Happy fifth birthday, Twitter. You’ve come a long way, baby. And what better time than a fifth birthday to reminisce about one of the most gruesome gangland murder trials in Canadian history?
Memories of that trial — the so-called Shedden Massacre, which saw eight Bandidos bikers killed by six low-ranking subordinates in 2008 — were recalled by London Free Press reporter Kate Dubinski. Dubinski was doing something rather novel at the time, giving live, fly-on-the-wall Twitter updates for the Free Press about developments in the trial. Everything from testimony, to judge’s rulings to what defendants were wearing was tweeted about, giving Free Press readers unparalleled access inside Canada’s legal system.
But was that a good thing? Was it really worthwhile journalism? As Edmonton Journal reporter Alexandra Zabjek found out, there were two sides to this story — just like the trial Dubinski covered in 2008:
In Canada, where television cameras are largely prohibited in courtrooms, the ins-and-outs of criminal court proceedings might not be familiar to many readers. But Internet access that allows for Twitter and live blogs allow reporters to produce a different kind of coverage, which Dubinski described as a "play-by-play."
Dubinski's experience with Twitter put her in touch with bikers from around the world who read her updates and often asked her for more information about the case. Family members of both the accused and the deceased relied on her detailed coverage.
"I had no idea what would happen, I had no idea I'd have people tweeting me in the morning saying, 'What's Wayne Kellestine wearing today?' or his ex-biker buddies giving us inside dirt that we couldn't necessarily use but was interesting.'" she said, referring to Bandidos leader, Kellestine.
Ivor Shapiro, an associate professor in Ryerson University's journalism program, noted that witness testimony can change and be challenged throughout the day. He said a journalist's job is to provide context — while that can be done through some live mediums, those who deliver verbatim coverage aren't necessarily adding anything to the ubiquitous streams of information available.
Reporters should be considering how to best make sense of information provided in court and how to organize it.
"A reporter has done some integration of the various pieces of information that happened during the trial and tries to give the reader context," he said.
He questioned at what point news organizations would be better served to send a stenographer to cover a court case, rather than a reporter, if the main goal is to pump out streams of unedited content.
You can check out the full article here; it’s an excellent, well-balanced look at the pros and cons of Twitter as a medium for serious journalism.
What do you think, Techvibes readers? How useful is Twitter as a medium for journalism? Do you read Twitter for news coverage? Let us know what you think in our comments section.