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Need to Train Judges and Journalists Is Universal

I have just returned from Russia, where I spent a week as part of an exchange program on media and the courts. As I caught up today with a week's worth of blog news, I came across Mark Obbie's Lawbeat post about Yale's new law and media program. Created with a $2.5 million Knight Foundation grant, together with support from The American Lawyer founder Steven Brill, the program will train both legal journalists and media lawyers. Obbie, of course, is an alumnus of The American Lawyer and director of a program to train legal journalists at Syracuse University's Newhouse School.  Of Yale's new program, Obbie comments:

"The mix of legal journalism and media law is natural because there's some overlap, but they are distinct disciplines: journalism focused on legal affairs vs. substantive law and policy governing the media. I'll be interested to see how the Yale program blends the two. No matter what, the Knight/Brill/Yale initiative promotes the same goals that we care about here: finding and educating people to provide smarter legal reporting."

Smarter legal reporting was also a goal of our trip to Russia. While it will take me some time to filter all I learned on the trip, one lesson was absolutely clear: The gap in understanding between many of those who cover the law and many of those who practice it is universal. The most common complaint I heard from Russian judges and lawyers about journalists was that they did not understand the law or the legal process. The most common complaint I heard from Russian journalists was that judges and lawyers did not understand or appreciate the process of reporting news. These are the same complaints I hear from their U.S. counterparts.

In Russia, in fact, there is a nascent movement to "qualify" journalists to cover the courts. If this means government accreditation, it would be a step backward. But if it means programs such as those at Newhouse and Yale to train journalists to better understand and report on the law, I am all for it.

Still, to the extent that this mutual lack of understanding between courts and media is universal, these programs offer only half a solution. Training journalists about the legal system is important, but so is training those in the legal system about the workings of the news media. Some programs are doing this, notably The National Center for Courts and Media at The National Judicial College, directed by Gary A. Hengstler, former editor and publisher of the ABA Journal.

During our Russian trip, judges and journalists came together in the same room to discuss issues of mutual concern. For many of them, this was a first. There is no question in my mind that simply bringing them together changed their relationship for the better. Here in the United States, there is equal need for programs that focus not only on training journalists or on training judges but that bring these groups together to better understand each other.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 21, 2007 at 05:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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