Friday, September 26, 2008

Televised Trials Are Vanishing

Los Angeles—Court TV tried and failed to turn a profit providing gavel to gavel coverage of high profile trials.

The biggest problem was and is we don’t have enough big trials or interested viewers. Frankly what goes on in our courtrooms proves to bore most Americans to tears.

It’s a really rare day where there is a trial such as the O.J. Simpson double murder case that captured the imagination of the entire nation.

Since that trial we have had interest in the Michael Jackson child molesting and the Scott Peterson murder cases. Court TV also spent a fortune promoting their trial coverage to gain viewers.

An overriding reality is that most people are either working or are in school and don’t have the time to watch these cases in America’s courts.

To avoid totally losing their viewers, Court TV found they needed talking heads to tell us what was going on and limited their courtroom coverage. I hate the talking heads for the most part because too often these personalities wish to align themselves somehow as heroes for victims. The TV personalities spend their time polluting and otherwise influencing our jury pool. The result is that a fair trial for accused defendants is too often unobtainable.

The trend for now will be fewer trials getting total coverage. The retrial of legendary record producer Phil Spector will be causality because of a lack of interest and more importantly profits. News directors rightfully say the Spector redo is a waste because for the most part it won’t provide new information.

I want to cover the Spector retrial but unless my effort is sponsored or underwritten there is no way I can cover this. I can’t devote myself to traveling to downtown L.A., pay for parking and tell my readers what’s going on. During the first trial I relied on the Internet feeds to bring those Phil Spector trial stories to this blog.

Trial blogs with knowledgeable writers using a combination of highlights video, written narrative and still photographs are both a great and the only alternative. That requires a blogger to write about the day’s events and a producer to gather video and still images. That also means providing photographers to share the work of providing pool images and video.

The way I see it the only news organization that could handle decent trial coverage is the Associated Press. They sell their content to all the other news organizations. The AP can always be counted on do a great job at least with keeping us all informed about important testimony and evidence unleashed in the courts.

The AP always provides great photos of dramatic trial moments but they are really weak on providing courtroom video right now. Hopefully that will change for the better.

Blogging these trials is still a very expensive proposition for local TV stations. They have little interest in tying up reporters and producers just for a single story they will use for their 40 minutes of actual news coverage for their entire day. TV stations need to maintain websites to provide this kind of extended coverage.

Viewers and advertisers frankly care more about YouTube content than the serious business of TV trials. That simply means unless viewer habits change, fewer trials will be put up for public consumption.


Joel A. Brodsky said...


You are so right. The Founding Fathers guaranteed the right to a public trial in criminal cases (actually all parts of the proceeding are supposed to be public) in the Bill Of Rights as a protection of the individual defendant against the government. Everything the government does in a criminal proceeding should be open to public scrutiny. An educated public that believes in the protection of the presumption of innocence is the best protection against government abuse. However, the problem is that only reporters, who because they are human, put there own spin on what they see and hear, are the only ones who can attend these trials. We need TV coverage so that the public can see and hear criminal trials for themselves and make up their own minds.

Joel A. Brodsky

A Voice of Sanity said...

See this LINK for what really goes on in court even with insane media attention. These weren't honest, diligent reporters, they were trying to find some little bit of titillation to wrap a 'story' in.