By Olivia Schilcher (@oschilcher54)
Department of Journalism Professor Miles Maguire took journalism law students on a field trip to the Winnebago County Courthouse on Nov. 4 to teach them more about the relationship between the press and the judicial system. While at the courthouse, Law of Mass Communication students had the opportunity to meet with Judge Barbara H. Key, the chief judge for Winnebago County, and ask her any questions they might have had about the judicial process.
Key serves as a prime example of just how closely related the press and legal system can be, as Key herself initially graduated as a journalism major in college before she eventually went back to school to study criminal law so she could later become a district attorney.
“It’s not that I didn’t like [journalism]. I just decided that law was the way I wanted to go…. Instead of reporting it, I wanted to be a part of it,” Key said when asked how she decided to make the switch from journalism to law.
Key stated that she appreciates the role journalists and the press play in keeping an eye on the government but has noticed a decline in seeing press in the courtroom over the years.
“Unless it’s a high-profile murder, you don’t really see [court reporting] anymore,” Key said.
This decline in courtroom reporting is not necessarily a nationwide problem but tends to be more of a local-level issue. Key explained that most of the cases she hears are everyday mundane occurrences that often don’t grab the attention of the press. However, she still feels that reporters are more than welcome to report in her courtroom regardless of the excitement associated with the case. Key understands the struggle that reporters often face in courtrooms and the public’s general opinion on reporters.
“People who have never been involved in journalism can be judgmental about the press without realizing the process,” said Key, who also serves as the chief judge for the eight counties that make up District Four of the state’s circuit court system.
Seeing this process firsthand is what makes this type of learning experience so valuable. As one of the students on the trip, I personally found the experience to be eye-opening, as I had never been in a courtroom before. It was great to gain a better understanding of the judicial system and get the opportunity to speak directly with a judge about her experiences. This type of trip really brings to life what we learn about on a daily basis in our classes and makes the law course more interactive and exciting.