I was back in Birmingham, Alabama in April for the annual Forum in honor of my late husband Tim Robinson at Samford University http://www.samford.edu/, 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 http://samfordcrimson.com/2012/policinski-speaks-on-future-of-legal-journalism/
Alabama in the spring always comes with the threat of tornadoes, so I was just grateful that storms held off until the end of my visit last week for an annual journalism Forum at my late husband Timothy Robinson’s alma mater, Samford University in Birmingham.
This year’s Forum speaker was Jason Reid, a Washington Post sports columnist who spoke on the role of social media in sports reporting . This was also the first year that more students than alumni showed up for the event, hosted by the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications. I was sure it reflected both the love of sports among undergrads in the South and their love of social media.
Reid emphasized the ways that breaking news posted on social media is changing reporting into a 24/7 job for many beats, including sports. While he clearly relished the challenge and acknowledged the positive aspects of enlarging the dialogue, Reid also urged students to push for the same rigid standards for blogging and posting news stories on facebook or twitter as newspapers and other traditional media demand. Reid must provide two sources for any news leads, a standard not enforced in social media. He was optimistic that it would inevitably happen.
It turned out that Reid, who was born in Brooklyn, had started his career in Los Angeles and got his undergraduate degree from USC the same year I graduated with my master’s from USC’s Annenberg School of Communications. The previous year he had won two awards from the Los Angeles Press Club for his coverage of the Los Angeles riots – and I related how my late husband directed coverage of the police trials that led to the riots while editor of the Daily Journal, the statewide legal newspaper. It was amazing how our paths had crossed in those years.
The Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum features Washington Post speakers and the Post also announces an internship award each year to a Samford journalism student. All expenses are funded by a Robinson Scholarship, set up by the family and including donations from both family and friends. Tim had worked as an editor, investigative reporter and legal columnist at the Post during the 70s and early 80s.
I’m convinced that because Time was also a pioneer of editorial content on the web during the last part of his career, he would have championed Reid’s call to action on accountability. So I was proud that Jason Reid was sounding the alarm on Tim’s home turf that a storm is picking up strength in journalism – and that so many students were listening!