Trial coverage in the live-blog era: No more crosswords

Life has changed dramatically for a reporter who is live-blogging the murder trial of programmer Hans Reiser and can now turn to his laptop, instead of puzzles, during downtime.

The courthouse has long been one of the last bastions of gadget-free life. Cell phones, PDAs, and laptops are often banned in courtrooms, and based on first-hand observation, I can warn that you never, ever want to be caught there with a ringing device.

That means when you're covering a trial, you leave your multitasking life behind. Even during the most mind-numbing of testimony, you have to sit tight, a particularly challenging task for San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter Henry Lee, who is known for toting around a folder of crossword and sudoku puzzles to help get him through long trials.

Lee is way behind on his puzzles, however, since joining the growing ranks of reporters who are blogging live, straight from the courtroom, thanks to judges who are rethinking their earlier gadget aversions. Lee's first such blog launched in November with the ongoing trial of Hans Reiser, the 44-year-old Oakland, Calif., computer programmer accused of killing his wife .

Hans Reiser mug
Hans Reiser via Stanford University

Now Lee, 34, doesn't haven't to worry about what to do in his downtime any more--he doesn't get any. If he's not typing in notes, composing, fact-checking, and publishing blog posts, he spends trial time responding to e-mail, writing up his traditional trial stories, or even keeping up on other cases he's following.

"Having a laptop is a blessing and a curse," said Lee, a self-described technology novice who is also equipped in court with a BlackBerry and wireless card. "I thrive on this...But it's a wonder that I'm not at my wit's end."

Lee sees the live-blog approach as good for journalism and an overall service to readers who want the blow by blow and enjoy discussing the happenings through the blog feedback forum. He tries to be more than a stenographer by offering color from the courtroom scene itself. And this trial has been colorful , to say the least.

Lee and the Chronicle are far from the first to feature live blogging. Even The New York Times has been featuring such coverage prominently on its site. A recent example was the live blog of Roger Clemens' and Brian McNamee's testimony before Congress.

David Kravets has also been blogging from the Reiser trial for Wired's "Threat Level" blog. (It was he who got Judge Larry Goodman to allow laptops in the courtroom). I will join them both at the Oakland courthouse on Monday morning to cover expected testimony from Reiser himself, a prominent developer who founded the ReiserFS file system software available for Linux.

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