LEBANON — In less than 140 characters, readers of numerous media websites found out instantaneously last week that Ryan Widmer was found guilty of murder.
Two newspapers, including Cox Ohio Media Group’s The Pulse-Journal, and two Cincinnati TV stations provided daily up-to-the second updates on the proceedings from the three-week Widmer trial. Using Twitter and live blogs, reporters from the media outlets gave instant updates and commentary from the trial to readers’ cell phones, computers or other devices.
Seven TV stations and at least two radio stations from the region covered the last day of the trial. The producers from “Dateline NBC” taped the proceedings from gavel to gavel and “Inside Edition” aired coverage.
The Widmer case caused a media “firestorm” that no other trial in Warren County has received.
New media allowed readers not to miss a second of the trial, but some say the latest software and technology is causing a problem for courts.
Richard Gordon, a journalism professor who specializes in new media at Northwestern University in Chicago, said Twitter and other social networking devices have become an important part of many news organization’s coverage tools.
“Twitter is definitely forcing changes in how the court system thinks about coverage,” Gordon said. “It used to be they were assured once the courtroom doors were closed, nothing was getting out until the doors reopened. Now, Twitter means breaking news is published right away.”
Gordon said he’d even read of a few cases where judges had banned live Twitter reports from their courtroom.
Judge Neal Bronson did not ban the use of blogs or Twitter by the media from the courtroom, but sternly warned the jury not to read the news accounts or communicate to others about the case.
No juror has said they read about the trial through news coverage, but there have been accusations by media outlets that jurors communicated about the case on their Facebook pages.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith Lanzinger, who is a member of a national research project examining new media and the courts, said new technology has posed problems for courts on many levels. She couldn’t talk about the Widmer case because it might be appealed to her higher court.
Lanzinger said the high court has not heard a case yet that involves using social media, like Facebook, as evidence, but she expects it to happen.
“I like to say technology in the courts right now really is the wild, wild west,” she said.
Travis Gettys from WLWT Channel 5 wrote a live blog during all three Widmer trials.
He said his following increased with each trial. The day of testimony from Jennifer Crew, who said Widmer confessed killing his wife to her, Gettys said more than 76,000 people visited his blog.
Jessica Noll, a live blogger from WCPO Channel 9, said 56,104 visited her blog the day Crew testified. She said her followers were flabbergasted the verdict came in quickly and instantly began communicating with her through the blog.
“Some believed he got what he deserved, while others were astonished that with the evidence and testimony presented, a jury of 12 could convict a man beyond a reasonable doubt of murdering his young bride,” she said.
Local media outlets were not alone in reporting news from the trial.
The creator and supporters of the website FreeRyanWidmer.com reported what occurred during the trial on a daily basis and allowed people to comment on a Facebook page created in support of Widmer.
The website also became a part of the trial when page views and e-mails sent to it were submitted as evidence to the jury.