Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Tristan Kirk

The Evening Standard’s new court reporter Tristan Kirk has some very big shoes to fill. He takes over this week from Paul Cheston, who was in the role for 23 years and was widely regarded in the court reporting community (they all spend their time buzzing around the same courts so know each other really well) as the best in the business bar none. I know you are all keen to hear from Tristan, but first a word about his predecessor.Paul was famous for filing his stories by phone, only referring to hand-written notes to check keys facts, his storylines forming as he dictated them down the line, his mid-morning deadlines being so far ahead of his rivals’. And I’ve extolled Paul’s legendary storytelling skills in this blog before, describing how he grabs attention with his opening lines like no-one else. Here’s a personal favourite, from a court case we worked on together.  Just count the number of wows in this one sentence:

“The woman who humiliated one of the richest men in the world has revealed for the first time details behind how she delayed a brain operation to make legal history.”

No wonder his court reporting made the Standard’s front page so often. No pressure Tristan, as we all eagerly await your first stories this week!

For all of you who will miss Paul, the very good news is that he hand-picked Tristan as his successor. “There was only one man for the job – and it’s Tristan”, Paul told me before he left. Before joining the Standard team, Tristan was working for Central News Agency based at the Old Bailey. The defining moment of his career so far, he tells me, came during his time covering the phone hacking trial last year, with Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson in the dock. Reporting of the case was a complicated matter, with the courts attempting to restrict journalists’ coverage and the press in turn challenging the court’s right to do so. This was when Tristan found other journalists turning to him to check what they could and couldn’t do and how they might mount their challenges; being by then already a seasoned court reporter, Tristan knew the rules better than any of them. He only realised this himself at this point, and it spurred him to think where he really wanted to take his career next. When Paul announced plans to retire, it seemed too good to be true; for someone keen to make their name as a court reporter, it doesn’t get much better than the Evening Standard beat …and given Paul had been in role over 20 years, obviously the opportunity doesn’t come up that often! I’ve just interviewed Joshua Rozenberg about the planned overhaul of our courts system, so I was keen to know what Tristan thinks is the best and worst aspects of it currently, and what he hopes to see in a reformed system.

“I think on the whole we are right to be very proud of our judicial system.  It’s the best in the world and little wonder how many rich foreigners choose to bring their disputes to London. In terms of reform, what I’m most interested to see is how the courts adapt to our increasingly digital world. It’s a significant challenge for them. I covered what was supposed to be the first paperless criminal trial at the Old Bailey last year, with jurors viewing evidence on iPads rather than paper, and the usual hard copy evidence bundles nowhere to be seen. It was a troubled trial that eventually collapsed (not because of technology), but by which point everyone had long given up on the iPads. It just proved too difficult. I don't know why the "new" technology is such a challenge really.  The pre-courtroom bit works fine electronically, but what the courts haven’t yet mastered is how to handle documents in the hurlyburly of the live courtroom. But we’re only talking about the need to pull out the right pieces of electronic evidence as they are referred to court. You wouldn’t really think it’s that difficult!  The rest of the business world has adjusted to digital as norm.  Why does our judicial system struggle so much?”  I have to say I agree, especially when you consider how keen the courts are to underline the point they are one of the UK’s biggest exports. When it comes to technology they are really not showing their commercial mettle. 

Am I sad to see Paul go. Of course. I’ll miss him. As a keen reader of the Standard, am I worried I’ll miss out now he’s gone? Happily I can tell you Paul has found us the perfect man for the job. We’re going to enjoy Tristan’s coverage. Watch this space!
So Lord Lucan has finally been laid to rest.  Last week’s news sparked a memory: when Jon McDonnell QC first launched 13 Old Square, we handled the press interest for him. Despite our meticulous preparation, and repeated rehearsals with our founder spokesperson, when in front of journalists Jon had an uncanny habit of dropping a total gem of a story into the conversation, that he’d completely forgotten to tell us about before. 
One such example was when he casually mentioned in front of a Legal Week journalist “Ah yes, that was about the time I was representing Lord Lucan”.  Lord WHO???  “Yes, I represented Lord Lucan at his trial”. “But we thought the whole point of that trial was that Lord Lucan wasn’t there!” we protested. “That’s quite right” Jon explained, “but someone had to represent his interests In Absentia and so I was appointed to do just that”. 

I learned that day that it was Jon’s argument in court that prevented Lord Lucan ever being declared dead, so responsible in fact for starting a legend. “Either he killed the nanny, so he’d have a good reason to disappear; or he didn’t, which means someone else did, so it’s quite logical to suppose they might be holding his Lordship captive. Whichever, it cannot be correct to assume that the most likely reality is that his Lordship is dead.” It was this argument that gave rise to a cultural legend. That has lasted up until now.
Here's a little gift for you...  We thought we'd go through the latest Ofcom stats that track changing news consumption habits, as we know you all keep a keen eye on how the power is shifting from print to digital when it comes to news. Being people who get far more excited about stories than boring facts and figures, (we are PR people after all), we thought we'd use "the medium of fairy tale" to put the information across. So, especially for you, here's a little presentation we've called The Cinderella Effect (thanks to Francesca De Mori for the title idea!) : Print v Online, A Changing Story.

Click here to enjoy ... and feel free to share.  

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