Social media + art + journalism = The courtroom-tweet-sketch

There is some buzz going around this week about my colleague Chao Xiong’s coverage of a murder trial in St. Paul. Thursday was the second day of testimony in the trial of Fabrizio Montermini, who is charged with, among other things, third degree murder and kidnapping.

During a lull in the trial, Chao began live tweeting sketches from the courtroom, essentially becoming a social media sketch artist for the trial. I asked Chao a handful of questions about his work today:

What gave you the idea to do this in the first place?

I am a doodler by nature, and have an art degree from the University of Iowa along with a journalism degree. I just doodle. In 2006, I covered the trial for the Star Tribune of a teenage boy charged with planning his mother’s murder. I sat through jury selection and every second of the trial. It was a long trial, and I drew a lot during the lulls. (Today) it was getting slow and I started thinking back to those 2006 trial sketches. Fond memories. I began doodling in court and decided that I might as well Tweet them as a complimentary experience to the web and print article, and liked the fact that many of the sketches had actual testimony notes in the margins, too. I’m always looking for new ways to make my Twitter feed more interesting, dynamic, fun and supplementary to the print and web article. The first day was not slow at all, so I didn’t sketch.

How long do these sketches take to turn around?

Some of the sketches just take several seconds, like the one of the teenage witness with the flower in her hair. Some take a few to several minutes. Earl Gray was especially hard to draw because he moves so much and his facial expressions change a lot. In general, I don’t spend too much time on them. That’s partly because they’re done in ink, so you can’t plan or hesitate too much. I like that about ink. But also, I’m still taking tons of trial notes.

What feedback are you getting from them?

A handful of people have tweeted their enjoyment. Some have been retweeted, but mostly by other journalists.

— Josh Crutchmer, Minneapolis Star Tribune

– Follow Chao Xiong on Twitter @ChaoStrib

– See more sketches on TwitPic.