New reporting program to help students cover legal issues

Students in Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications can learn how to report on the legal system with the newly launched Carnegie Reporting Legal Program, which was started with support from a grant donated by the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

The Carnegie Journalism Initiative of the Carnegie Corp. went to Dean David Rubin with hopes to create a new program at Newhouse to give future journalists further education about how to cover a story in the legal system.

‘It started when the Carnegie Corp. approached Rubin,’ said Mark J. Obbie, director of the program and an assistant professor at the Newhouse School. ‘Carnegie has been giving money to the top journalism schools in the country to promote better education of journalists in particular specialties, and they were interested in Newhouse.’

Rubin first laid out the plan for what specific areas the program would target. His next move was to appoint Obbie director.

‘The Carnegie Corp. gave us the grant two years ago,’ Rubin said. ‘I received the grant and then played a key role in deciding what areas of reporting we would focus on. Since then I’ve turned it over to (Obbie).’

Obbie has been a legal journalist for 24 years and has written for several national publications on legal issues. He was also the executive editor of The American Lawyer before joining the Newhouse faculty, according to the Carnegie Reporting Legal Program’s official Web site.

As the inaugural director, Obbie said he hopes to move the program in a direction that will help it grow during the next few years.

‘What we really hope to do is, one: interest more students in learning to cover law as a specialty,’ Obbie said. ‘Number two is to expose all other students in how to cover a legal case and make all reporters better in dealing with how they cover the legal system.’

Obbie said he hopes to accomplish this through public lectures, classroom discussions with journalism classes and the implementation of a brand new class in the spring, dedicated solely to legal journalism. In addition, Obbie is creating a specific minor in legal issues.

‘We require our students to minor in something if they’re not a double major, so this would be a minor that students could select, and he’s putting this minor together,’ Rubin said. ‘All the courses deal with some aspect or another of the legal system.’

Obbie will kick off the program with a series of lectures to advanced news classes at Newhouse. Obbie said starting Oct. 9, he will speak to News Writing: NEW 305 and NEW 405 classes about issues in legal reporting, and that the following week he will visit all news classes to talk about legal reporting.

Many Newhouse students said they believe that the program is extremely important to the development of legal journalists. They said that further education can help future legal reporters stay objective and remain ethical when covering any case.

‘Journalists have been getting a bad reputation for a long time because of biased statements and stories,’ said Valerie Grinman, a freshman student in Newhouse. ‘The general populace relies on them to report the truth, the reality of critical issues, not on political opinions or mediocre emotional drama. We, as future journalists, should promote respect and honesty in all cases.’

The Carnegie Legal Reporting Program will be collaborating throughout the year with the Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics and the Media to bring these issues to the campus. For more information about the program, visit http://www.newhouse-web.syr.edu/legal.

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