How the Scott Guy trial changed court reporting

22:16, Jul 11 2012

Over the last 20 years I have covered trials like Scott Watson, Jules Mikus, The Beast of Blenheim, Bruce Howse along with things like huge serious fraud cases and high tension sentencings like Graeme Burton.

None have had the degree of fascination the public showed for the trial of Ewen Macdonald for the murder of his brother-in-law Scott Guy or the appetite for whatever we could give you. I had never seen anyone queue up to get into a court before. People stood in line eating lunch so as not to lose their place and school groups came to watch.

Every day 15 journalists (sometimes more), photographers and cameramen sat shoulder-to-shoulder to bring you every skerrick of information they could. Outside television cameras were set up permanently to report anything they could live.

For the first time we decided to give you a blow-by-blow account of the trial on dompost.co.nz  with multiple updates during each day's evidence - all published as soon as the 10-minute court delay requirement was up.

The pace was frantic. I could file to the digital newsroom from the courtroom via laptop so you were reading what I was hearing almost on the spot. Our photographers could also send straight from the courtroom allowing you to see everyone giving evidence.

With sometimes 10 witnesses in a day and hours of evidence it was intense work, especially with the need to be fast and accurate and to follow the rules of court not to use anything the jury has not heard.

Usually I am restricted on how much I can report by space available in the newspaper. There is far more evidence than we can ever use.  With no such limitations online we were able to bring you a full and almost unedited account of what was being said in the courtroom.

Traditionally court has been reported dryly, a just-the-facts approach.  But with new methods of getting the news out, the old ways of reporting have changed.  Now we use photographs, video, pictures of exhibits and witnesses and graphics to explain. It has changed the way we look at court coverage. We can give you a more complete look at a trial and how it develops hourly. It is likely to be something we will do again.

There was also the push to be first.  I could hear journalists fingers flying on their keyboards behind me. Sometimes it got media outlets into trouble, like the journalist who tweeted that the day would be finishing early before the jury had been told.

That level of coverage was unprecedented and caught many by surprise, even the lawyers in the trial. As Justice Simon France told the media after a warning to several media outlets about potentially going too far "Chill out.''

Add to that there was a need to be respectful, there was after all a grieving family involved and a man was dead.

Court is one of the mainstays of news to the media.  It is a place of great drama and often astonishing stories.  It shows the very worst - and sometimes - the very best of people.

In a country so small everyone knows someone who has heard a tidbit or rumour.

The Scott Guy trial was a good example of the soap opera like drama which can play out in a courtroom and how the media can bring it to you.

What did you think of our coverage of the Scott Guy trial? What about other media outlets? How would you like to read about major court cases? Leave a comment below with your feedback.

Advertisement

The Dominion Post