By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

WBUR wins $250,000 Knight News Challenge grant

John Davidow

Congratulations to WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) and John Davidow, the executive editor of, who won a $250,000 Knight News Challenge grant to experiment with how digital tools should be used to cover trials and other court proceedings.

Davidow tells Laura McGann of the Nieman Journalism Lab that Quincy District Court will be used as a model to come up with a consistent set of guidelines that will foster greater openness.

Issues to be dealt with include whether and under what circumstances citizen journalists can live-blog a trial, and if one of the parties may post to Twitter in real time — as former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who faces federal corruption charges, wanted to do. Davidow tells McGann:

The courts have sort of gone further and further way from the public and public access. In the old days, they were built in the center of town. The community was able to walk into the courts and see what was going on. Modern life has done away with that. The bridge that was going in between the courts and the public was the media. The media has just less resources.

Davidow’s was one of 12 projects that will receive $2.74 million in the coming year. The others range from ideas to crowdsource the funding of public radio stories to various efforts aimed at melding mapping and gaming features with news presentations. Here is the complete list.

The Boston Globe, too. The Knight folks have announced that the Globe will receive a contract for more than $130,000 to develop and test a widget based on EveryBlock, an automated, hyperlocal aggregation platform, as part of a $450,000 program called OpenBlock.

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1 Comment

  1. Brad Deltan

    What’s interesting but unspoken here is the political element. Many courtrooms are restricting access…either at the whim of judges or lawyers…in an attempt to reduce the political aspect of high-profile cases.

    Sometimes this is for relatively honorable reasons; unless you’re going to sequester a jury (something that should never be done lightly) then saturating the media with the goings-on inside a courtroom can exponentially raise the issue of “trial by public opinion” influencing the jurors. Especially in this age of the “CSI Effect” where jurors may often want lawyers to present more evidence (usually, but not always, forensic evidence) even though said evidence may not exist, or neither lawyer may want to introduce it for a variety of perfectly legit reasons.

    Of course, the flip side is that sometimes this is for bad reasons, too. How many judges would be lynched off the bench for bad practices (or perhaps more importantly: PERCEIVED bad practices) if the public saw everything that goes on in a courtroom? Law & Order has taught us…no doubt incorrectly, but taught us nonetheless…that a lot of judges are inept, corrupt, or a mix of the two. And outrageous real transgressions like Ciavarella’s scandal with PA Child Care, plus an overblown sense of “Activist Judges” (thanks Dubya), means a lot of people don’t trust judges and are looking for excuses to nail them – real or imagined.

    Granted, this is just one aspect of why electing judges is a terrible, terrible idea. And fortunately that’s not a problem in Massachusetts. But I think the phenomena is still pervasive enough that even here in Mass you can’t escape it completely.

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