Thank You, Perry Mason

by Roger Pynn


I wish the folks at the Poynter Institute would conduct a study of the leading institutional participants in social media.  The journalism community Poynter so devotedly serves has to be right up there near the top, yet articles like Adam Hochberg’s headlined “George Zimmerman’s lawyers hope to win trial by social media in Trayvon Martin case” really don’t seem to take that into account.

Hochberg’s article is well-done and interesting in its exploration of the use of social media by Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara, but it seems to draw some magical line between social media and the traditional media when in fact nearly every newspaper in America has linked itself inextricably to the social networks O’Mara is using to disseminate information, build support and possibly influence the jury pool, either intentionally or as collateral damage.

Attorneys learned long ago to use every possible tool at their disposal to convince the public that their case was right and their opponents were wrong.  Smart ones didn’t wait for media coverage, they instigated it.  They know (as one source tells Hochberg) that part of the attorney’s responsibility is to “protect their client’s reputation in the public eye.”

That would be a fun debate, but is there any difference here?  Social media is about targeted communication … taking advantage of tools that allow you to connect directly with people interested in your story.

The far more troubling issue for me is lack of media restraint when it comes to covering trials.  Clearly, both journalists and media marketers have discovered the depth of public fascination with trials (thank you, Perry Mason), but there seems very little concern for the role coverage may be playing in outcomes.

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