Survey Looks at New Media and the Courts

Article excerpt

A first-of-its-kincl nationwide survey on new media and ihe courts shows that stale judges and court staff recognize the potential impact of social media on the administration of justice and are taking a close look at hoth the ramifications and opportunities. More than a third of state court judges and magistrates responding to the survey said iliey have used social media either in their personal or professional lives. But the survey also found that n early hall of the judges who responded disagreed when asked if a judge - in a professional capacity - could participate in social networking sites without compromising ethical codes of conduct. Federal judges were not a part of the survey.

While only a fraction of courts around the country report establishing their own social networking sites, almost all the respondents agreed that judges and court employees needed to be educated about socalled "new media" - from Facebook and Twitter to smartphones - and learn how their use might impact day-to-day operations in their courthouses.

The survey findings were part of a yearlong national collaborative research project that for the first time measured the impact of new media on the courts. Courts have taken a cautious approach toward new media because of concerns about effects on ethics and court proceedings. Some courts also are exploring how these new communication tools can be used to support public understanding of the courts.

The project was conducted by the Conference of Court Public Information Officers, an organization of more than 100 communications professionals working in state and lederai courts in the United Slates and worldwide. Partners in the project include the National Center for State Courts, the nation's leading center for research assistance to the nation's state court systems, and the KAV. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. The complete project report, "New Media and the Courts: The Current Status and A Look at the Future" is available on the CCPlO website at www.ccpio.org.

The report examines efforts and involvement by the NCSC, Conference ofChiefJustic.es (CCJ), Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), National Association foiCourt Management (NACM). Reynolds Center for Courts and the Media, and oilier parties in exploring what the new media landscape means for the judicial system.

The report predicts thai in the coming years, courts will re-examine slate codes of conduct for judges and judicial employees, model jury instructions, rules on cameras in the courtroom, and other areas. It makes other forecasts and also recommends further research and specific steps for the judicial community to continue to respond productively to new media. The report also documents the history of new media, the different types of technology impacting courts, and offers a forecast and recommendations for courts in furthering the use of new media. Much of the information for the development of the survey was gathered using an online community through the social media site Ning at www.ccpionewmedia.ning.com.

A new media landscape

The report describes a new media landscape characterized by:

* Emerging interactive social media technologies that are powerfully multimedia in nature.

* Fundamental and continuing changes in the economics, operation, and vitality of the news industry that courts have traditionally relied on to connect with the public.

* Broader cultural changes in how7 the public receives and processes information and understands the world.

Courts have responded more cautiously to new media because of unique incongruities between the two cultures:

* New media aie decentrali/ed and multidirectional, while the courts are institutional and largely unidirectional.

* New media are personal and intimate, while the courts are separate, even cloistered, and, by definition, independent.

* New media are multimedia, incorporating video and still images, audio, and text, while the courts are highly textual. …