By Meghan Caprez
The media has been buzzing about former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora’s trial. Kent journalism students found themselves sitting in the media room next to professional reporters, writing on the same topics.
The trial, which is currently taking place in the Akron federal courthouse, sees Dimora facing 36 corruption-related charges, generating public interest in surrounding counties.
Sue Valerian, a part-time journalism professor, saw the trial as an opportunity for her Reporting Public Affairs students to receive experience in the field. As a class assignment, each student was required to sit in on the trial at least once.
“I hope they gain some kind of comfort and understanding in just being in a court room,” Valerian said. “It’s pretty intimidating doing anything for the first time.”
Senior Britni Williams was the first of Valerian’s students to go to the courthouse. Williams sat in on Jan. 21, then returned Jan. 28.
“Just walking into the building alone was overwhelming,” Williams said. “Having to go through the security check, figuring out where the clerk’s office was so I could get a media pass, finding out where the media room was to begin with was an experience.”
But when Williams walked into the media room, she realized that she had a distinct disadvantage. Those involved in the trial wanted to avoid a “media circus,” so no electronic devices were allowed in the main courtroom or in the public overflow room. Williams thought this also applied to the media room.
“I finally get in there and I feel like an idiot because I’m holding a pencil and a piece of paper and everyone’s got their laptops, iPads, cell phones, smart phones,” Williams said. “I said ‘Alright, let’s do this.’”
Though challenging at first, Williams did find the experience worthwhile. She was able to network with WKYC reporter Kim Wendel, who she still has contact with. Wendel helped Williams by sharing notes and opinions on reporting the events of the day.
Williams was also contacted by WKYC the following Monday for an interview about her experience. News anchor Eric Mansfield broadcasted a story on her time in the courthouse.
“It was exhilarating being side-by-side with all of these professionals,” Williams said. “I definitely have less reservations about walking into a federal courthouse now. Going in I was a little timid because I went in by myself not knowing what I was doing. After feeling it out on my own, I’m much more comfortable doing it now.”