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From the Field

June 27, 2005
By Peter Shaplen/Santa Maria Courthouse Producer & Media Coordinator

It was time.

When it came time to leave, we left – though more quietly than might have been expected.

For those in the media who covered the Jackson trial, when the end came, the trial ended without the bang that was so anxiously anticipated.

Not guilty on all counts meant quite simply, "Game Over." Like that. There would be no remand, or probation and sentencing, or appellate filings, c'est finis.

More than a year of work from indictment to pretrial, from jury selection to trial to deliberations had simply concluded. Like that. Period Not so much a boom or a bang as it seemed to me to be the sound of air escaping from a rapidly deflating tire.

For those in the media community who had become so fond of one another as colleagues and confidants, 6 months of trial ended with as sudden and swift a blow as an executioner's ax.

Jim Moret of Inside Edition compared it to "the end of summer camp." The last dance – the last flirtatious grin – the last exchange of email address and cell phones and promises to "stay in touch" and "see you next time."

OJ was more than a decade past.
Peterson – though more recent – was an ersatz event.

Each guilty verdict reverberated in the cheers of the Jackson fans that was clearly heard in the courthouse lobby, and the media's remaining time could be measured with a stopwatch with the minutes ticking away in double-time.

The fans - loud – joyful – euphoric – but then, as soon as Mr. Jackson was whisked away in his black SUV caravan, they too vanished.

Off to the gates at Neverland or back to their lives, they were gone from their sentry posts along the chain link fence that served as their barrier at the county complex.

Their absence was as eerie as it was complete.

Then it was our turn.

Within hours, reporter's packages edited and sent for broadcast, their live shots completed, the first media left too. Back to Los Angeles for flights to Europe or to Mexico City or the east coast but certainly to homes far away.

Reporters put away their notebooks. Producers their kits. Crews and engineers packed their gear, the cameras and lights and tripods, and off they went.

Within hours satellite trucks had disengaged their tangled mass of cables and had left for the next assignment. Global Link, then three from CNN. NBC's Cowboy was off to Ft. Worth; Beach Boy was not long in lifting its anchor. Trucks returned to Boston; camera crews to their ports as far away as Seattle and San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, Denver & Miami too.

BBC regrouped as staff dashed to Los Angeles, Washington and London; Heathrow was home for SKY, INT among others.

And with each departure, there was an echoing silence at the courthouse in Santa Maria, except for the birds.

Hundreds of them. Noisy too. We had heard them in the courtyard at a few quiet moments but the din of journalists and the artificial noise of generators and the vibes of so many individuals tended to overwhelm the birds.
But no longer.

Last week – in the days following the verdict, the birds were determined to reclaim their courtyard, their trees, their homes. They demanded to be heard. Their songs had been silenced too long. Their chirps and calls filled the skies.

Now, after the end of the People vs. Michael Joe Jackson, there isn't much evidence of a story that brought 2,300 journalists, hundreds of fans, and millions of dollars to the community.

Gone – vanished – with little trace of our presence except memories and unfinished expense reports.

Work crews last weekend cleaned up the remaining miles of cable, fiber, and garbage including broken chairs, discarded pizza boxes and barrels of recyclable soda cans and bottles.

Six dumpsters were sufficient to eliminate any trace that we had been there – that we had occupied a parking lot and declared the plaza was a media work area.

Not that the media went slinking away; not that we were skulking that the story had failed to end with a bang of a conviction or had petered out with an acquittal, we just did our jobs and left.

Reporters and crews and editors to their next story; truck ops to their next assignment; specialists and experts back to their private practices or school posts; all returned to their lives as if the interruption of the Jackson trial was merely a momentary distraction.

In the geologic time of many individual's careers, it was far more momentous. When viewed in the course of news… or of justice… it is little more than a blip. Viewed individually – it is far richer

Yes, there were individual events to be savored. Within the media community, several romances were kindled; a few ended. Other events might as well be forgotten, though some time will be required before that might be achieved. There were at least two arrests. Several individuals lost their jobs – at least 3, perhaps others.

It was an encampment – 6 months of the richest of moments, accomplishments, story coups and jobs well done for the most part.

The encampment has ended – the tents folded and stored in the bowels of gargantuan trucks or field shops that look more like the set in the last scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" – all awaiting the next assignment.

Memories – rich and textured – and experiences – complex and yet to even be sorted out – promotions garnered and soon to be announced – moments shared.

A final word: thank you. Thank you for the graciousness you all shared with one another. May we have the opportunity to share such an experience again soon and often.


Peter Shaplen was the pool producer for the media at the Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson trials in 2004 and 2005. He operates Peter Shaplen Productions - Strategies for Successful Communications and can be reached at