Reporting accurately, objectively and ethically should be the goals of all news coverage, and journalists —especially those covering high profile court cases — must work hard to achieve these goals, said Manny Medrano, ABC News legal correspondent, addressing attendees at Regent University's annual Law School for Journalists seminar September 17.
Medrano, a federal criminal prosecutor before turning to journalism, shared his insights from both perspectives in the courtroom. "I've been fortunate to have two immensely gratifying careers," he said. "At times, there's friction between the fourth estate and the legal system, but I think we can dissipate some of that by understanding each other and working together."
Following "Manny's Rules" for covering court cases will help reporters achieve the goals of news coverage, Medrano asserted. Some of his maxims include:
"Follow the rules of the court"
"Treat court personnel with respect"
"Work closely with the court's public information officer"
"Develop attorneys as sources for background information"
"Do homework and be prepared"
"Don't assume editors know about legal issues"
"Be accurate and ethical in reporting and in treatment of sources"
He also provided guidance for attorneys who work with reporters. "Lawyers should not be reluctant to deal with the media," Medrano said. "The words 'no comment' are a dinosaur. It borders on malpractice not to look out for your client's interest." Besides being more proactive with media, Medrano advised attorneys to be accessible and train their staffs on properly fielding media calls.
At the end of his luncheon address, Medrano discussed the difficulties of his work. "My TV job has been a gift, but it has downsides. The work is unbelievably stressful, and so many of the stories are horribly tragic. It weighs me down," Medrano confided. "But, it is my privilege to bear witness to the human spirit — indefatigable and irrepressible."
He relayed the story of a man whose wife and young daughter were murdered. Medrano met the man while covering the killer's trial. At the end, Medrano asked the victim how he managed to carry on. "I may have lost the life I had, but I did not lose the will to live," he told Medrano, while surrounded by his family and friends.
The lesson Medrano took from this encounter is one of restoring relationships with loved ones, and he urged the audience to do the same.
"My new friends at Regent, it's the love and support of family and friends that will carry us through the tough times," he shared.
Law School for Journalists, sponsored by the Regent University School of Law, School of Communications & the Arts and the Norfolk Portsmouth Bar Association Foundation, helps educate reporters about covering legal issues.
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