How Twitter captured the Pistorious courtroom drama

by Joe Pelissier on February 28, 2013

As you will be aware a lot the messages on Twitter are banal, irritating and repetitive which is why I was immediately struck by the way Andrew Harding from the BBC used it to report on the bail hearing of Oscar Pistorius for the murder of his girl-friend Reeva Steenkamp. This was on Friday 22nd February. I don’t usually follow such stories but as I was curious to learn the outcome I visited BBC News. As I scanned the page I realised that Andrew Harding was sending out real-time tweets as the drama unfolded.

Reading his first tweet of the morning, I realised the whole series captured the living tension in the courtroom in a  more dynamic way than a traditional journalistic report.

Whilst Harding was reporting on an event that had international interest he was doing three interesting things – unintentionally, I think.

1. Telling a story

He had a ready-made story with a very obvious beginning, middle and end. The arrival of the judge, the defendant, the posse of lawyers and press etc, the case for and against bail, the Magistrate’s summing up and his final decision.

Here are a couple of his tweets that report on events as they unfold. The first refers to the opinion of the prosecution lawyer Gerrie Nel

This one shows how Harding is in communication with the defence lawyers.

 2. Sharing the unusual

I found the things one wasn’t expecting to hear were the more interesting – the quirky stuff. It’s often the little things that stick in the mind and in this case they all added to the vividness of what was going on in Pretoria.

The thoughts of the Pistorius’ athletics coach

How close Harding gets to Pistorius’ family

The literary leanings of Magistrate Desmond Nair

3. Being descriptive

As Harding shows, you can do a lot with only 140 characters. As I read all his tweets I really did feel the emotional rawness of the the day and the sense of the terrible tragedy that has happened to a young athlete and his girlfriend. And, as many have observed, the woman who lost her life is not centre stage and mainly forgotten.

Saying the bare minimum

Giving a visual description of the mood

 How the hearing ended

I know this is an extreme example but if you are in the habit of tweeting about events in order to arouse the interest of your followers, you could do well to follow Andrew Harding @BBCAndrewH and emulate the way he uses Twitter. I now do.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mark Dugdale February 28, 2013 at 9:38 pm


Fascinating as ever. Think Twitter’s 140 characters not 140 words (under 3. above).

Best wishes


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