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Mass. proposal to improve media’s access to courts

By Val Wang, producer for Order in the Court project, WBUR, Boston

Last week marked a big change in the way citizen journalists can cover the courts in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court announced a major proposal to update the state’s “Cameras in the Courtroom” statute, SJC Rule 1:19, to fit modern-day journalistic and technological realities.

The proposal has two main thrusts: to expand the technologies permissible in court coverage and to redefine who can cover the judiciary. To reflect this change, the name of the statute is being changed to “Electronic Access to the Courts.”

All members of the media will be able to use their laptops and smartphones in the courtroom and to transmit their reporting directly from there. This is a huge change.

Most importantly for citizen journalists, this new rule applies to “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, and to journalists who regularly perform a similar function.”

This means that citizen journalists will have the same privileges as traditional media outlets.

The proposal also adds a second video camera position to the one video and one still camera currently allowed. This position could be used by citizen journalists.

I am part of Order in the Court, a new Knight News Challenge-funded initiative out of WBUR that will be testing Rule 1:19 in an effort to make the court more transparent through technology. We will be wiring up the Quincy District Court with a streaming video feed and will be Twittering and blogging about cases. We’ll establish an open WiFi network for all media. We hope to be up and running in the beginning of 2011.

Under Rule 1:19, all members of the media will be required to register with the state’s chief public information officer. However, anyone who wants to come to Quincy District Court to report will only have to contact us.

The proposal to change Rule 1:19 is open to public comment until Jan. 28, 2011. You can let the courts know how you feel about the proposed rule by going here.

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