Trial reporting today isn't what it used to be

January 30, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

The two young women were standing outside the courthouse entrance, pancake makeup on their pretty faces, microphones in their hands and the gleam of the huntress in their eyes.

They were flanked by several of the large trade-school dropouts who make their living aiming TV cameras at anything that might make a bleeding blip on the nightly news. As I approached, the young women smiled and moved toward me. One of them tried her best to shove the microphone up my left nostril, while asking one of the most amazingly stupid questions I have heard in 40 years in the news business.

She said: "Mr. Royko, what happened in the courtroom today?" That might not strike some readers as being stupid, so I'll explain why it was so brainless.

The courtroom to which she referred was less than a one-minute walk away.

The courtroom door was unlocked. Any reporter could stroll in, plunk herself down, and hear everything that went on. Some reporters did: I saw one from the Chicago Tribune and one from the Chicago City News Bureau.

They were there to write about my hearing on a charge of driving under the influence of genuine 86 proof skull-popper.

For that matter, any gravedigger or homeless person could have walked in and grabbed a seat. The courtroom was open to everyone, as the American legal system requires.

That's why the young woman's question struck me as so stupid. I have never heard of reporters being assigned to cover a court case and not bothering to go into the courtroom to see what happens.

So I answered her question this way: "Are you a reporter?"

She appeared surprised. But she said: "Yes, I am."

"Then why didn't you come into the courtroom and cover the hearing?"

The question appeared to confuse her. Which didn't detract from my admiration of her obvious journalistic skills. These skills would include a perky bosom, a shapely bottom, pearly teeth, elegant clothing, beautifully sculpted hair and terrific legs.

So she said something like: "That's why I'm asking you what happened in the courtroom."

I put on my finest look of disgust and said: "Are you paid to be a reporter?"

"Yes," she said, a slight throbbing in her delicate throat. Under other circumstances, I might have given it a hickey.

"Then why do you want me to do your job for you? If you are a reporter, why weren't you in court where you belonged, covering the hearing?"

To give you an idea of how schlocky TV news is, there was someone from her channel in the courtroom. An artist, sketching my haggard features. No reporter, but a second-rate artist.

But while the sketcher did my wrinkles, this lovely thing was hanging out in the hallway, waiting for someone to walk by to give her five seconds that would put her on the evening feed.

The idea is that she will be seen by a network producer who might say: "Wow. What a reporter. What a set of teeth."

I have covered 1,000 trials, but not one by standing in the hallway or outside the main entrance.

It is likely that the lovely young thing got her job because she has a pretty face and a shapely bottom.

And it is almost certain that she is making $100,000 a year. (Think about that when you drive your truck through heavy traffic.)

That evening, I turned on the TV news to see how this silly hTC business would be presented.

On the channels which sent the two ninnies, they showed me and the mob of cameramen and the lovely young things moving through the parking garage.

But they left out the best stuff, assuming that you believe news should be done in depth: me asking why their reporters were so stupid.

Why did they leave it out?

Because they didn't want it revealed on their own TV news shows that their reporters are lazy flighty lightweights. How stupid could they look? It was lopped. Some producer said: "Don't put this on. It will make our reporter look stupid."

Sure it would. But so what? That is our business. Too bad this is what we see. It is what we prefer. Who can argue?

As for what happened in the courtroom -- the case was continued for a couple of months.

[Mike Royko is scheduled to appear in a Skokie, Ill., court on May 4 on charges of driving under the influence and resisting arrest.]

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.