Who is Gavin Stone? NC editor jailed over reporter's use of recorder in court for taking notes
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA: Irking a judge is not the best behavior in court; a reporter and his boss have now learned it the hard way. A judge at a North Carolina Superior Court sentenced Richmond County newspaper editor Gavin Stone to prison on June 25 after one of his reporters used an audio recorder for note-taking purposes during a murder trial, according to reports. Understandably, the newspaper and media rights organization believes the sentencing is harsh.
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In the case of Stone, the news editor of the Richmond County Daily Journal and publisher Brian Bloom admitted that the reporter shouldn't have brought the recorder to court because it was against the rules, but chastized the judge for imprisoning an editor for a minor offense done by a colleague.
Who is Gavin Stone?
Stone is a news editor at the Richmond County Daily Journal, in Raleigh, North Carolina. According to his LinkedIn profile, Stone has been working in the Rockingham-based media house for the past four years. He previously worked at The News & Observer Publishing Company for a year as a reporting intern and correspondent.
Prior to that, he worked for The Technician, the student newspaper of North Carolina State University which celebrated 100 years in 2020. He writes about his tenure: "Served as the Technician's first dedicated investigative reporter tasked with finding news unique to NC State." He also worked as assistant news editor and staff writer for the paper. Stone also holds a Bachelor's in Communication and Media Studies from the North Carolina State University. He is also a member of the Society of Collegiate Journalists.
If I ever get arrested for doing journalism, I hope I remember to hold my head up high and wear the same ironic smile as @gavinstone_ does in this mugshot. He should use it as his new column pic. https://t.co/bH0JUzT4Li— Gregory Korte (@gregorykorte) July 8, 2021
Stone was sentenced to five days in jail by Judge Stephan Futrell. Although he was let go the next day, the journalist may be asked to spend additional time in prison, the Associated Press reported. “The penalty does not fit the crime,” said Bloom, the paper's publisher. “Let’s put this in perspective: You stop a murder trial not once, but twice, because a guy had a tape recorder sitting next to him on a bench at a courtroom. Let’s put our priorities in place here.”
After being cleared by courthouse security, staff writer Matthew Sasser, who has only been with the publication since January, carried the recorder into the courtroom on June 21 and 22. In January 2020, Stone received a letter from a different judge reprimanding him for taking a photo inside a courtroom. He was aware cellphones were prohibited and had been told, at the time, not to bring “cellphone, camera or any other recording device into the courthouse” unless he had a judge’s permission. Stone informed Sasser that using an audio recorder was ok since he only recalled the restriction on cellphones.
When Furtell found out, the trial was stopped and the editor and reporter were found in contempt of court. Stone was sentenced to five days in jail while Sasser was slapped with a $500 fine. Stone told the Associated Press that the speed with which the contempt hearing took place 'blew' his mind. “I was blown away that the decision was made that fast,” Stone said. “It happened so fast. There was no real way to process it in the moment and recognize what I was even involved in. All of a sudden, I’m in orange.”
"It's a little disturbing when a judge starts contempt proceedings over the use of an unobtrusive, quiet, pocket-sized device that a reporter uses to do their job in a courtroom," said director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition Brooks Fuller, who is also an assistant professor of journalism at Elon University, according to Fox News. Jonathan Jones, a free speech lawyer in Durham, termed the judge's decision "extremely unusual." He said Stone was entitled to a counsel before Futrell punished him and whether Sasser deserved to be held in contempt is up for dispute.