Facebook Is Fair Game In Boston-Area Courtroom

Quincy District Court, in Massachusetts, has become the first to allow live video of its proceedings to stream over the web.

Courtroom reporters, now may be a good time to start lining up side gigs.

Such credentialed journalists may soon have more competition than they bargained for – in the form of bloggers, citizen journalists and, well, anyone with a laptop, iPad or smartphone and the inclination to post on Facebook, blog and/or Tweet about courtroom proceedings.

In an attempt to establish best practices for use of digital technology to connect the courts with the people, Quincy District Court, about an hour south of Boston, just began a digital media experiment. Court proceedings were continuously live streamed by video over the web, reports Associated Press legal affairs writer Denise Lavoie.

The court will now embrace posting on Facebook, blogging and Tweeting about courtroom proceedings via laptops, iPads and/or smartphones. The program’s tagline reads: “camera = transparency = democracy?”

The pilot project livestreams unedited coverage of court proceedings. Additionally, WiFi and special seating are now available for bloggers and citizen journalists to allow for full multimedia access to this courtroom just south of Boston.

The newly developed project contrasts starkly with previously established courtroom policies that prevented reporters from using computers during proceedings.

And just last year, court federal judges received instructions that they had to read to jurors, banning them from social media, online chat rooms and blogs, reports Lavoie, regarding their cases. Jurors also could not use any electronic devices in connection with their cases.

“I respect the concept…,” a defense attorney who often defends criminals told Lavoie, “but it’s fraught with perils for attorneys with conversations that can be picked up.”

The Quincy experiment is part of OpenCourt.us,funded by a $250,000 grant through Knight News Challenge, a contest geared at encouraging media innovation, and run by the Boston National Public Radio affiliate WBUR.

The short-term goal of the project is to make courts more transparent in order to strengthen democracy; the experiment’s eventual long-term goal is to be able to guide the crafting of digital media policies in courtrooms nationwide.

Judge Mark Coven, the first justice of the Quincy District Court, told AP he could he had the right to order the camera shut off during sexual assault or domestic violence cases.

All this confirms what we’ve long known: Most people would like to be heard. Give them an iPhone, and they’ll report… gratis.

A possible plus? Perhaps these raw reports will make professional editors’ value more readily apparent by contrast.

Readers, do you think live Facebook postings about courtroom proceedings interfere with justice?