The trial and jailing of the former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party for perjury has provided some of the most dramatic legal scenes in recent history. It has also spawned a new form of journalism that has generated an unprecedented level of interest for a short-lived publishing phenomenon.
Started by former SSP activist, James Doleman, The Sheridan Trial Blog averaged 13,000 unique visits a day, and generating around 250 comments every 24 hours – a level of interest for which many newspaper websites would kill.
At the start of the trial, court staff tried to prevent Doleman from taking notes ‘because he was ‘not a real journalist’. By the time Sheridan was found guilty, the blog’s author was being invited onto TV news panel-discussions of the case.
It was the quality and comprehensiveness of Doleman’s output that elevated his blog. And while Doleman made no secret of his political sympathies, he reported proceedings reliably and without inflection. The traditional press afforded just a few inches to the case each day, focusing on the wealth of salacious details – The Sheridan Trial Blog was a close as you could get to watching the case without actually being in the public gallery.
Doleman, who had neither journalistic nor legal training, describes his motivations and experiences of running the blog here. The blog has now come to an end, but will remain available to view for archival purposes.
Trials involving a heady brew of sex, politics, big media businesses and a newspaper editor agreeing to strip to his pants to watch a video might be few and far between. But Doleman has shown that, in the right circumstances, a significant audience can be attracted to a kind of factual reporting that is becoming increasingly rare. Pollok’s proletariat may have lost its messianic militant, but civic duty and sound reporting have found a new champion.