The Future of Legal Journalism
Washington Lawyer magazine has an interesting article about the future of legal journalism in this month’s issue. From the article:
Try looking for legal journalism today, and you’ll definitely find it. Many local, regional, and national newspapers are providing distinguished court coverage, exposing injustices, following corruption trials, and covering constitutional cases as they proceed through the appellate system. It is not that those commendable works have disappeared, especially in national newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, but rather these journalism institutions are not the norm anymore as papers burdened with layoffs and a shrinking news hole have pared their staffs and coverage of everything, not just the legal system.
It is worth noting that even as the mainstream media falters, the legal press is thriving. Designed to serve the needs of lawyers, law firms, law libraries, and academia, publishers and information gateways such as Thomson Reuters’ FindLaw, Reed Elsevier Inc.’s LexisNexis, or American Lawyer Media, Inc.’s Law.com provide volumes of legal coverage every day, including more access to tailored information than ever before. It is unclear whether this reflects society’s overall move toward specialization, although it may be a major contributing factor, some say. Respected and well read, these products provide an astonishingly broad array of legal information aimed at the experts in the field.
Still, there are increasingly fewer media outlets providing the public with legal news and information. Instead, general legal news is limited to celebrity arrests, occasional political scandals in Washington or statehouses, and explicit details of nasty homicides. The emphasis is on the crime, not as much on what happens after the criminal has been arrested.
The closest thing to regular coverage is the “legal” news on cable networks, from trial coverage on Court TV (now known as truTV, and the name alone shows where the trend is heading) to cable news shows that blast the sensational “legal” news of the day with the staccato delivery of a machine gun. . . .
For all its Nielsen ratings points, Law & Order hasn’t translated into more mainstream news coverage of the law, according to The State of the News Media 2008 report. The least-covered domestic issues, determined by the percentage of space dedicated to them in mainline newspapers, were education (1.0 percent), transportation (0.8 percent), religion (0.7 percent), court/legal system (0.4 percent), and development or sprawl (0.2 percent).
There’s a lot more in the rather lengthy article.