Kirkland trial coverage shows us why good beat reporting still matters

If you’re in Cincinnati, you’ve no doubt been bombarded with news of the trial of serial killer Anthony Kirkland, which started last week here in Hamilton County. If you aren’t familiar, here’s a little background. Really, it isn’t all that important to the point of this post.

The local coverage of this high-profile trial has provided a demonstration in action of how important the very roots of good court reporting still are in this age of social media.

There’s no less than two TV stations live blogging the trial and several outlets and reporters live-tweeting the proceedings, including Enquirer court reporter Kimball Perry. Fox19 has a very interesting Dipity timeline on the case (kudos to them). This is all in addition to the exhaustive video, stories, photo galleries, etc. that we usually are serving up at a trial like this.

Honestly, it’s all gotten to a point where I believe readers may be over-saturated with coverage.

Even with all of this going on, thing’s get missed. Kimball has been scooping the heck out of the people recording the event live right next to him because, well, he knows what’s going on. At one point, a couple of local TV reporters asked him what just happened and what it meant.  They knew he knew – and he was explaining all of it on his Twitter feed (and shooting Flip videos).

This isn’t to knock on TV competition or social media, but merely to underscore how even with all of this technology available and a million ways to describe what’s happening, it is the oldest skill set in the toolbox that has offered one-of-a-kind insight into a difficult case.

This isn’t something Kimball does just for big trials, he’s in that courtroom every day. He found out the defendant was pleading guilty before anyone else because he knew who to ask – and how to ask. A lot of our competitors don’t have reporters in court often enough and long enough to soak up the experience, lingo and legal know-how to cover a trial the way Kimball does.

That’s just what good beat reporting’s all about – and it’s something we seem to have less of all the time as we have to do more with less. Twitter and live blogs and all that are great tools for enhancing the way readers get news, but it’s tough to replace the know-how of an experienced beat reporter.

We’ve also found that the newfangled tools available aren’t always the best options depending on the circumstances.

This fascination with live-blogging at the local level started last spring during a similarly high-profile trial in Warren County, where a young newlywed was accused (and convicted) of killing his young wife. Local TV station WLWT sent reporter Travis Gettys to live blog the trial using CoveritLive. It was immensely popular and Gettys became something of a local celebrity – it was good stuff.

We have Cover it Live and use it for chats and live blogs sometimes. We could have used it in that trial, but we chose not to. Our reporter in that case, Janice Morse, strongly believed her coverage would be better informed and more comprehensive if she were paying strict attention to the trial and not describing the proceedings.

While I think both kinds of coverage would be valuable to readers – we could only send one person, so we opted for the old way. She said that over the course of the trial, those live-somethinging the proceedings had asked her what was going on, what a particular term meant, etc. And rightly so, I know from live blogging past events that you don’t always really take in what’s going on, information sort of passes through you. That can make it very tough to go back and write a comprehensive story at the end of the day.

The live blog is just one tool – and one we don’t always have to use. The same goes for Twitter, video, carrier pigeons and anything else me might try to get out info to readers. When it comes down to it, sometimes you just need someone to help explain stuff. That’s our job.

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  • unclesmokinjoe

    One would think that there would be more appreciation for thorough, informed journalism, especially given the State of the Union and the propaganda that accompanied the past 8 years, but here we are. Yeesh.
    Nice article. I hope like hell that thorough, experienced journalism continues to consistently be a stong force in informing the populace and shaping the new media, whatever that becomes. PLEASE.

  • http://www.wlwt.com/index.html Travis G.

    “I know from live blogging past events that you don’t always really take in what’s going on, information sort of passes through you.”

    Wow, that's exactly how I've described it. Just did this afternoon to one of our producers, actually.

    And you're absolutely right about a strong beat writer's advantage. It's been a treat to see Kimball Perry in action, and that's why I've incorporated my observations of him into my Kirkland coverage, in addition to harvesting occasional Twitter posts (which, contrary to what he's tweeted, are clearly attributed to him). He apparently doesn't see it that way, but he can of course think whatever he wants. I'm trying paint a total picture of the trial for my readers — not just of what happens and what's said. The public can get that more concisely from a newspaper story or a television report, but I'm trying to show them what it's like to be in the room every day. Murder trials are intense, but they're also boring and occasionally funny and always sad. I'm trying to communicate that, and help them understand how all of it — from the investigation to the trial process to the coverage — actually works.

    Based on the comments and questions I get, people understand very little of that stuff.

    • http://manjamedia.com Mandy

      Thanks for commenting here, Travis. Live blogs are a great tool that can provide readers with excellent first-hand coverage – so long as it also provides the context, background info and explanation journalists are in a unique position to provide in many circumstances.

    • http://manjamedia.com Mandy Jenkins

      Thanks for commenting here, Travis. Live blogs are a great tool that can provide readers with excellent first-hand coverage – so long as it also provides the context, background info and explanation journalists are in a unique position to provide in many circumstances.

  • http://manjamedia.com Mandy Jenkins

    Thanks for commenting here, Travis. Live blogs are a great tool that can provide readers with excellent first-hand coverage – so long as it also provides the context, background info and explanation journalists are in a unique position to provide in many circumstances.