The 2016 version of the University of South Carolina’s Media Law School is in the books and it was a doozy.
Last year, this Sidebar reporter provided news coverage for the inaugural event (USC officials say they plan on this being an annual event) that aims to educate reporters on “complex legal proceedings” and to help them — us — navigate an intricate legal system and clearly explain to our audiences what’s happening in the legal world.
This year, yours truly was awarded a fellowship and had the opportunity to not only sit in on classes facilitated by practicing attorneys, law professors and media experts covering everything from police body cameras to judicial ethics to evidence and how court systems are set up, but also to partake of extracurricular activities and mingle with many of his fellow fellows.
Overall, 32 media members from outlets across the country made up the 2016 class, reporters from small radio stations to mid-size papers to large television networks.
The conference began with a gift bag from the USC School of Law and wrapped up with a dinner, stories from a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter from Charleston’s Post & Courier, and a short graduation ceremony. In between, again, was a bunch of knowledge and hospitality from the hosts, USC law, USC’s College of Information and Communications, and the American Board of Trial Advocates.
Each journalist took back home with him or her something unique (in addition to the super-useful Carolina Law tumblers).
Marissa Hundley, a reporter with Fox affiliate WECT in Wilmington, North Carolina, said that she didn’t have the opportunity to take a media law course in college. She found the conference “informative,” particularly a session headed by USC law professor and former cop Seth Stoughton on body and dashboard cams.
“Working as a journalist in North Carolina, police footage is a hot-button issue with our viewers, especially with the new law set to go into effect Oct.1,” Hundley said.
The law she’s referencing, of course, is the one passed in June that many expect will tighten the grip on police camera footage and restrict who can see it.
For Ken White, a former Charlottean who now works for WOWK-TV in Charleston, West Virginia, the “pragmatic” nature of the presentations impressed him.
“Ways to cut through the morass of bureaucracy and be able to turn it into a story — while getting it right — is a daily challenge for most newsrooms,” White said. “The presenters were at such a high level, yet broke it down for us into daily applications, and second by second questioning of how to put the piece together for print, TV or social media.”
So the takeaway of this Sidebar reporter, after speaking with two classes of Media Law School fellows is this: We may not be ready to tackle the bar exam just yet, but thanks to the hard work and expertise of some of the state’s finest lawyers and journalists, we are even more equipped to bring readers clear, concise legal news.
And we have cool new coffee cups to drink from while doing it.