The Future of Legal Journalism – the 2012 Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum


I was back in Birmingham, Alabama in April for the annual Forum in honor of my late husband Tim Robinson at Samford University, where he got his undergraduate journalism degree.  I was looking forward to joining Tim’s family and friends in hearing the presentation by Gene Policinski, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of the First Amendment Center. I was amazed however, to learn that he was focusing on the need to reinvent legal journalism.

Tim had in fact been one of the early pioneers of the legal journalism beat during his years at the Washington Post and was acclaimed for his coverage of the Watergate trials, which led to a fellowship at Yale and a degree in Law Studies, followed by a legal column and then the editorship of two legal journals.  However, Policinski explained to the students in the audience that cutbacks on our nation’s newspapers has led to the demise of the legal beat at many media outlets and courts are being covered by general assignment reporters, who often are unsophisticated on the nuances of law.

Policinski’s solution was to challenge journalism schools to incorporate the study of legal journalism into their curriculums, so that students get an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of court coverage.  He argued that it would give students an edge in getting their first journalism position by arguing their competence in reporting on complicated legal decisions.

I was proud that this annual Forum at a top southern university was continuing to find ways to address the challenges of today’s media age. Last year Washington Post sports columnist Jason Reid challenged students to insist on the same rigorous journalism standards for news bloggers online as the mainstream media set for their reporters to limit the amount of inaccuracies currently prevalent in the new media.

For more information on the Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum and this year’s speaker, you can read the coverage  in Sanford’s student newspaper, the Samford Crimson at

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