While on the Montgomery County Courthouse news beat last month, I had a shadow - Germantown Academy senior Cliff David, who was interested in learning about the life of a court and crime journalist as part of his senior project. Cliff, 18, of Ambler, was extremely inquisitive as he roamed the courtrooms with me searching for the latest crime/justice stories and so he should do well if he decides this challenging profession, that is changing daily with new innovations in digital reporting, is right for him.
"I've always been interested in writing and journalism, in particular, so I'm hoping I get to see some up-close journalism for the first time in my life and see how it works behind the scenes," Cliff told me during a break one day as we scoured the courthouse for breaking news. "I've always wanted to learn how it works and I think this is a cool way to get inside of it."
Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
While enrolled at Germantown Academy, Cliff has written for the school newspaper, Germantown Academy Times, and studied AP English and is part of the writing center program. When he heads to Trinity College, a private, liberal arts school in Hartford, Conn., in the fall, he's contemplating majoring in journalism or American studies, which he describes as an interdisciplinary field that incorporates history, English and literature.
During his time at the courthouse, Cliff was able to observe the trial of a man accused of domestic violence and observed two Philadelphia men admit their roles in a disturbance prosecutors said was akin to the "Wild Wild West" that ended with a drive-by shooting in Lansdale during which a man suffered a gunshot wound to the arm. Additionally, Cliff watched Judge Garrett D. Page call his trial list and got a chance to chat with the judge behind the scenes.
KYW News Radio Reporter and Suburban Bureau Chief Brad Segall provided Cliff with a lesson in how to produce a radio news report from his small news studio in the courthouse press room. Finally, District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman also took time to discuss with Cliff the dynamics of how a district attorney's office interacts with the media, handles press calls and breaks news at press conferences.
Cliff David meets Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman
Mercury Photo/Carl Hessler Jr.
Cliff said he's always been interested in politics and political reporting and he's a fan of political satirists Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and how they inform the public "about things that are very important." But being at the courthouse a few days also seemed to spark Cliff's interest in crime and justice reporting, something he didn't think too seriously about previously.
"I think definitely now that I've been here I would be interested in it, it's actually something that matters to your community. It's really exciting. It's a lot more active than I thought it would be, you keep moving around from court to court and see a lot of things," said Cliff, who easily kept up with me as we burned shoe leather running from courtroom to courtroom. "It's very exciting. I like writing and I like journalism so I'll follow that path and see where it takes me."
Cliff sent me a note the other day, indicating he enjoyed his brief stint here in the press room of the courthouse.
"It was an extremely valuable experience for me that I'm sure I will remember and look upon while I make decisions regarding what I'll end up doing someday," Cliff wrote.
I want to take this time to thank Cliff for showing an interest in the profession and we in the press corps enjoyed having him around. We wish him much success in his future and have no doubt he'll flourish in any profession he chooses.
Additionally, thanks to the judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, other courthouse employees and fellow journalists who assisted in showing Cliff what it's like to work in a place where crime, justice and news intertwine.