Friday, June 29, 2007

Mistrial and Mistreatment

People have no loyalty to a journalist.

I think I always knew that, but it's still a slap in the face when someone reminds you.

I've been covering this trial for the last month. Seriously, almost 30 days solid. I've been there ever day, listening to testimony, watching crime scene videos and trying to piece it all together.

My first day on the trial, I went over to the group of people who were clustered together on the other side of the courtroom. Later, I'd find out they were the victim's family.

"Hi," I began. "My name is Talia, I'll be covering this trial for the local paper. Are you..."

"We don't want to talk," an older man barked. "At least not until after the trial. "

I can respect that.

"Okay, that's fine," I said. "But we'll be seeing one another for the next few weeks. We can still be friendly to one another, right?"

One of the women smiled and nodded. Over the next few weeks, I respected the family's privacy. I observed there seemed to be two distinct camps: the victim's immediate family and her husband's family. The husband's family were much more apt to engage in small talk and would often approach me. The victim''s family would stare me down when I walked in a room and I couldn't get a one of them to return a smile. So I chilled and stayed mostly to myself. I spoke when the husband's family approached me and I continued attempts to strike up convos with the victim's family. I even persuaded the father to send a photo of his daughter - the victim - to me to publish in the paper.

I thought we were getting along as best could be expected. Then, the verdict came. Sort of.

After more than three days of deliberation, the jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision. I can't say I blame them - I'd sat through the trial and couldn't come to a decision myself.

Once the jury was dismissed, I ran out of the courtroom and called in a Web update to the desk. Then, I waited to the side in an attempt to catch some of the family members. The husband and his family walked out of the courtroom, and didn't even give me a second glance when I called their names. Then, I saw the father walk out the door and ran/walked to catch up with him. He'd told me just 4 days prior that he'd speak to me once a decision came down.

"Mr. Duffy, Mr. Duffy," I said. "Do you have a second to talk to me."

"Why don't you go find the Stephensons," he said, venom dripping from each word. "You were hanging around with them for most of the trial anyway."

I stood stunned as the elevator doors closed between us. I tried not to take it personally - this was, after all, business - but I'm not going to lie: that comment hurt. But I had a job to do, so I hopped in the next elevator and went outside to try to catch someone.

As I stepped into the muggy air, I saw the Duffy family standing on the steps of the courthouse. The TV cameras were there, but again, I'd been here since day one. I tried again.

"Excuse me, folks," I said. "I just wanted to check to see if anyone would be willing to speak to me." I got blank stares in return. Then:

"Give me your card," a woman said. "I'll talk to my uncle (the father) and I'm sure he'll want to speak later." I smiled, thanked her and handed over my card. As I milled around the courthouse steps, I saw the TV cameras spring to action.

The father was giving a TV interview.

I put my pride aside and squeezed between two television cameras, scribbling notes and straining to hear over the wind and the father's low voice. I know he was hurting, but why choose to share your pain with millions of TV viewers, but not with me. I was pissy. I still am. But I got my quotes.

Afterward, I tried speaking to a few jurors. Of course, they had no comment. So I walked back to my car dejected. I'd invested a month of my life covering this trial and I'd gotten the same quotes that every media outlet in the Ocean State received after only being there for the verdict.

And people wonder why the media doesn't chronicle events blow by blow anymore. Because this is what you get in return.

(Don't get it twisted: I'm still proud of my story and the experience of covering a murder trial, but I am disappointed that all of that work was seemingly for naught because I got the same story that everyone else in the state got -- and they actually were able to have a life over the past month.)

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Posted by T Dot at 1:00 PM | link

Read or Post a Comment

There's only so much you can do in those situations. You have to do a lot of hustlin in that situation while tv barely has to have a grasp on the whole story to get what they need to make them look good. And you know people want to pine for the cameras for vain reasons.
I was working on a story with a coworker and a police officer tipped a tv producer to our story idea and tv put together a similar story to air next week. Luckily we were able to get our story moved up to this week but its another example of how much dick tv sucks.
Use tv's limitations (mainly intellect) against them. In this case, even if you were able to talk to the father, you would gotten the same kind of quotes that everybody else got anyway. Just keep making sure you get the story you know tv won't be able to get. I kinda blame your editors for makin you do blow by blow coverage and not lettin you be able to save some of the stuff that happened in the courtroom for the last story. But you should be satisfied with your overall coverage that helped keep it a top story in Provo.

Posted by Anonymous RJ @ 9:28 PM, July 05, 2007 #
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