Covering a Court Case: Journalism and Law Students

Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

An important trial is under way in Montana, where W.R. Grace is the defendant in a case about pollution, conspiracy and cover-up. Journalism and law students from the University of Montana are doing superlative coverage of the case in a blog-based project.

This is a great model for journalism schools and communities where they exist. It should be a template for others to use and improve on in the future.

The Grace Case Project is a collaborative undertaking dedicated to providing accurate, timely coverage of the criminal prosecution of U.S. v W.R. Grace and five of its executives and managers. The case is being tried in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Mont. It focuses on charges that the company and the employees named engaged in a conspiracy and cover up that risked the lives of people in Libby, Mont., by allowing them to be exposed to a type of asbestos stirred up by the company's vermiculite mining and ore processing near town.

The students are tackling different aspects of the coverage, with one student from each school in the courtroom most of the time court is in session.

inkwell image

Journalism students, most of whom are undergraduate juniors and seniors, are working to tell the story that the jury hears. They are also writing background and explainer stories that aim to provide context and clarity to the daily court action. The journalism students work under the conditions of their trade, attributing their information to named sources or direct observation and writing according to AP style. Their blog posts are designated by the use of the inkwell icon, and have a blue background.

scales Law students, who are in their second and third years at the law school, are charged with explaining the legal nuances and strategies of the trial. Their posts explain why the jurors are hearing the story as it is being told, and the strategy behind the legal challenges and rulings that shape that story. They provide legal background and context in an effort to explain the strategy of the legal teams. Law students labor under the conventions of their field, not those of the journalism students. Their blog posts are denoted by the use of the scales of justice icon.