Reporters pool together for Sandusky trial
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The media is never keen helping the competition, but sometimes teamwork is the only way to go.
Jury selection began Tuesday in the sexual abuse case against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The anticipated horde of news media, however, was figuratively shackled by Judge John M. Cleland's decision to ban the use of electronic transmission from Bellefonte's Centre County courtroom.
Initially, Judge Cleland said he would permit tweeting, but he amended that when some news organizations protested his decision to prohibit direct quotes or the posting of transcripts.
He also decided to allow only a pool of four or five journalists present during selection.
If the trial moves into opening arguments, news media will jockey for 85 seats in the courtroom, and 100 additional seats will be available in the facility annex. This extra media area will have access to closed-circuit video of the trial, and members may come and go as they please.
Not so in the main courtroom, where email, texting or tweeting still will be banned.
On Tuesday, the randomly chosen pool representatives were charged with describing the scene inside.
"Certainly, you would prefer for your own reporter to observe what they are reporting," said KDKA news director Anne Linaberger.
"It's an unusual situation."
On the noon news, KDKA reporter Harold Hayes did a standup from outside the Centre County courthouse. This served as lead-in to a fairly strange sight: Jeannie Flitner, a reporter with Harrisburg ABC affiliate WHTM, being interviewed by her fellow journalists.
Speaking into a bundle of microphones, Ms. Flitner described the overall mood inside the court room as jury selection continued, occasionally consulting her notes to read direct quotes.
She said Judge Cleland had to remind the prospective jurors that this was a somber occasion, and that at one point when charges against Mr. Sandusky were read, the defendant lowered his head to avoid making eye contact.
WTAE's Jim Parsons was among the first reporters to serve in the pool. His report was not chosen to run on either KDKA or WPXI.
"It's not so bad if that person is out of market, but the last thing you want to do is put your competition on [your] camera," Ms. Linaberger said.
Alex Bongiorno, news director for WTAE, used to work in Florida, where cameras are allowed in courtrooms.
"I am a fan of cameras in the courtroom because the legal process should be transparent and open. Any time you have transparency, it's a good thing," she said.
First Published June 6, 2012 12:00 am