More than half of daily regional newspaper editors agree UK courts are “no longer being properly reported” with the same number saying they don’t have a dedicated court reporter on their team.
The results were obtained through a survey of 57 newspaper editors carried out by students at Winchester University for Proof magazine, reported by the Justice Gap.
They also reveal that 46 per cent of editors thought court reporting was not essential or important, compared to 54 per cent who did.
Nearly 60 per cent of editors said they get their stories from a mix of reporters and agency copy, while 38 pre cent said they get it entirely from their own court reporter.
See full survey answers below
It comes as a separate study by the university’s senior journalism lecturer, Brian Thornton, found national and regional newspapers carried nearly a third less court stories in their pages compared with the same date four years ago, down from 82 to 57.
The figure rises to 40 per cent for regional titles alone but is lower, at 25 per cent, for national titles.
Thornton, a former BBC Newsnight producer, found the word count for the stories in 2012 was 27,225, falling to 18,954 in 2016, also a decrease of 30 per cent.
He said: “The fact that the media is engaging less and less with the everyday workings of the criminal justice system means that journalists are increasing unaware of what actually happens in such important settings as crown courts or coroner’s courts.
“I would argue that this ignorance is dangerous because it spreads to the public. If the public aren’t being informed about what’s happening in courts, how can they be expected to know?”
Thornton was following up on a study carried out by prof Leslie Moran from Birkbeck law school that looked at court coverage in the national and regional papers on one day: February 16 2012.
He looked at the same newspapers on the same day four years later.
They included the Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Guardian, Independent, Sun, Times and Birmingham Mail, London Evening Standard, Manchester Evening News, South Wales Echo, and Western Mail.
The BBC has said it is planning to deploy some 150 “local democracy reporters”, paid for by the corporation but working for local news organisations, into newsrooms as early as next year.
The service is a bid to fill the so-called “democratic deficit” arising as the local press struggles to cover local councils as well has it has done in the face of continuing cutbacks.
Court reporting survey questions and answers (source: Winchester University for Proof Magazine, reported by The Justice Gap):
Is there a dedicated court reporter at your newspaper? 56% of the editors said there wasn’t
If you do not currently have a dedicated court reporter, did you have one in the last five years? 8% of the editors said that in the last five years they had a dedicated court reporter, but didn’t have one now.
If there is a court reporter at your paper, how often does he/she attend court? 62% said the reporter attends court at least once a week. 60% of editors said they cover court stories in each edition. 11% said they rarely do.
If your newspaper covers court cases, where do you get your stories? 59% of editors said they get their stories from a mix of reporters and agency copy. 38% said they get it entirely from their court reporter. 5% said they got it entirely from agencies.
Instead of sending a reporter or using agency copy – have you ever relied on a police press release for your court report? 55% said they would, 45% said they wouldn’t.
Has your court reporter at the paper used twitter to report on a court case? 44% of editors said they never have, 22% said rarely, 22% said sometimes and 12% said often.
Do you think the courts are generally positive to journalists reporting on cases? 92% of editors said they were.
How important is it to have a dedicated court reporter at a local newspaper? 42% of editors said it was useful, but not essential. 33% said it was very important and 21% said it was important. 4% said it wasn’t important.
The journalist Marcel Berlins has said: ‘It is abundantly clear that the courts are no longer being properly reported.’ 45% of editors agreed with this statement, 11% strongly agreed. 38% of editors disagreed, while 6% strongly disagreed.