Brave new world of text messaging, courtroom cameras
The other day, while scrolling through the thread of my text messages, I discovered the person I swap notes with most often, after my wife and son, is Josh Stockinger, who covers the DuPage County court system.
Because Josh often is in a courtroom, the text message is perhaps the most frequent way we communicate. It's also often the way we post stories on our website. The system got one of its most vigorous workout this past week as the three former Schaumburg cops accused of shaking down drug dealers and selling their wares made their initial court appearances. Adding to the complexity of the process — but improving the overall quality of the digital experience — is the introduction of still and video cameras to the courtroom.
The net result in Friday's paper was a detailed Page 1 story with photos taken from the courtroom of the three suspects. We also "teased" our print readers to all the online extras: a story that was updated several times, four videos (one of each man's bond reduction hearing and coverage of their attorneys' post-hearing news conference), police mug shots and links to prior stories. (Shameless plug: It's a deal all our subscribers get for an extra buck a week.)
But getting this extra coverage is, to me, an odd mixture of new technology, some strange partnerships and, frankly, a lot of old-fashioned hardscrabble work.
For instance, the coverage of Thursday's court hearing began the night before when Josh created an empty file with his byline and did some other setup work to prepare the story for online posting. When I arrived at the office that morning, I added several paragraphs of background.
Then, at 9:33 a.m. Thursday, Josh's first text message arrived: "Cichy bond reduced from $750,000 full cash to $250,000 (10 percent), so he'd have to post $25,000. He cried."
I used that to create a lead for the story we posted before 10 a.m. It said the bond of a tearful former officer John Cichy was dramatically lowered; the amount of cash he'd need to be released from the county jail had dropped from $750,000 to $25,000. More texts arrived throughout the morning, and we updated the story as bonds were reduced, in varying amounts, for the other men.
Simultaneously, we were getting courtroom photos from the pool photographer, which our photo director Jeff Knox attached to the story. Later in the day, videos, which take longer to process, were added. The reason for a pool photographer, by the way, is that when the DuPage circuit became the first in the metro area to allow still and video cameras in the courtroom, it was immediately determined that there never would be room for all the potential photographers/videographers. Therefore at each hearing the media are allowed to shoot, there is one photographer designated to shoot for all interested media, which is why we have the unusual situation of a Chicago Tribune photographer's credit line on our front page. I'm sure the Trib is happy to return the favor.
The other alliance that's a little different is the accommodations the judicial system has made for us. On days we're shooting, courtrooms are opened early to accommodate all the equipment that must be set up. Heck, at the first hearing allowing cameras a few months ago, Chief Judge John Elsner was there with coffee and bagels for the media mob. But we know who's in charge; requests for camera coverage, which still are handled on a case-by-case basis, have been denied on occasion.
By the end of the day Thursday, our story about the ex-cops had been updated eight times. The story file itself, used repeatedly by Josh and me, plus members of our copy desk, had been handled 90 times.
At 5:45 p.m. Thursday, Josh and I exchanged our final of 20 text messages:
Stockinger, Josh: "Talk to you Monday."
Me: "Have a nice long weekend."
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