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Reporters in the court: UofSC hosts annual Media Law School

Posted September 26, 2019
By Christopher Lorensen, Dean's Communication Fellow

Thirty-three journalists from 14 states got a crash course on covering courts at the University of South Carolina’s annual Media Law School. The program, which was held Sept. 18-21, is a partnership between the College of Information and Communications and the School of Law. Faculty, judges, lawyers and investigators discussed topics such as court procedures and police use of force.

The purpose of the program is to increase the public’s understanding of legal outcomes by training the reporters who cover those issues, says School of Journalism and Mass Communications assistant professor Carmen Maye, who has helped organize the event since 2016. And because Media Law School is funded by the American Board of Trial Advocates, participation isn’t cost prohibitive – lodging and most meals are covered, and assistance is available to help fellows cover travel expenses.

“Reporters often find themselves covering trials or court proceedings with little preparation,” Maye says. “Many of our fellows have had some exposure to the courts as journalism students, but some have found themselves starting from scratch. It’s not unusual for journalists to tell us that those lessons resonate more once they’ve been involved in reporting real court proceedings.”

When deciding what to fit into the two days that the journalists and law professors have together, Maye says that they try to cover the basics, like civil and criminal procedure and access to public records. They also introduce a few special topics that address contemporary issues. This year, for example, one session focused on cybersecurity.

Jaymie Baxley, public safety reporter for The Pilot in Southern Pines, North Carolina, says that he was most looking forward to learning about the resources available to enhance his reporting.

“Where I come from, it’s a bit different,” he says. “If you need something, you need to ask specifically for that thing, which is sort of a conundrum because you don’t know what’s available.”

Lucy Perkins, a reporter for NPR in Pittsburgh said that she found the talk on the use of force by police interesting because many reporters are covering these incidents.

“I think that a lot of the legal framework that we’ve talked about today, it was really applicable,” she says. “There’s just a lot of resources that have been given to us as places to go to find information, how to search federal regulations, which is something that I do a lot of.”

The mission statement of the journalism program at the CIC is to bridge practice and research, preparing the next generation of mass communication practitioners and scholars to communicate clearly, concisely, creatively and with integrity — ultimately advancing the communications professions in a democratic society.

“In that way,” Maye says, “Media Law School is a natural extension of the college’s educational mission.”

Chris Lorensen

Christopher Lorensen

Christopher Lorensen is a mass communications major in the College of Information and Communications and a Dean's Communication Fellow. As a Navy veteran with a background in nuclear chemistry, Lorensen focuses on communication of science and technology.

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