Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pushing Twitter trial coverage a step forward: federal court

In less than a year, covering trials via Twitter has gone from an experiment to one of my regular reporting tools. With each new trial, I've gained about 100 followers - both locally and even from other countries - and that doesn't count the people who watch it from our news web site or on my work blog.

The reaction has been stunning at times.  Other news sites, notably the Orange County Register, has also picked up on this kind of coverage for the courts.

But this week brought a giant step forward when a federal judge in Wichita gave the go-aheadfor me to use Twitter there.  I don't know if it's a first, as some of the legal bloggers think, but it is a big step in expanding live coverage of the courts.

See, federal courts don't allow cameras or video or audio recorders.  The federal courthouse in Wichita doesn't allow cell phones, so I had to get the judge's permission to bring my smartphone and Bluetooth keyboard into the courtroom.

The trial, which begins testimony Monday, surrounds federal charges of racketeering aimed at accused members of the Crips street gang.  Federal prosecutors around the country have used racketeering laws for years to try and curb the problem of street gangs.

But to see these trials, you had to go to the courthouse. Twitter will allow people to follow the trial in real time and learn more about federal courts and how they work.

Follow the trial next week. After it's over, I'll report back with an update on what I learned in this new venue.