The Gaggle 

Life for reporters camped out at the McDonnell trial: alarms, squeaks and juicy moments amidst minutiae.

click to enlarge Reporters surround Bob McDonnell as he enters the Richmond Federal Courthouse.

Scott Elmquist

Reporters surround Bob McDonnell as he enters the Richmond Federal Courthouse.

With the corruption trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell entering its second week, national and local reporters continue to settle in at the federal courthouse for what’s expected to be a five-week affair.

At the security checkpoint, guards complain about how CBS-6’s Mark Holmberg used the front door as a prop, repeatedly entering and exiting on camera to get the right take on his delivery -- and setting off alarms in the process.

In the elevator, Democratic busybody Paul Goldman leans in close to NBC-12’s Ryan Nobles. “He’s lying through his teeth,” Goldman whispers to the reporter, apparently commenting on the testimony of the government’s star witness, Jonnie Williams.

In the courtroom, reporters enter and exit so many times by the fourth day that a loud squeak develops in the door’s hinge. A guard takes a can of WD-40 to it during a morning break.

At least 30 reporters and no fewer than two courtroom sketch artists are covering the day-to-day minutiae of the trial. To accommodate the increased interest, court officers have set up 15 folding chairs in the aisle. Reporters scribble notes and crane their necks to view two 40-inch, flat-screen televisions set up on either side of the gallery, on which documents and photos are displayed after the judge admits them as evidence.

After particularly juicy moments -- when a prosecutor produces the Rolex watch that Williams is alleged to have purchased for McDonnell, for example, handing it to the jury to pass around -- reporters exit the courtroom en mass to relay the news.

The largest local outlets -- the Washington Post and three local television affiliates among them -- have teams of reporters in the courthouse. The Washington Post is relying on three reporters and a tag-team strategy to churn out updates: One reporter writes for 10 to 15 minutes and posts the latest. Then the journalist returns to the courtroom to trade places with a fellow staffer. The process repeats itself, providing near-live coverage in occasionally excruciating detail.

The courthouse, usually closed to electronic devices such as cell phones and computers, has made a few concessions. The clerk’s office permits registered media outlets to bring phones and set up laptops around a table in a cramped conference room just off the courtroom.

But officials are maintaining their strict prohibition on electronic devices in the courtroom. And apparently they’re monitoring news media Twitter feeds to ensure the rule’s observed: They contacted CBS-6’s Joe St. George about his coverage, prompting him to issue a tweet clarification: “I’m tweeting from the courthouse & not the courtroom -- apparently the clerk’s office thought I was. Glad they are following!”



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