Want to know the details live from Chester County trials? Too bad folks

There’s a very good chance you will read this blog post and think we in the media are just a bunch of babies, crying every time we don’t get our way. And you know, that’s true at times. But it’s also part of the job. It’s our job to ask the tough questions whether it’s a borough councilman, a football coach, a police chief, a fire marshal or a lawyer. And if we don’t get the answers we think are necessary to bring you a complete and accurate story, yes, we complain. Would you want it any other way?

And yes, we admit that there are times we aren’t the most popular people in the world. If your relative has been arrested and we write a story, we are probably not getting invited to the next party you have. But that’s also part of the job. We aren’t here to be popular but to bring you the news. Some will like the way we do it and some won’t.

The biggest news these past couple of years, however, is how the news delivery model has changed into something you’d never have recognized five or 10 years ago. Used to be that the reporter would cover the story, the photographer would take the photos, the layout guy would put it together and in the morning, there it was on your doorstep.

Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Gowilla, Google, Yahoo. If you had used those words 10 or 15 years ago people would have though you were suffering a seizure or you were auditioning for a remake of “Rainman.”

But those are the tools of the trade now for journalists. We Tweet, post to Facebook, send text alerts and try our hardest to get you the information we know you want. And we know you want it now, not later and certainly not tomorrow morning.

Morgan Marie Mengel, 36, is charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, criminal conspiracy, and two counts of possession of an instrument of crime in the June 2010 bludgeoning death of her husband, 33-year-old Kevin Mengel Jr.

Authorities contend Morgan Mengel had grown frustrated in her marriage, held a grudge against her husband, and wanted to make him “vanish” from her life without having to go through a messy and costly divorce.

She is alleged to have convinced Stephen Shappell, a then-21-year-old Delaware County man who had just begun working at the Mengel family landscaping business and with whom she was having an affair, to help her kill her husband.

They planned first to poison him by putting a dose of liquid nicotine in his Snapple lemonade drink, authorities say. When that failed to kill him, Shappell struck Kevin Mengel over the head multiple times with two shovels in a garage bay at the MKB Property Maintenance Shop on West Chester Pike in West Goshen.

To say that this is an interesting trial would be an understatement. These are the kinds of trials where people show up an hour before it starts to get a seat.

But unfortunately, those people in the seats are the only ones who will know the details and activities of the case in real time because the Chester County judges have decided that the press will not be permitted to Tweet, Facebook or otherwise report live from the trial. President Judge James P. MacElree II last week denied a written request from the Daily Local News to live report. We were told if we wanted to live report, we must leave the courtroom and do it out in the hallways or anywhere else.

However today, it got worse. Senior Judge Thomas Gavin told reporters they would only be allowed to leave the courtroom a specific number of times.

We maintain that these decisions — to bar live reporting from the courtroom, and now to limit the number of times a reporter can come in and out — denies the press its ability to do the job and certainly denies the public access to real time information.

Do you agree? Do you care? If you do then call:

Judge James P. MacElree II: 610 344 6700

Judge Thomas Gavin: 610 344 6181

We’re not looking for trouble here. We’re looking for the chance to report the news as it’s reported in 2012. And that’s via social media as well as the printed page. Right now, we can’t fully do the job.

— Andy Hachadorian

About fromtheeditorchair

I am the editor of the Daily Local News.
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7 Responses to Want to know the details live from Chester County trials? Too bad folks

  1. I disagree. Twitter/Social Media is not a reporter’s notebook, nor should it be used as such in most situations. Twitter, in particular, works best for actionable information, not storytelling.

    I don’t see this order as hampering your organization’s ability to report the news timely and accurately, especially for this type of event. Tweet the links to your live blog or articles about the trial all you want, but I don’t need to/want to/nor are interested in minute by minute tweets about the trial.

    Honestly, if you were wondering what should be tweeted timely and accurately, how about morning traffic reports or fire/police dispatch or emergency events? That’s news people can use.

  2. Jon Blatman says:

    While I see Joy’s points, I agree with Andy.

    Just as more college-aged adults get their news from Jon Stewart than from Brian Williams, the model of how to distribute news is shifting. The Fourth Estate is no longer the only source for news, and if they remain committed to yesterday’s model of news delivery, they will find themselves outdated. I commend Andy and the Daily Local team for making an attempt to change with the times and diversify HOW they disseminate the news.

    That said, I also don’t see much point to live-tweeting many trials – they are mostly boring. A few updates now and then are probably all that is needed. BUT – I don’t understand the logic behind the decision. Where’s the downside in allowing press (and anyone else) to live-tweet the trial?

  3. Wendy Walker says:

    What was Judge Gavin’s rationale for his rulings?

  4. KM says:

    Why does the journalist’s right to immediately disseminate information to the public trump the right to a fair trial? I understand your profession’s obligation to report on judicial matters, including the Mengel trial. But since when are such matters so important that they require running the risk of interference with an orderly and fair trial as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment? I thought journalists had the professional responsibility to report, but not become, the news. If journalists cause a mistrial due to excessive disruption of the trial because they want to tweet some fact about the trial so that the trial reports get disseminated an hour or two earlier, is it really worth it? Very few people have a vested interest in the ultimate outcome of a trial (other than the average citizen’s interest in ensuring a functioning and free society). Judicial reporting is more of a curiosity of the public, rather than news that you can use in your everyday life. The only reason why I can see that you are upset about this development is that it impacts your business model, rather than your First Amendment right to freedom of the press.

  5. PaoliPete says:

    I attended parts of Morgan Mengel’s trial last weekn and was there during Judge Gavin’s declaration of a mistrial. I was somewhat surprised when I arrived at the court earlier in the week to be told of Judge Gavin’s determination to limit persons from entering and leaving the court while the Jury was present. The tipstaff explained that anyone could leave while someone was testifying, but wouldnt be allowed to return until the witness finished testifying. And if you were outside the court, you couldnt enter except when a witness was entering/exiting (many witnesses are kept outside the courtroom pending the time for their testimony).

    In other courtrooms in the Chester County justice center, you can enter and leave freely while trials are proceeding. The gallery is at the back of the courtroom and the doors are usually at the rear so the jury would have to turn to see someone come in or leave. Judge Gavin’s court is at the end of the building, however, so the entrance is at the side of the court and is immediately behind the defendant’s table. So I can see Judge Gavin’s point that people entering and leaving during the trial will be directly in the view of the jurors — you cant miss it.

    It is the proper province of the trial court judge to protect the jurors and their process from intrusion, distraction, undue delay, etc. I dont see judge Gavin’s ruling to be a great infringement on the operation of the 4th estate. Recall that there were cameras in the OJ Simpson trial and what a circus that turned into.

  6. I agree with your point of view of this post. This is a good post. Very timely given us so much useful information. Thank you!

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