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Web Video Series Shows Drama in the Courts

Attention Silver Gavel Awards judges: I have your next award winner. If the purpose of these ABA awards is to recognize those in the media who have been exemplary in helping to foster public understanding of the legal system, then give Ron Sylvester his due.

Ron_Sylvester Sylvester is a reporter who covers courts and legal affairs for The Wichita Eagle. Readers of this blog may remember him as possibly the first news reporter to cover a capital murder trial via Twitter. Even before that, he was already a journalistic innovator in his use of live-blogging to cover trials. He continues both to tweet and to blog regularly from the courts.

Beginning today, he is once again blazing a new path in legal journalism, launching Common Law, a Web video series that aims to show the human drama in the day-to-day workings of Wichita's courts. His focus will not be on the sensational cases the media typically cover, but on the routine cases that come before the courts and the impact they have on people's lives.

I’ll keep covering the high-profile crimes that hit our city, including our live Twitter updates. But we hope that with this series, you’ll learn more from those inside the criminal justice system about the cases that fill the dockets of a courthouse in middle America every day.

The series will begin by focusing on a judge, a lawyer and two sheriffs' deputies who agreed to be videotaped. The judge is Sedgwick County District Judge David Kaufman, who was both a public defender and a prosecutor before going on the bench. The lawyer is Lacy Gilmour, a public defender since graduating from law school three years ago. Also in the cast, Sylvester writes, will be "the people accused of, and touched by, crimes in Wichita."

Sylvester says that he has not found any other series quite like this on the Web. Inspiration for the series came from two sources. One was Steve Bogira’s book, "Courtroom 302," about a year inside a courtroom in Chicago. The other was Courthouse Confessions, the blog by photographer Steven Hirsch, who stands outside Manhattan criminal court and captures the stories of those who pass through its doors.

Ron Sylvester and the editors and others he works with at are ahead of the curve in showing how the Internet can help promote public understanding of the legal system. Gavel judges, are you paying attention?

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 21, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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