University of Hertfordshire

The accused is entering the courtroom: the live-tweeting of a murder trial.

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2016
EventInternational Association for Media and Communication Research - University of Leicester, Leicester, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jul 201631 Jul 2016

Conference

ConferenceInternational Association for Media and Communication Research
CountryUnited Kingdom
CityLeicester
Period26/07/1631/07/16

Abstract

The use of social media, especially Twitter, is now widely accepted within journalism as an outlet for news information. Live tweeting of unfolding events is standard practice, with a few exceptions. As technology unfolds, the law tends to follow slowly, meaning that in many jurisdictions, the use of social media in courtrooms has been constrained. In March 2014, Oscar Pistorius went on trial in the Gauteng High Court for murder. Mobile phones were permitted in the courtroom, and the hundreds of journalists present began live-tweeting their coverage, an unprecedented combination of international media interest, relative flexibility of the sub judice rule and technology which resulted in massive streams of consciousness reports of events as they unfolded. Based on a corpus of Twitter feeds of twenty four journalists covering the trial, this study analyses the content and strategies of these feeds in order to present an understanding of how microblogging is used as a live reporting tool. The journalists selected cover national and international media for the full range of media outlets and are from a range of nationalities and backgrounds. This study shows the development of standardised language and strategies in reporting on Twitter. As opposed to earlier studies (Hedman, 2015; D. Lasorsa, 2012; D. L. Lasorsa, Lewis, & Holton, 2011; Vis, 2013) which found greater variation in what journalists did (or thought they did) on social media, a more narrow range of activity was found, with only three strategies being present in teh accounts: Promotion, Reportage and Interaction. No significant variation in these was found with regards to gender, location or medium. The study also found that when journalists converse on social media, they do so with each other. The narrow range of voices present in the media, and the extent o which journalists speak primarily to each other, and not the wider public has been researched and commented for some years (Awad, 2006; Kothari, 2010; Lariscy, Avery, Sweetser, & Howes, 2009; Sigal, 1999). This study shows that new technologies have not changed this significantly, and that social media is not expanding the community with access to the media. This study highlights that we are in the beginning phase of the development of standardised strategies and styles for social media: from the wide ranging possibilities of the early days, Twitter is coalescing into a particular kind of tool for particular kinds of journalism. This is in keeping with the development of news in other media as well, which evolved into the standardised forms and language that came to be accepted as “traditional” for the medium. (Barnhurst & Nerone, 2001; Briggs, 2001) This study is the preliminary phase of the development of standardised strategies and styles for social media: from the wide ranging possibilities of the early days, Twitter is coalescing into a particular kind of tool for particular kinds of journalism. This is in keeping with the development of news in other media as well, which evolved into the standardised forms and language that came to be accepted as “traditional” for the medium. (Barnhurst & Nerone, 2001; Briggs, 2001)

Notes

Megan Knight, ‘The accused is entering the courtroom: the live tweeting of a murder trial’, paper presented at the International Association for Media and Communication Research conference: 'Memory, Commemoration and Communication: Looking Back, Looking Forward', 27-31 July 2016, University of Leicester, UK.

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