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Live online coverage of everything from Question Period to the Academy Awards is rampant, especially on Twitter. So what’s next on the instantaneous coverage docket? Court reporting, of course.

Last Thursday, Ontario Supreme Court justice Robert Scott agreed to allow journalists to bring electronic devices, including BlackBerrys and laptops, to former-Colonel Russell Williams’s sentencing this week. Journalists will be tweeting, blogging and covering the story live from the Belleville, Ontario courtroom. This apparent first is a coup for media access to court proceedings, but it’s also an important test-run for future cases.

Reporters learning how to negotiate this new territory can turn to a recent feature in The New York Times, which details reporters’ experience using Twitter to cover a murder trial in Connecticut. The article discusses the difficulties of self-editing, the lack of an vetting system to ensure accuracy, the judgement calls about what gruesome details to share solo, and the legality of court reporting in 140 characters.

The Times article provides a snapshot of the decision making journalists will face at this week’s hearing, despite the fact we are unlikely to see live-coverage of a jury-trial anytime soon in Canada (because we do not sequester our juries from the start of a trial like the U.S., it is likely a judge would deem live-coverage too detailed to avoid influencing the outcome). Although electronic devices will likely remain in the same legal grey area as recording a proceeding—to be determined on a case-by-case basis by the judge—how journalists handle Williams’s high-profile sentencing is liable to set the tone for future decisions. If their coverage is deemed responsible and valuable, the media are more likely to gain such unprecedented privileges again in the future. This apparent first could create a much more open court experience than Canadian journalists have historically enjoyed.

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About the author

Ashley Csanady was the Chief Copy Editor for the Winter 2011 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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