WOIO Using Puppets to Cover High-Profile Trial

By Andrew Gauthier 

Faced with a ban on recording devices in the courtroom, Cleveland CBS-affiliate WOIO has turned to an unconventional method for covering a high-profile trial that’s currently underway: puppets.

Local media outlets have been closely following the trial of Jimmy Dimora, a former county commissioner charged with racketeering, since it began last week.  While its rivals have used the conventional mix of courtroom sketches and generic b-roll to illustrate the case, WOIO has opted to recreate events in the trial with puppets that look like they’ve been borrowed from a local children’s show.

WOIO news director Dan Salamone told The Plain Dealer this week that the station’s use of puppets was an attempt to provide a fresh perspective while also highlighting some of the “circus-like” aspects of the trial.

“The trial has such crazy elements that maybe puppets would hit the right chord with viewers,” Salamone said, describing the station’s decision to use puppets.

According to The Plain Dealer, the process is as follows: WOIO has a producer take notes inside the courtroom and then he/she works with a local puppet company–Natural Bridges Lots of Laughs–to bring the testimony and taped phone calls in the trial to life.

WOIO has been airing the “Puppet’s Court” segments at the end of its 11 p.m. newscasts this week.

While WOIO’s approach to covering the trial is certainly more entertaining than the average courtroom sketch, the question remains: does it belong in a newscast?

Edward Esposito of the RTDNF understands that some viewers may be outraged, but he believes that WOIO’s puppet coverage, in addition to being a creative way to portray news events, is an opportunity to show viewers how ridiculous the restrictions on courtroom recording are.

“We should consider the irony that much of the government’s case against Mr. Dimora was built on the same type of technology citizens are denied in seeing justice at work; recorded telephone conversation, video surveillance, the use of computer programs to track transactions and contracts are tools the people’s government (and the defense) have available to present their case,” Esposito wrote in a recent essay on RTDNA’s website. “But the tool of the people — the media, through its reporters — cannot use the recordings or actual testimony of those involved because it’s in federal court.”

Here’s the most recent edition of “the Puppet’s Court”…