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Zimmerman trial: Did wall-to-wall media coverage inform, or entertain?

While some say the extensive media coverage of the George Zimmerman trial provided a civics lesson to the US public, others saw a play for ratings that did little to address key issues in the case.

By Staff writer / July 11, 2013

George Zimmerman sits in Seminole circuit court during his trial in Sanford, Fla. Wednesday, July 10, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel/AP

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As the trial of George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, nears its end, the swirl of media that has followed every sound clip, scrap of evidence, and testimony in the proceedings has once again put media on the hot seat for the way they handle high-profile legal cases.

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Because the reporting has often elbowed key international stories out of the way, such as the ongoing Egyptian political crisis, there is much hand-wringing – also in the media – about tabloid-style overkill.

Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, tweeted “Wall-to-wall Zimmerman trial coverage doesn't seem like the best way to honor Trayvon's memory.” Mark Knoller, White House correspondent for CBS, also tweeted, “Zimmerman Trial is a legitimate news story, but national wall-to-wall coverage seems excessive.”

On the flip side are those who suggest that such widespread exposure of the criminal justice system is a good thing, providing a real-time civics lesson for the American public.

Many people are unaware of how the legal system works and what really happens at a trial, says Larry Burriss, journalism professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “Thus the coverage, and commentary, have provided what I think is an important educational function,” he adds via e-mail.

“The media has many roles in educating the public,” agrees Georgia attorney Lance LoRusso, author of “When Cops Kill.” “They can also entertain and inflame the public,” he says, “but in general people are very interested in the law, especially when it comes to the use of deadly force.”

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