Higgerson

Examples of live tweeting from the courtroom: Steve Buttry

Suggestions for live tweeting: Steve Buttry

Canadian Association of Journalists ethics guidelines for social media

One thought on “Tweeting from court: Suggestions for journalists

  1. Susan G

    What’s not being addressed in most of the tweeting-from-the-courtroom discussions is the fact that in some courtrooms, messaging from smartphones interferes with the official court audiotaping. In several of our Brantford courts the gallery is told that phones must be turned OFF, not just put to silent. This will likely continue until they upgrade their recording system.

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