Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Coordinating Coverage for a Murder Trial

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Coordinating Coverage for a Murder Trial

Article excerpt

Setting up a media center for the 450 journalists who covered the trial of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was no easy task

DANIEL PATRINOS' PREDECESSOR as media coordinator for cameras in Milwaukee courts had great timing: About the same time as she stepped down from the post, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested.

Dahmer was arrested in July 1991 and charged with 17 murders. There were allegations of cannibalism and perverted sexual practices involving corpses. Not surprisingly, media from around the world flocked to Milwaukee to cover the bizarre story of carnage.

It quickly became dear that the courtroom where the trial was to be held could in no way accommodate all the media which wanted to cover the proceedings, so it was up to Patrinos as media coordinator to work out a solution.

When the Wisconsin State Supreme Court issued its rules for cameras in courtrooms in 1979, it called for a volunteer media coordinator to work out arrangements for such coverage.

While all of the 450 newspeople who descended on the Milwaukee court did not want actually to sit in the courtroom -- many were broadcast editors, technicians, etc. -- there nevertheless were some 100 people who wanted in, Patrinos explained at a workshop during the Society of Professional Journalists national convention in Baltimore.

The first thing Patrinos did was begin calling journalists together to set up a pool system. He put out advisories on the Associated Press, United Press International and Reuters wires, and he saw to it that local community papers, including black and gay newspapers (many of Dahmer's victims were black homosexual men), were informed.

He let the still and video photographers work out their own pool arrangements. Still photographers took considerably longer -- nine hours versus two-and-a-half hours for video -- because of the details such as working out who has the rights to sell photos, how to get film out of the courtroom, credit lines, and who would pay for the film and other supplies.

There also was the matter of distortion from shooting through the plexiglass shield that separated the court audience from the proceedings. After demonstrating the problem to the judge, he allowed a small area in front of the barrier to be used by camera people.

In addition, Patrinos, who is operations editor at the Milwaukee Sentinel, enlisted the aid of two local broadcasters to help with those issues.

A media center was set up in a nearby room that had been a lunchroom for jurors, but it was hardly a matter of sweeping the floor and putting in a few tables and chairs. …

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