Melbourne’s court reporters have been noticing some fresh faces representing Fairfax in recent days. It appears the publisher has turned to its unpaid interns to cover Melbourne’s courts.

Few things are as labour-intensive to cover as court cases. They go for days, there are complex guidelines around reporting that take experience to understand well, and if you want to quote in full what anyone is saying, you need decent shorthand to keep up.

For that reason, digital outlets don’t tend to cover the courts (Crikey very rarely does). It’s still very largely left to the major newspapers to keep an eye on the legal system. But at The Age’s shrinking newsroom (which has lost experienced court reporters like Mark Russell of late), the publisher has started sending the interns.

Reporters at other media organisations tell Crikey they’ve seen Age interns covering cases several times, sometimes reporting quite competently in pieces that end up in the paper. But at least one intern, we understand, was recently sent to cover a child pornography conviction (an article on that July 22 case has yet to published). These kind of stories are rough for even experienced reporters to cover, leaving other court reporters fearful the interns were being exploited.

Other outlets often send their interns to court — but always in the shadow of an experienced reporter.

Crikey yesterday approached The Age’s editor-in-chief and editor for comment.

Peter Fray

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