Journalist spotlight: Ian Simpson offers an inside look at covering the Bradley Manning trial

Throughout the summer, Reuters has been extensively covering the trial of accused WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning. Ian Simpson, a Reuters correspondent based in Washington, has been reporting from inside the courtroom for the past three months, delivering regular news coverage that has been widely-cited in the press. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Ian offers an inside look at how he covered the trial on the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history and one of the most followed cases of the year.

Q. How do you go about covering a major trial like this?

A. Over the last couple of years I’ve covered the Manning trial, the Roger Clemens trial on charges of using performance-enhancing drugs and the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case involving Penn State. As in the Manning trial, most of the coverage involves sitting in court or in a press room that has a video link to the proceedings. I tend to file brief updates in breaks in the proceedings which editors then shape into copy. One of the key things is to get access to the court docket where the documents are available online. It’s crucial as well to get phone numbers of lawyers in the case as well as experts that can comment and help explain what is going on.

Q. What are some of the big wins we’ve had on this story and how did we score them? What types of reporting/sourcing were involved?

Journalist spotlight

A. I understand that Reuters was first with Manning’s statement during sentencing apologizing for his actions. We had planned for him to make his first comments in the trial and were prepared to put out an alert fast. I jotted down his first sentences and was the first reporter out of the press room to make the phone call to my editors. That involved more quick reactions and planning than anything.

Q. What is the most challenging part of covering a high-profile trial like this?

A. The most challenging part is keeping focused during hours and hours of testimony and finding the news of the day – and then explaining it concisely and simply.

Q. What advantages does working at Reuters give you in working on this type of story?

A. Resources and manpower. I had two stringers at the Manning trial who helped with the day-to-day coverage and we had a photographer who could alert us if something was happening as well. I had deeply experienced editors who could be depended on to handle copy swiftly and with a needed sense of humor. Reuters recognized the international nature of the story and was committed to covering it from start to finish. That was a great feeling.

Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?

A. I love the variety of the job, especially in an international agency like Reuters. It gives me access to a lot of places I could never go and people I could never meet otherwise. I’m doing a story today about Manning wanting to get sex hormone therapy in military prison, a topic I never thought I’d deal with. It’s like H.L. Mencken said, news reporting is really the life of kings.

To read the latest from Ian Simpson, click here.

This post originally ran on Reuters Best.