Case Study: ‘Blogging the Courtroom’ (T/TH class)

For our first class next week, we will delve into a compelling multimedia case study: The Bakersfield Californian and Blogging the Courtroom.

The case is part of the Knight Case Studies Initiative at Columbia University‘s Graduate School of Journalism. 90-day access to the case and all its multimedia features costs $5.95.

You can print out a PDF if you’d like, but take advantage of the multimedia elements, such as audio interviews with the main characters, links to their bios, and PDFs of internal newsroom e-mails.

The case study assignment is worth 20 points. The first part, worth 10 points, is to post a brief response (250 words or less) as a comment to this blog entry answering one of these two questions:

1. Who is right — Logan or Jenner? And why do you think so?
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Californian’s trial blog coverage? (Revisit the trial blog entries mentioned in the case study, and browse the blog itself, especially the first three months of coverage in February, March and April 2007.

Your response must be posted by noon Monday (or, if you’re in the T/TH class, noon Tuesday).

The second 10 points will be awarded on the basis of your contributions to the case study discussion in class.

Enjoy the case!

19 thoughts on “Case Study: ‘Blogging the Courtroom’ (T/TH class)

  1. Mike Jenner was irresponsible when planning the Californian’s blogging on the Bakersfield.com Web site. He wanted to quickly jump on the blogging bandwagon before he knew all there was to know. As any journalist is taught, AP style and spelling matters. Jenner should have put a little more energy into editing the blogs. It does not take very long to edit four quick sentences.
    Jessica Logan was right asking for more time or more editing help. It is more important to produce high quality stories than to produce multiple blogs a day.
    It is very clear that the weaknesses include a lack of AP style, poor grammar and many spelling mistakes. If the editor had put in just two minutes per blog to edit users would have been more receptive.
    The content of the blogs was well done. It was information users would probably want to know about such an intense murder trial.
    The blog needed a little more thought put behind it before being published.

    1. Lizzie, I’m sorry I have to disagree with you and it seems like the rest of the class feels the same way you do. But I don’t think Jenner is at any fault. He knew what he was doing and was a step ahead of many other news sites who were hesitant to dive into blogging.

      I blame Logan for the blog not being as great as it could’ve been. She was underprepared for it, and didn’t research other blogs. Jenner gave her the great example of the Tour de France blog, and she never looked at it. She stressed too much about what her editors wanted because she complains all of her editors were telling her different ideas. So instead of taking all of the advice in and channeling it to find her focus, she honestly overacted and just dumped her notes onto the blog. It wouldn’t have taken lots of time just to pick out things from your notes or observations to put onto the blog. She wasn’t creative enough.

      Yes AP and grammar are important, but I feel like a good reporter wouldn’t just dump notes onto a blog- which is the reason why she had some minor grammar errors. Remember, editors are there for guidance for reporters, and great reporters are ones who can take advice from their editors and make something of their own from it.

  2. It was obvious that from the get-go Logan’s editors main goal was to be on top. Jenner wanted the trial blog to be the most up-to-date information on the web about the trial, and he wasn’t concerned with the technical stuff editors should be concerned with.
    Logan’s situation was a tough one. She was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She questioned her editor’s tactics, but felt an obligation to continue even though she was unhappy about the direction of her job and the work she was producing. Logan felt like she wasn’t accurately informing readers about the trial happenings, and clearly had too many things on her plate.
    I thought it was irresponsible of the editors not to clearly state out the rules and expectations for blogging. Logan was being held responsible for the things she posted online, but was not given time to make sure she was saying what she wanted to be saying.
    If Logan had refused to post her rough notes, she probably would have been fired. Because of the pressure her editors put on her, she went against her beliefs as a journalist.
    It angered me that her editors didn’t respect her concerns, and kept their focus on quantity, not quality.
    A journalist’s job is pointless if no one reads what is being said. By posting wrong information, Logan was risking her credibility. Her editors should have taken a step back and focused on the blog content, instead of how many times Logan posted through out the day.

  3. Does a reporter with a blog potentially undermine his reputation as a journalist?

    A reporter with a blog doesn’t necessarily undermine their reputation as a journalist. I think the problem in the Californian case wasn’t that the journalist was irresponsible, I think the editors and supervisors got greedy and fell to poor judgment.

    They demanded a running commentary, but didn’t want to take the steps to insure the postings were accurate, spelled correctly and grammatically correct. Logan was doing the job she was told to do while also frequently addressing her serious concerns to the editor. I think her reputation and any journalist’s reputation would be harmed under these circumstances.

    If a reporter has a blog and uses the it as an additional tool to get his message out to the readers, it can be beneficial. I don’t think it should be a soap box or a place to be lax and forget the ethics of being a good journalist.

    So, yes I think a blog can potentially hurt a journalist’s reputation, but it doesn’t have to, if used properly.

  4. I think Jenner was ahead of the curve by starting up the news Web site. He was smart to think that online news would attract a community and foster ideas and opinions among people. His idea about “behind the scenes” podcasts was creative; however, I think he tried to use the same idea for the courtroom blog and it caused a few problems.

    Although it would have been neat to have a courtroom beat blog, I think in this case study Logan had the right to complain about her assignment(s) on the Brothers case. She didn’t have any direction on how to write blog posts or what to include in them; but I think that’s in part because this had never been done before.

    But unlike a podcast, blogs are read quickly by people who want to get the main points – essentially, a nut graf. In February 2007, it’s evident the reporters are still getting to know blog protocol. In April, Logan has become much more efficient at reporting, and I appreciate how thorough she is. It’s neat that some posts also resulted in conversation between readers.

    Nevertheless, there are still grammatical errors that are annoying; they make the Bakersfield paper look bad. In addition, many of the posts are too long and too thorough. The case may be interesting, but as a reader I want to know the facts that are moving the trial along. I don’t want to know minute details.

    -Jaimie Siegle

  5. It seems that Mike Jenner and the editorial staff at the Bakersfield.com Web site were so fixated on obtaining the news first that they walked all over the person they relied on to get the information from the trial in the first place. As a good employee and reporter would do, Jessica Logan did what she was asked to do to the best of her ability, even after she made it known that the demands of the task were to much for one person to handle. It seems she had a comfortable routine in place whenever reporting on a trial, and the editorial staff for the Californian’s blog didn’t consider that what they were asking her was something she was not fully prepared to take on. Not having a strict set of guidelines on editing blog entrees was a mistake from the beginning by the Californian, and Logan did a good thing by raising the ethical complaint of libel standards. As innovative as the Californian was trying to be, they lost sight of how to cooperate and meet the needs of their staff, especially in such a high profile case as the Brothers Trial.

  6. Even though blogs have opened a lot of possibilities for journalists to deliver news the basic journalism standards should never be undermined. Jenner was making the right choice when he opened up the Brothers Trial blog. It was the best way to keep the audience constantly updated on the trial and it allowed the to have all the inside information of what was going on. But the fact of having news delivered immediately should have never interfered with the accuracy and style of the stories. I think Logan should have been more careful before posting anything online and Jenner needed to make sure there was an editor backing her up to avoid all the mistakes she did. Regarding her complaints with the multitasking I think all journalists in this era should be prepared to do all sort of tasks in order to have the news delivered.
    I think the biggest strength of the Californian’s trial blog coverage is that it tried to give the most updated information to its users and in different ways (blog posts, audio, video) but it failed to follow the standards of good writing and, in some cases, accuracy.

  7. Some strengths of the Californian’s trial blog are its immediacy and insight into small details which were not included in the print story.

    But many of the entries on the Vincent Brothers page are also lengthy and unfiltered, failing to put important facts together in an easily readable manner.

    And unlike many of today’s blogs, which are edited and usually include one or more links, the Californian’s posts are much more of the stream-of-conscience variety, as close to a written transcript of the proceedings as one could hope for from a multi-tasking journalist.

    The glaring weakness of these trial blogs is twofold: first, as Logan complained, the constant updating requested by her editors left her little time to piece everything together in her own mind.

    Second, these posts seem to take the journalism out of journalism; that is, to someone who reads the blog entries and not the edited story will not see the fruits of Logan’s labor because they will never see the finished product.

  8. Jenner was smart and ahead of his time in coming up with the blog; knowing that he could build a community where people interacted. However, he let ambition to become the fastest news source inhibit his judgment.
    AP style, spelling and accuracy all play an important role, even in blogging, and Jenner decided to forego these things and rely on quantity rather than quality. Forcing Jessica Logan to produce multiple blogs a day and putting pressure on her to forget her own integrity as a journalist to fulfill his need to be “on top” took a good idea and made it go sour.
    If Logan or her editors could have spent a little more time editing the work (after all, blogs are short) it could have been more successful. Instead, the blog posts were a grammatical mess, they made the paper look bad, and they had no direction. The blog was a great idea, it just needed to be reigned in.

  9. Jessica Logan was correct in the way she handled the Bakersfield Californian courtroom blog dispute. Not only did she voice how she felt in a professional manner, but she continued to stress her discomfort with the blog. She was unhappy that her work was going on the web unedited, she felt overwhelmed and overworked, and she was generally despondent that the same rules that apply to the paper did not apply to the web.

    Something is askew when the paper prints a correction the day after a mistake has been made, but the web does no such thing. Even if it is just a blog like Logan’s, the standards of writing and accuracy still apply. Yes, it is important to get information and stories out in a timely fashion, but it is even more important that the information you are providing for the public is accurate.

    When Logan’s blogs went directly on the web without being edited first, there were some grammatical and accuracy mistakes. The reader’s respect for the writer/blogger and the newspaper as a whole was lessened.

    -Kimmy Ryan

  10. Logan was under a lot of pressure and she had to compromise the quality of her work. Jenner should have been more concerned with the quality of the work instead of trying to pull together a sloppy and possibly incorrect information just to have breaking information out to the public. Jenner was trying to get the online edition to be ahead of the competition by sacraficing the crediability, accuracy, and reputation of the news organization. An editor is supposed to oversee the quality of the work being published and Jenner did not fulfill his duty.

    The paper definitely was ahead of the competition, it was a curse and blessing type thing. A strength because Logan was in the midst of the trial absorbing all the information, but also a weakness because it was too much detail along with needed analyzation of the information before writing about it. Another weakness became Jenner himself because of the lack of engagment he had with the information being posted. The saying goes actions speak louder than words but in this case it was the other way around, Logan was doing so much work but her words sometimes ended up having a negative outcome as they were incorrect and with errors. Overall, Logan did the best she could with what she was given.
    -Diana Nolacea

  11. I believe Logan is completely right. Although, the up-to-the-minute reporting style on Logan’s blog was effective in relaying information on what was going on inside the courtroom of the Brother’s trial as quickly as possible to it’s readers it was simultaneously discrediting Logan’s skills as a reporter. I think that for Jenner to continue to ask her to blog in that style as a serious journalist and on a serious case, and at the same time not have anyone editing her posts before appearing online under her byline was very unfair to Logan as well as to many of the facts in the case that could have come across confusing without having gone through editors first.
    I think the strengths are obvious in that it delivered the readers of the Bakersfield community with a very up-to-date account of exactly everything that was occurring inside the courtroom. I think the weakness is obviously that Logan was essentially blogging her notes directly online without putting it into more of story-like format or at least sending it through an editor to fix grammatical and spelling errors, which in turn could have confused a reader immensely as well led to a libelous statement when she did not intend for it to.

  12. The beauty of blogs is the quickness and constant flow of updates. In the case of ‘The Bakerfield Californian’, the idea was to be the first to bring updates straight from the courtroom.

    However, the way that Jenner went about the process was wrong. He sacrificed a lot of standards that were used in the newspaper, but not on the blogs. He thought of blogs and not the story, but as a sneak peek into the notebook of a reporter.

    The idea of a blog was fairly new, and Jenner wanted to go full force on the concept. He wanted constant updates and eventually had Logan post her blogs on the website with the promise that an editor would review them.

    The fact was that there wasn’t an editor looking at them at all. Not only were there grammar errors, but there were at times accuracy errors.

    Logan knew that the standards she had for her print stories should cross over into the information she was posting on her blog. Jenner had a different perspective and sacrificed the integrity of Logan.

  13. I believe Jenner was right when it came to what the blog should contain, and before the court blog started he gave a great example with the Tour de France blog. Jenner wanted the trail blog to include simple observations that the readers don’t get unless you are there witnessing the trail. This is what makes great blogs, maybe not totally and completely emptying a reporter’s notebook because this is how small mistakes can become large ones, but blogging about certain observations that only people in the courtroom can see.

    The problem Logan encountered was she didn’t fully grasp what her editors wanted. Yes, having multiple editors tell you different things can be frustrating, but she should have just taken that information and channeled into one focus of how she should cover the blog. The problem with her blog entries was she literally emptying her notebook, when she should have been taking pieces of observations, from her notebook to avoid errors. Yes, errors do occur when reporters are forced to multi-task but I believe the reason why there were problems with this blog was because Logan didn’t prepare or research enough to decide exactly how she was going to approach the blog. The strengths of this blog were that it did contain observations about people outside the courtroom couldn’t get, but the main problem was that this was inconsistent throughout the blog. Some blogs were literally dumped notes with ramble of “he said she said,” and some had great observations of minor details that gave more color to outside readers.

  14. While reading deeper into this story, I felt the authors were guilty of writing with a framing bias. In other words, the story was slanted to make Logan appear the victim of hellacious editors, without giving the other side. It didn’t mention reasons the editors persisted in their high demands. Perhaps the blog was wildly successful, despite the mistakes, and they had no choice but to keep the product out there.
    With that said, I would’ve assigned a separate reporter to be specifically in charge of blogging the case. At my hometown newspaper, the editor used to ask for us to both blog and cover high-profile baseball games, and it just didn’t work. It was difficult to keep score, pay attention to what was happening on the field, and blog at the same time — and baseball is a slow moving sport. Logan had legitimate reasons for her complaints, as the editors may have had legitimate reasons for their high demands. But if the Californian was hyping this blog so much, they should’ve made the necessary investment to ensure it would be done right.

    1. I agree with Chris.
      Logan was told to write SIMPLE observations in her blog. Trying to write down what time a specific phone call was made is not a simple observation. A simple observation would be more along the lines, “hmmm, that’s weird she got a phone call so early in the morning,” as an example.

      The editor was ahead of every other news organizations, but he should of researched how other organizations or companies were starting to use their blogs, and know how to direct his reporters in a effective manner.

  15. Although blogs have become an integral part in the world of journalism, I believe that Jessica Logan was right in this specific circumstance. Covering a major murder trial is one thing; I cannot even begin to think how stressful that would be. If I had to blog at the same time, I may get my points confused or write something in a news piece that is too informal, or could be opinionated and get me in trouble. The fact that no one was editing her blogs is also a problem; an official news blog should follow AP style and have no typos. I would not like to read comments following a blog of mine, questioning my writing ability or credibility.
    It is definitely hard to stand up to your editor, especially if you want to keep your job, but I think what Logan did was very courageous. Jenner wanted to have the story first, just like any editor, but he should have taken into consideration the consequences.
    I think the blogs were intriguing, and I like how Logan wanted input from the readers, allowing some interaction. However, I think Jenner should have had another reporter in the court room who was in charge of the blogging. This way, they could still get the up-to-date information and have it proofread while Logan concentrated on her print stories.

  16. I think Jessica Logan should of looked at other blogging sites before she walked into the court room cold turkey. If she had an initial plan of consistency, then her editors mights could advise her in a different direction the next day. Covering information on the approximate time phone calls were made in the case seems irrelevant to the type of information more worthy to blog about.
    Could she have written bullet points, and filled them in with more information when there is a pause in the court room?
    She should be observing how people are acting on the stand, and this is important information because she is being paid for reporting on an opinion. Blogs can be opinionated, and a professional reporter should be able to catch her errors.
    Jenner told her to blog in a fashion which would make the trial more tangible for blog readers. If readers want exact times and specific emperical information, follow-up articles in the paper or magazine could provide the numerical facts. To discredit Logan, she should know that most readers only read the first page of a story that is in the paper, and The New York Times has several anecdotal leads in it’s published articles.

    Kathryn Garvie

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