Covering the Courts: A Handbook for Journalists

Article excerpt

Covering the Courts: A Handbook for Journalists. S. L. Alexander. Lanham, MD: University Press of America,1999.184 pp. $49 hbk. $29.50 pbk.

The stated intent of this book is admirable: to offer "support for those concerned with responsible coverage of the courts." The final outcome of this book is, however, disappointing. Instead of any reflective synthesis or analysis of what constitutes responsibility, the reader is given a formuladriven mishmash of short chapters, organizational diagrams, dubiously meaningful tables, and flow charts.

Alexander organizes the book into ten chapters which provide an overview of the judicial system, a cursory look at criminal and civil procedure, and a little more focused look at criminal cases; including pre-trial coverage, the trial itself, and post-trial activities such as sentencing and appeals. One chapter is devoted to civil cases, another to issues of cameras in courtrooms, and the final chapter offers a skeletal presentation of covering the courts, including working with lawyers and judges, and a conclusion that sounds more like cheer leading than insight. Typical of the lack of depth of the entire book is the advice offered by Alexander in her conclusion, "the journalist should respect the privilege of covering courts."

Although the book is listed as 184 pages in length, the actual text of the book only runs 121 pages. The remaining sixty-three pages consist of useful, but easily available reprints of the codes of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, Radio-Television News Directors Association, and National Press Photographers Association. Also included in the appendix is the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Fair Trial, and Free Press, Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3A, US Department of Justice 1-7.00 Media Relations, and the Judicial Conference Policy on Cameras in the Courtroom. …