Ron Sylvester of the Witchita Eagle has been covering a sordid murder trial by filing almost minute-by-minute updates via Twitter, which has made for some interesting (and even compelling) reading for those of us sitting in front of the computer for long stretches of time.

As well as Twittering the case, Ron is also writing updates throughout the day for the web and print. Talk about a workload.

The Eagle, through it’s website, has also been serving up the Twitter updates on a page dedicated to the case. The Twitter updates run above another section of the page labelled “Tradtional update.” (Link to both is the first one above.)

The thought strikes me that Twitter makes even more sense than something like Court TV because we don’t get it all, we get the important bits, and an anecdote or two and a little colour, strained through the mind of a journalist. No boring bits.

Ron blogged about the experience so far over the weekend. In Tweeting in courtroom provides a new way to cover a murder trial he offers the following lessons learned:

  • Keep it professional. Remain a reporter. Resist the urge to comment or editorialize. Just tell what’s going on and give context.
  • Pick the most engaging parts to report. Remember, I have to take notes and try not to miss anything important. I try to Twitter the parts that catch my attention and which I think are important from my experience on the beat. Even in capital murder trials, there are lighter moments. But also select the parts that will increase awareness and knowledge of the event.
  • Keep it clean. I mean copy. You have to proof read yourself. Remember, there’s no copy desk between you and publishing. And if I remember correctly, they don’t have time for this, anyway.
  • Check to see if anyone is replying. It’s tough to do on a mobile site that isn’t fully functional, as it is on a desktop. I post with text messages but occasionally check through the Web to see if there are any responses. One of my new friends had to contact me on Facebook to point out I was missing her replies. I also try to go back at the end of the day and see who I missed. I don’t know if it’s bad form to reply something like 10 hours later, but I want folks to know I’m paying attention.

One more observation he makes is that it’s hard work and he leaves the courtroom at the end of the day feeling exhausted.

I suspect we will see a lot more of this. Anyone following an event of significant public interest (local, regional or national) would be well served by a steady stream of relevant information as it unfolds, delivered in tightly-written 140-character chunks. Having it delivered by Twitter (as opposed to TV, live-streaming video, etc.) makes it possible to follow developments in between other tasks, or even to stop following it for a while and then “page” back through the tweets.

The only downside: The tendency of Twitter to go offline with some regularity and, occasionally, for large swaths of time.

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