George Zimmerman's trial for the fatal shooting of Miami teen Trayvon Martin is expected to be the case of the summer, a scintillating battle for justice played out on cable TV and Twitter updates. Eager to get into the game, we checked out the scene at Sanford's courthouse as jury selection got underway, only to discover the most soul-deadening scene this side of a paint-drying convention.
Not that the lack of drama has stopped Miami's press gaggle. It apparently takes a small, hastily constructed village to produce a Tweet.
When we rolled up to the courthouse last Tuesday, more than a dozen cops stood guard, prepared for a disaster. Two were posted by the entrance right off State Road 17-92 to make sure visitors were arriving on official court business or, in our case, for press coverage. Aimless John Grisham fans would, presumably, be denied entrance. Many more officers guarded parking spots that never filled up. Across the street, the rides at Fun World, the small town's premier attraction, shimmered like a mirage.
Once the actual trial into Martin's shooting begins, it's bound to be both interesting and important. The ongoing process of attorneys struggling to agree on six jurors and four alternates, however, should interest only the most hardened Court TV fanatics.
Not that that's stopped the Zimmerman gaggle from broadcasting every tiny detail so far.
As we walked past the guards, the stillness of the journo-village was broken only by the occasional AV guy pushing a wheeled backpack around like a high-tech tumbleweed. Looking around at the empty expanse of asphalt, an AP photographer joked to his nearby friend that he missed the days of the Casey Anthony trial, during which Anthony's lawyer would reportedly flip off everyone's cameras. Now, the reporters play a game in which they look inside a courthouse window and try to make eye contact with someone inside. It might not be news, but it passes the time.
At least there was something to look forward to in the Casey Anthony days, apart from maybe snagging a file photo of the Seminole County sheriff. When a third protester showed up yelling, "Repeal the Stand Your Law ground!" the TV crews lined up to interview her, as desperate for content as the day was long.
Not that the news-barren landscape has stopped Miami's Zimmerman hordes from broadcasting every tiny detail so far.
Trial coverage is nearly continuous in Central Florida, with local TV stations interrupting the live feed only to report breaking news or periodically update the weather forecast from hot to more-hot. Unfortunately, that heat index never gets high enough to make the paint dry faster.
Each day, television's most boring show spotlights people on a witness stand, claiming that they can't bear the financial hardship and general disruption that comes with serving on a high-profile case that is likely to last weeks. Reporters such as Christina Vazquez, though, are embracing that same disruption. They are rewriting the stories of their lives around the developing narrative of the trial.
Well, at least their Twitter biographies.
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Vazquez, of Miami's WPLG Local 10, changed her Twitter cover photo to one of the Sanford courthouse. Her bio says she is a "George Zimmerman trial reporter." Her oddly specific beat now comprises paraphrasing the belief systems of anonymous people who pay no attention to current events.
The Miami Herald's courts reporter, David Ovalle, doesn't have much else to work with, either. Last week, one protesting couple, a religious dude and a teenager in a "Whitney Houston (RIP)" T-shirt gathered peacefully outside the courtroom. Ovalle was forced to find other things to Tweet about:
Although there's nothing to cover, the press carries on. Here's another sample of the scintillating coverage coming from Sanford: