State court system grants bloggers same courtroom photography access as MSM

The Supreme Judicial Court this week approved a new rule that for the first time will let "citizen journalists" photograph trials and other court proceedings on a routine basis.

The new rule, which takes effect July 1, will let people who fall under a new, broader definition of "news media" to register with the court system for photography access to courtrooms. They'll have to sign a statement agreeing to certain conditions (for example, no photographs of jurors).

The justices expanded their definition of news media to include "organizations that regularly gather, prepare, photograph, record, write, edit, report or publish news or information about matters of public interest for dissemination to the public in any medium, whether print or electronic, and to individuals who regularly perform a similar function."

Judges will continue to have the right to bar all recording devices from hearings - and the right to allow photography access to people not accredited by the court system.

The rule continues a limit on the total number of cameras in a courtroom at one time. As traditional photographers have long done, bloggers who arrive at a court hearing will have to decide who gets to photograph the session - and agree to share his or her work with the others.

Under the new rule, reporters and bloggers will be allowed to take laptops or smart phones into the court room to take notes or write stories, provided they don't disrupt the proceedings.

Ed. note: I served on the subcommittee that helped draft the new rule.



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    Excellent work, Adam!

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    Wow, look at you, big shot! It's good to see the SJC take a progressive stance on this. I had the opportunity once to "pretend" to be with the press in order to get pictures at the Indoor Track Championships one year. One of the guard/volunteers mistook me for press based on the camera I was toting at the time and let me in past the barriers to get shots from right up against the track. Those are some of the best shots I've ever taken in my life. If I had a desire to do court photography, this decision has basically opened the door to getting that equivalent level of access. Kudos.

    cameras in courtroom

    By on

    Kaz, I can appreciate your enthusiasm, and eagerness to 'do' court photography. There are several problems however. It has been about three decades now that cameras have been allowed in courtrooms at the District and Superior Court levels. The general rule of thumb has been one video, one still for access. Both would 'pool' for their respective media desirous of coverage of that case. On some cases, usually in an initial arraignment, two, perhaps three still cameras have been granted permission by an especially lenient judge. Long trials of the more spectacular nature usually involve a rotation system, one day the A.P, next the Herald, then Reuters, perhaps the local daily paper outside of Boston, then the Globe, until trial's end. Who gets the opening day, closing day ? Pure luck. Now, on any case, the 'pool' shooter is expected, well required, to capture as best as possible what happened during that session, be it a ten minute arraignment, or a six hour trial session. Unexpected outbursts from the gallery , or suspect shenanigans are not to be missed. Full caption material should accompany all pool photos , with correct spelling and titles of individuals.
    Now the tricky part. Television stations usually line up the pool situation the night before. With stills however, it is generally first come ,first served, especially on big cases. There is no gentlemen's agreement. Day one of the 'Craig's List killer' case, the initial arraignment, a Boston daily had their man at the courthouse front door at - 5am. It is a competitive business. He was now the pool. He then proceeded to provide the 'other' daily in town, as well as the wire services with the same photo. Getting too lengthy here , just a few thoughts.

    The rule expands the number of cameras

    By on

    Basically, one Bigfoot Media video camera, one Bigfoot Media still camera and one blogger camera (which he/she could use to record video).

    So what happens if two bloggers show up? They'll be expected to do the same sort of pooling as the people with the expensive gear.

    To be honest, pretty early on, the MSM folks and the blogger representative (raises hand) agreed there was no way in hell MSM camera people on the scene would ever agree to share their work with bloggers and that they would refuse to rely on bloggers with point-and-shoots to do anything up to their lofty standards (although, God, did you see the crappy Skype video a couple of stations were running out of cars on highways during the past storm?). So the old limit was extended by one.

    The other caveat for Kaz is that you'll need to register beforehand and show some proof you do some sort of regular reporting (exact proof was not defined, but we seemed to agree that it could be something as simple as a URL to a blog site to which you post). Alternatively, you could do what you've always been able to do: Ask permission from the judge on whichever matter you want to record (not that that means you'll get it, of course).

    Right you are , Adam , in

    By on

    Right you are , Adam , in most of this discussion. A closer reading of the actual ruling is helpful. It does not seem to limit the number of 'word' bloggers, folks scattered throughout the courtroom recording their thoughts on laptops. The third camera , as described , would be of a video nature ( from which stills could also be extracted) and operated by ..? well, someone designated by the blogosphere gathering to provide them with copies of the tape, or cassette, or flash card usable by all.
    And, importantly , vetting of all participants is most practical.
    Now, addressing your lofty standards remark. Let's rephrase that - call it professional standards.
    Sharp focus, steady video or stills, tight dramatic closeups when needed, wide scene shots for the 'B' roll, most of these standards not really attainable with point and shoots.
    And , for those occasionally big cases - English nanny , the Entwhistle affair, the Craig's List killer arraignment, actual courtroom seating might have to be rationed between media/blogger demands and allowing the general public in.
    I have been shooting in courtrooms for three decades now and have always seen writers following along feverishly scribbling shorthand. This decree now allows all word people to use laptops freely and other " communication devices". This is good for working media . Good for their readers.


    By on

    The limits are just on cameras.

    I'm pretty psyched about the other major change - the ability to basically work on my phone while I'm siting in Dorchester District Court waiting for that one arraignment I'm there for (you go for one case and another interesting one comes up).

    Right now, professional media types are allowed to bring their phones into the courtroom, while the rest of us have to leave them at home or in the car (West Roxbury's like that, too). BMC and East Boston let anybody bring in a phone or laptop, but see how long you can last with one out before one of the eagle-eyed court officers comes over and orders you to knock it off.

    Plus, I'm assuming that once you register, you get some sort of notice or card or something to show to court officer. When I told the kidlet about this new rule, first thing she said was I should get a fedora and put the thing in the brim.

    Think about it for a second

    By on

    Day one of the 'Craig's List killer' case, the initial arraignment, a Boston daily had their man at the courthouse front door at - 5am.

    So, you're telling me that it's so competitive that a guy who is paid to take pictures showed up at 5 AM to beat out the other news outlet's paid representatives? Wow. 5 AM. No, I've never heard of anyone taking their blog so seriously as to show up and wait on the street for something overnight before...

    I guess it's a good thing that bloggers get their own Mr. 5 AM doesn't have to compete with the blogger who decided to camp the court steps in a sleeping bag. ;)

    But don't cry for me. I said "if I were inclined". I'm not. I need to be able to move around more freely when I take pictures than I'm guessing the judge would let me do. :)

    You don't get to move at all...

    By on

    So do the rest of us bigfoot types a favor and stay out of the courthouse. The rules are pretty tight. You sit where the judge tells you to sit, no matter that it's a lousy angle for a shot or facing a window so all you get are shadow people and the backs of heads. You do not get to move around -- not even sliding down the bench. No flash or lights, so good luck getting anything with a point and shoot in those lovely dark-paneled Suffolk courtrooms or corridors. If the perp's lawyer is so inclined, he'll do everything in his power to block the shot, up to and including hiding the guy behind a door. Once you're done taking your pictures, you often have to wait until a recess, which can take a couple of hours, to get names of various parties. Also, it's entirely possible that some angry relative will slam your camera into your face as you try take a picture. (I know a guy who was once tackled by a defendant's unstable, 350-pound mother who came flying out of the gallery from behind him).

    Just for myself, eh

    By on

    I'm not really interested in photographing the big arraignments that bring out the reporters who'll be doing standups on the courthouse steps. Because, 9 times out of 10, as you mentioned, the defendant's going to be hiding behind a door in the holding area anyway. You guys can keep those (this doesn't mean I won't be there, but I'll be in the back somewhere with my notebook or, maybe now, my netbook).

    Why do the judges allow the defendants to hide?

    By on

    Adam, why do the judges (especially in Suffolk/BMC) allow the defendants to hide behind doors, under their jackets, etc.? I understand that defense lawyers often argue that the identification of the suspect is in doubt but do defendants actually have a right to hide themselves in "open" court or are judges just being accomodating? I testified a few hundred times in my career but rarely at arraignments and the issue never came up. I think it's bizarre when the cameras pan over to the dock and the defendant is literally in another room with the door open so he can hear and see but can't be seen.