The idea behind Order in the Court 2.0, one of this year’s winners of a Knight News Challenge grant, is to restore and reinvigorate the public’s access and understanding of our nation’s courts.

Up to now journalism has been the primary bridge connecting the public to the courts. But the media’s ability to cover the courts is diminished due to shrinking resources.

At the same time, many in the public are equipped with new media tools like smartphones, Wi-Fi and access to multiple social networks.

Working with the judiciary and the public, Order in the Court 2.0 will establish best practices for effective and efficient ways to cover the courts using digital technology.

Live Streaming, Place for Bloggers, Wiki

We are the first nationally funded initiative to change how courts deal with electronic journalism since video and audio recording standards were established in the 1970’s. While the legislative and the executive branch have embraced new technologies developed in the last decade, the judicial branch has been the slowest to adapt to these innovations.

Order in the Court 2.0 will create a pilot program in Quincy District Court, located just outside Boston, to serve as a laboratory to test these new media initiatives. Quincy District Court is one of the busiest courthouses in the Massachusetts with nearly 9,000 new criminal complaints filed each year.

This pilot program will equip the courthouse with live video-streaming capabilities and create designated areas for live bloggers. Additionally, we will post online the court’s daily docket to better inform and engage the public of what civil and criminal cases are being heard in the area. We also plan to build a knowledge wiki that will educate the public of common legal terms and proceedings, all in an effort to add transparency to this fundamental aspect of our democratic society.

By the end of this project, the more skeptical members of the legal community — including judges, court administrators and lawyers — should accept, if not embrace, the advantages of increased digital access to the nation’s court system. To quote Judge Mark Coven, First Justice of the Quincy District court in Massachusetts, “We have long believed that if the public had greater information about what transpires in the court that there would be increased public confidence in the work of our judicial system.”

Additionally, we hoped that the effective demonstration of the success of Order in the Court 2.0 will be a model that can be emulated through the nation’s courts at all jurisdictional levels.

Leadership and Partners

I will be leading a small team of digital journalists working out of Quincy District Court. My day job is executive director of wbur.org, the website of Boston NPR’s website. Over the past year I’ve overseen our station’s efforts to become a major news destination site. I’m responsible for the editorial content of our website, which includes content from our local newsroom, Radio Boston, and our nationally syndicated programs, On Point, Here and Now, and Only a Game. Prior to going over to the digital side, I was WBUR’s news director for the last six years. I’ve also got two decades worth of local television news experience working at Boston’s ABC and CBS affiliates.

The idea behind Order in the Court 2.0 came out of work being done by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Judiciary-Media Committee, of which I am a member. This committee is made up of members of the state and federal judiciary and media representatives from print, radio, television and online. This committee is trying to adapt the current cameras in the court rules to incorporate the new realities of digital access. Order in the Court 2.0 will provide real world opportunities to test out some of these proposed rule changes.

We also plan to work cooperatively with the National Conference of Court Public Information Officers. This past year the new media committee of the CCPIO has been studying the issue raised by increased digital access. It will soon release its findings. After studying the state of new media and gauging the perceptions of judges and court administrators, the CCPIO will issue a framework for the courts on how to make decisions appropriate for the use of new media. Order in the Court 2.0 adds the input of mainstream media, citizen journalists and the public at large to this equation and then tests these assumptions in real time in one of the busiest courts in the state

Challenges

One of the greatest challenges Order in the Court 2.0 will face is the fear and apprehension of the judges and court staff, who are concerned that greater access and transparency of the legal process could have a detrimental effect on the administration of justice. To address this concern, Order in the Court 2.0 will include judges and other court personnel in its development and implementation.

Order in the Court 2.0 will have to strike the appropriate balance between the public’s right to know and the public’s right to due process. These two rights play themselves out everyday in court and the introduction of smaller, and more accessible digital communication devices only complicate issues that the courts need to address going into the future.

Order in the Court Needs You

Even though we haven’t officially started at Quincy District Court, this project is getting lots of attention thanks to coverage in the Boston Globe, Neiman Journalism Lab, Current
and even across the pond at journalism.co,uk.

But, most importantly, we’d love to know what you think of our idea. What does it need to accomplish to be a success in your mind? Let us know what you think by adding a comment below. We’d love to have you along for the ride as we attempt to bring about Order in the Court 2.0.