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Media groups develop ways to provide timely information about health care arguments

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  1. Court Access
Many news media organizations developed unprecedented methods to provide real-time coverage of this week’s historic arguments in the federal health…

Many news media organizations developed unprecedented methods to provide real-time coverage of this week’s historic arguments in the federal health care reform law cases, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of requests for camera coverage of the proceedings.

Even before arguments in the three cases addressing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act got under way this morning, several media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and ABC News began providing brief posts on their websites. The updates continued regularly throughout the proceedings.

Because of the high court’s strict media access rules, those organizations that provided near-contemporaneous coverage were only able to do so by sending several journalists to the event. In addition to prohibiting all electronic devices from the courtroom, the Court’s rules forbid reentry once an individual has left.

The introduction to The Journal’s “live blogging” website stated, “The Journal has several reporters at the court, and they cycle out of the courtroom to post updates here.”

One Journal reporter remained in the Court’s press gallery for the entire 90-minute proceeding, while another, seated in a press overflow room into which live audio recordings were transmitted, left before the arguments were over to begin posting updates, said Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg. Other Journal reporters provided posts about the activities taking place outside the courtroom.

Other journalists such as Slate.com senior editor Dahlia Lithwick used other reporting techniques to provide more timely coverage. Lithwick, who regularly covers the Supreme Court (and who serves as a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press steering committee member), posted a video because “it was a very speedy way to get first impressions out,” she said in an e-mail message.

Tony Mauro, who covers the Supreme Court for American Lawyer Media, said that in a legal proceeding of this importance and duration, 90 minutes “is an eternity” to wait before informing the public of what transpired.

“A few years ago, nobody expected [immediate coverage], but nowadays everything has to be instantaneous,” said Mauro, another Reporters Committee steering committee member.

The Reporters Committee, joined by 46 news media organizations and other advocacy groups, tried to convince Chief Justice Roberts that the significant public interest in the proposed federal health care legislation required that the millions of affected Americans be able to observe and monitor the debate over the issue in real time.

And the news media’s attempts to do so demonstrate this interest and provide further evidence of the need for visual coverage so that every member of the public may exercise this right of access, said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish.

“Unfortunately, not every news organization can afford to load up on reporters at the start of a court argument and peel them off to the press room to report as the argument progresses,” she said. “I will be very curious to learn whether traffic to news websites surged for those sites that were able to provide near-contemporaneous coverage by courtroom attrition.”

According to Arberg, 130 journalists — 117 in the courtroom and 13 in the press overflow room, housed in her office — have attended the first two days of the proceedings, which end tomorrow afternoon. About five left before arguments were over, she added.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Dig.J.Leg.Gd.: Cameras in courtrooms

· The First Amendment Handbook: Civil courts — Cameras and recording equipment

· Brief: Letter to U.S. Supreme Court on access to arguments in health care reform law cases