The trial of American student Amanda Knox has been the on-and-off focus of global media attention since 2007, when the murder of British student Meredith Kercher took place in the Italian city of Perugia. This latest trial is an appeal against a verdict given in 2009 that sentenced Knox to 26 years in jail for her alleged role in Kercher's murder. Knox's then boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, was also implicated in the crime and sentenced to 25 years.
Yesterday, the appeal verdict was delivered: not guilty. After four years in jail for Kercher's murder, Knox was released.
Naturally, the media were ready for the announcement. It's an old game, reporting the verdict of a big case. Gone are the days when newspapers would print two copies of their front page - one anticipating a guilty verdict and one in case the defendant were found not guilty - but the guessing, the preparation and the anticipation still remains. Now, in the age of instantaneous digital mobile news, the challenge is to be the news organisaion to break the story first - oh yes, and to be the one that publishes the correct information.
The Daily Mail makes it clear that a huge amount of preparation - possibly too much - goes into reporting a highly-anticipated verdict. The 'Mail Watch ' blog, which is dedicated to finding journalistic errors in the publication, spotted that the paper's website published an article (see image above) which was to be published in the event that the appeal was rejected.
Obviously, the article was published accidently, as Knox walked free. However, the article does contain evidence that The Daily Mail was ready to publish 'eye witness reports' detailing events that never happened. The article includes invented descriptions of the family's reaction to a fictional 'guilty' verdict and even includes falsified 'quotes' from Italian prosecutors: "'Prosecutors were delighted with the verdict and said that 'justice has been done' although they said on a 'human factor it was sad two young people would be spending years in jail'."
Even The Guardian slightly jumped the gun in reporting the verdict, due to brief confusion over different parts of the appeal, and two versions of the verdict appeared on the live blog - one blogger fortuitously happened to capture both versions simultaneously, before The Guardian self-corrected its live feed.
Tobias Jones of The Guardian makes the point that, while the UK and US media have have field day with the story, it is nothing compared to the Italian media's treatment of the case. The repeated character assassinations and comparisons to popular film characters in the Knox case seem to illustrate the 'fact /fiction overlap' which Jones states is so ingrained within the Italian judicial process and often utilised by the Italian media to drag out and sensationalise stories - a description which sounds so reminiscent of the American press during the1920s that it makes the Italian town of Perugia suddenly seem a whole lot closer to Chicago.
In the US, the Knox case was, unsurprisingly, a huge story. Poynter provides a run down of how US news websites broke the story, showing a broad selection of attention-grabbing photos, bold headlines and the all-important breaking news ticker to entice users to keep clicking on their site. For many news organisations, even though the medium for breaking news has now moved from paper to pixels, reporting a courtroom drama is still as important as ever. And the very fact that is is so important means that accuracy is essential.