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Journalism Haiku: A Murder Trial in 140 characters or less


If there’s one detail I remember about my mother covering the Andrea Yates trial, it’s that she survived off of those tangerine flavored Altoids. What else was she to do as she sat there for hours on end taking in the grisly details? While her bite-sized, flavored pick me up may have sufficed during the days before smart phones, the song and dance of court room reporting is changing. And as long as you’ve mastered your touch screens and keypads, you should have no problem keeping up.

I have never before considered the word “journalist” synonymous with “poet,” but a few reporters in a courtroom in New Haven, CT are proving me wrong. While covering a trial involving Dr. William Petit Jr., whose wife and daughters were killed by intruders, they tweeted every update. As Petit took the witness stand, there was no livestream online or on air, but there was a Twitter stream of reporters “tweeting” every word.

An article in the New York Times calls it “haiku journalism.” Forget writing headlines and leads, these tweets could easily be mistaken for verse.

During the testimony….

Tweet: The oozing blood from the doctor’s wounds after he was beaten by the intruders.

Tweet: His escape.

Tweet: His memories of his family.

In an industry where we work to be the first and the best day after day, Twitter provides a portable and instantaneous update- something that TV cameras have never been able to do inside a courtroom. No longer do we have to wait to broadcast the conviction during a 5 or 6 o’clock live shot, when 140 characters can publish it so quickly and eloquently.

During the verdict…

@NotesfromHel: “Serious tension in here right now.”

@GeorgeColli: “Silence.”

The case ended with a capital murder conviction of Steven Hayes, but the trial opened new doors for an unregulated medium in courthouses across the country: social media. As newspapers and TV stations attempt to embrace the new technology, there are a list of concerns that come along with the status updates.

“It’s a little scary,” Luther Turmelle of the New Haven Register said in the New York Times article. “You’re reporting and there’s nobody to edit you but yourself.”

Turmelle has been assigned to be a Twitter only reporter during trials, which begs the question, will there ever be a need for a Twitter only copy editor? Only time will tell.

Until then, I applaud media outlets who are trying to incorporate the informative, and sometimes poetic updates of their journalists. Continually tweeting while covering the courts for hours on end sure beats downing tangarine flavored Altoids.