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Twitter, journalists and court coverage: where to draw the line?

There was an interesting discussion going on at Cardiff University today, as Darren Waters, a social media producer in the BBC Wales newsroom, joined students for a discussion on community which, according to the hashtag on Twitter (#cjscomm), included a topical discussion on the issue of immediacy in online reporting.

Recent events, specifically in relation to court coverage, have demonstrated the issues this can raise for journalists and news outlets working in the online environment, with the pressure and power of immediate publication at their fingertips. Earlier this month several news outlets mistakenly reported that Amanda Knox’s conviction for the murder of Meredith Kercher had been upheld, when the judge was in fact returning a guilty verdict for a charge of slander. The murder conviction was overturned, but once the word “guilty” had been heard several news organisations quickly sent out their stories and the Guardian made the same mistake on its liveblog.

Another specific challenge related to this is the delivery and sharing of breaking news on platforms such as Twitter, where journalists face making important decisions of when to share certain information and when to hold back.

In December last year England and Wales’ most senior judge published new guidelines which gave journalists greater freedom to file live reports and Twitter updates from court. As I write this a number of journalists are covering the Vincent Tabak trial live, with the issue of what a journalist should and shouldn’t report from a court case (and the wider approach to using Twitter) being simultaneously highlighted in the Cardiff University discussion.

Follow the hashtag to read more from the debate and advice offered by Waters. And feel free to tell us what you think. Where should the line be drawn in court reporting, especially during the hearing of detailed evidence, and what considerations should journalists make before pressing the button to submit? Share your thoughts in the comments below or via Twitter @journalismnews.

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