Case Study for Tuesday, Feb. 23

For our first class this 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 11:59 p.m. on Monday.

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

Enjoy the case!

16 thoughts on “Case Study for Tuesday, Feb. 23

  1. I believe Logan to be right. Regardless of where the information is being published, online or in print, it is being published. As a reporter, I believe you have the responsibility to make sure the facts are right. It is for your integrity. Especially in a court trial, you are releasing information about someone’s fate: life, death, imprisonment or being released. It is shaping the public’s opinion, and therefore must be accurate in its coverage. That includes the elimination of error, regardless of it is for the Internet or not.

    Jenner, as an editor, should respect the hesitations of the writer, as well as the writer’s physical capabilities in reporting in the courtroom. If Logan felt that she could not serve the public well, by being pushed to do all that her editor had demanded, I feel that Jenner should have respected that, and stepped back a little. Despite his desire to expand and grow the website.

  2. I agree with Erin, I think Logan is in the right in this case because she was worried about mistakes being made and voiced this worry many times.

    I also think what was done was wrong because it had been stated that no data could be captured for immediate release. So her blogging directly ignored this order from the court.

    As an editor Jenner dismissed the ethics of journalism. He didn’t check Logan’s work before it went out, so he missed errors. The worst part is that he did the blogging because he wanted to be the first person with the story, instead he made his reporter look like an idiot and made the paper look stupid as well.

    Had the blogging gone more successfully it could have been great and very groundbreaking, but that didn’t happen.

  3. I’m with Logan on this one, most definitely.

    Yes, Jenner is correct in that blog posts are very casual and don’t hold the same esteem as published news stories do, but he needs to remember WHO is blogging; a reporter who represents the Bakersfield “Californian.” It will most certainly make a huge impact on the readers if they discover a typo or incorrect fact that this newspaper official has missed. It’s almost as if the reader is having to point out errors in their job, and it will definitely put the reporter in a bad light.

    Also, it angers me that Logan has to be more concerned for the paper than its editor, Jenner. That should really be Jenner’s no. 1 concern and dedication to the paper. Yes, it’s way cool to have a leg up on reporting this murder case with a fancy handheld device, but he needs to think about Logan and how difficult of a feat this was for her to report this way, with no help. Seems like he needs to sort out his priorities!

  4. I agree with Logan on this issue of court blogging.

    Logan was covering a complex trial, and the request of her editors for the 10 minute updates was just a disaster waiting to happen for a journalist. She was also given no real direction or instructions; yes, Jenner wanted the blog to be ‘colorful’ with more ‘sight and sound’ elements, but Logan was being told by different editors to do different things. Also unclear to her was the fact that her posts may or may not be reviewed before posting.

    Her concern that her blogging was undercutting her credibility as a journalist is a valid concern, because like she mentioned, it’s hard to pay attention to the bigger picture when you are focusing so hard on jotting down correct times and numbers.

    While the trial blog was a good idea in theory, the carelessness of the posts uploaded onto it was one of the blogs major downfalls. Jenner had the right idea by deciding to give the reader immediacy–that’s what everyone wants these days– but immediacy should also be followed by accuracy which was compromised in the trial blog.

  5. I agree with Logan in this particular case. In a world where lawsuits are far to common, it seems brash to require such short publication in such an important case. No matter how good a journalist Logan is, mistakes will always be made especially without the oversight of an editor.

    Additionally the case can be altered with the output of incorrect information. If Logan were to put something out that sways public opinion, the defendant(s) may not receive a fair trial. Furthermore it is repulsive that Jenner was okay with ignoring the court ordered gag.

    If all is ignored and it was published, then they should have at least taken the time to make sure that the information was correct. A fast output means nothing without correct information.

    • I am not sure if I would come to Jenner’s defense- I will say I understand the intense push for timely news. I guess in this situation they wanted so desperately to be the first to get the message out, they were willing to sacrifice the quality and possible liability. This is the thing about digital journalism. It is so easy to put out wrong information. You run the risk of losing your credibility with every click.

      I think the idea of having a journalist blogging from the courtroom is awesome. I also believe that a reporter must still maintain the same level of responsibility, maybe even more. The fact that Logan felt this could end her career is important. The public expects journalists to be accurate. I have to go with Logan on this one. No matter how bad you want the information fast, if it’s not accurate, it can have serious consequences.

  6. I wish I could be a little more exciting in my response to this case, but I also think that Logan is right. Not only were her hesitations about the accuracy of facts on the blog very valid, but her hesitations to scar her credibility as a journalist were also fair.
    I think Jenner’s preoccupation with creating a “web first” news room made him a man of business more than that of journalism, especially more than that of ethics.
    I also thought it was very irresponsible of Jenner to ignore a court-ordered gag, and even more irresponsible to put his own reporter in a morally compromising position.
    Yes, the face of journalism is certainly changing, and there are a lot of questions over whether web style should adhere to the traditional conventions of print journalism. I personally don’t have a problem with blogging and web media taking on more of a conversational, casual nature, but the basics of journalism should remain; facts and accuracy are important no matter the medium, and so is a reporter’s integrity.

  7. While it gives me a secret adrenaline rush to play devil’s advocate, I cannot argue for someone I don’t agree with. One of the first things I learned in journalism is to be accurate, brief, and clear. While it is the job of the journalist to keep the public informed, we cannot forget that their name is attached to their work. It is unfair for Logan’s editors to bombard her with an outlandish amount of responsibility and not protect her journalistic integrity in return.
    Another issue that I feel her editors overlooked was the journalistic standards of a blog. A blog does not stand for irrelevant, error-stricken bullet points. It is still a piece of reporting. And while blogs frequently expose a writer’s opinion, I think it was a poor choice for Jenner to have Logan both blog and report stories. It undermined her objectivity to the viewer and interfered with her ability to concentrate fully on the subject.
    As a journalist, and frequent news reader, I would rather have accurate and thoughtful information every few hours, rather than irrelevant, thoughtless information every ten minutes.

  8. I will be the jerk devil’s advocate and say this: The Californian handbook had ZERO mention of the Web policies and their Web etiquette, so from a legal perspective I believe Jenner is protected. I also believe that Logan could have demanded more examples of entries and clarity before agreeing to continue to blog the trial. Also, I think it’s fair to say that three years ago the line of distinction between a blog story and a “real” news story was much more grey than say it is in 2010. Newspapers hadn’t yet found the way to balance the two. I think that Jenner was correct in pointing out that Logan’s grammatical and factual errors weren’t negatively impacting readership–which represents the bottomline for an editor. I believe that Jenner did not share the same ethics as Logan nor did he understand her predicament perhaps because he had never been in that situation. But ultimately, he did NOT break a paper’s policy per se and all in all Logan seemed to cover the trial adequately without too much uproar from the community. Did he demand too much–yes? But could Logan have held her ground more–I think so. If you can’t stand up to your editor, than that’s being just as weak as Jenner’s judgement calls are accused of as being.

  9. After reading The Bakersfield Californian and Blogging in the Courtroom case study my heart sides with Jessica Logan. As an established courtroom reporter she was unfamiliar with blogging and the concept of posting “notes” to the web. I believe that Jenner and McHenry both pushed Logan to post blogs to the website on a “quantity” not “quality” manner. Logan was clearly not comfortable with balancing so many duties on such a series case. Her undivided attention was needed to write a reliable and accurate news column on the court decisions. Balancing the blog and daily posts to the blog as well as the news column on the trial is a lot to focus on all at once. While journalism is evolving into such a bigger sphere including many forms of technology it is important to get the facts right on specific cases. If the Californian could not afford to have two reporters sit in the courtroom then they should probably not have blogs posted so quickly. I believe that the newspaper was looking out for their own reputation of being an interactive newspaper rather than Logan’s reputation. I do believe that the blog reflects poorly on Logan.

    –Katie Horner

  10. In this case I believe Logan is right. Just because blogs are a less formal version of journalism does not mean that the common standards of accuracy should be put by the wayside. Though there were not actual written out rules regarding blogs, I believe that the general consensus in the news world is that accuracy, in facts or spelling/ grammar, is imperative in reporting. Logan did the right thing by repeatedly asking her editors about whether or not her items were being edited and also expressed concern on numerous occasions about the problems time constraints placed on her.
    I agree with Katie that the Californian was only worried about getting the “scoop” earlier than anyone else. It seemed as if the editors completely disregarded the effects mistakes, even small ones, would have on Logan’s reputation.
    This case sort of worried me that any editor could trade all shreds of accuracy for getting the story up first.

  11. Sorry Jake, I too side with Logan.

    Although I really do think Mike Jenner a step ahead of other new organizations in grasping the power of the web, I think the blog lost a great deal of credibility with the numerous AP style errors. And who knows, mistakes like those may have something to do with all the sources you can’t trust on the web these days. It doesn’t matter if it was 2007 or 2010, if your a journalist you job is to have i right– minimal AP errors, names spelled correctly, ect.

    Jenner’s had a constant need to be on-top. Though virtually all of my journalism classes I have learned accuracy is the number one most important thing, and I think that means you are not always going to be the first one to report something. And I think that’s ok, because being right is more important than being first to me.

    Logan did ask for more editing help, and she was not granted that. And it took away from her being able to produce more informative, well thought out stories. Although, I do believe you need to hold strong to your beliefs, and Logan should have made a stronger case against doing the blogs if that is what she felt. But I also think the editors should have respected her concerns. The editors demanded way more than she could handle—and would not even help with the simple editing process. Blogs are a great way to bring extra content to the story, but they lack journalistic credibility without being properly looked over.

    Logan definitely had the right to complain, especially because blogs were ahead of their time in 2007, and Logan didn’t have the time to look over examples of blogs when she was supposed to be reporting on a court case.

  12. I agree with Logan on this particular case about court blogging.
    I understand the paper wanting to be first to report and inform reader’s about the events in the courtroom. However, I don’t agree with the method. By asking Logan to file her unedited notes and blogs every ten minutes, a mistake was bound to happen. Her editors did not guide her in any direction–allowing her to do as she pleased. On the one hand, they gave her the freedom to report almost as she wished. But, on the other hand, they neglected to give her the resources she needed or guidelines to abide by. They should have given her an outline of some sort, especially since the concept of blogging, let alone court blogging, were fairly new.

  13. In this case, ambitious, probably over-zealous leadership pushed hard toward immediacy at the expense of accuracy, consistency and depth. Fundamentally, their strategy was wrong. In that regard, Logan is vindicated.

    Most people, I would venture, see news blogging not as a “raw feed” or a stream of consciousness. Instead, they expect well-reported, factually and grammatically correct posts with the same quality as print stories. For a publication to have cred, everything needs to be top drawer—even Web posts.

    But while I sympathize with Logan, I’m with Jenner here.

    A live blog, which is basically what Logan was writing, is a horse of a different color from a traditional blog post. You write what’s happening as it happens with a timestamp, and you look over updates BEFORE you click send. Why couldn’t Logan run spell check herself? That’s a cop-out. I thought editing one’s work before sending it out was a basic skill?

    Additionally, Logan knew she was being overworked. From learning new technology to tagging timecode, filing blog posts, writing print stories and even covering other court cases for a time, she was simply too busy. And she tried to communicate as much, but far too passively.

    Logan needed to stand her ground and be assertive with her editors. She should have stated she couldn’t keep up with the demands. It would not have been a slight against her—simply an admission of human limitations. The editorial team cannot be held responsible for what they did not know.

  14. I would have to say that Jenner is definitely in the wrong, but Logan missed out on an opportunity to really do something different and make it her own. However, Jenner left her without much to go on and basically hung her out to dry. He forgot that in his experiment with his publication, he is also shaping a young journalist’s career and reputation and whatever professional reputation she gains with his organization will follow her wherever she goes.

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