On Monday, the first day of the final week that two landmark Supreme Court decisions will be announced, all eyes will be focused on veteran Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston. Not only is the 81-year-old a bastion of legal knowledge, but he's also a speed demon, and is often the first to report the outcome of cases live on SCOTUSblog, a legal website. Last Thursday, reporters anxiously awaiting news about the high profile health care and Arizona immigration court cases began expressing their admiration for his lightening-fast tempo. "I...would love to see #teamlyle trend," Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein wrote on Twitter. New Yorker courtwatcher and CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin joined in: "me too!"
But Denniston, who has covered the Supreme Court for 54 years for various newspapers and now for SCOTUSblog, was charmingly unaware of his fan club in an interview with Yahoo News last week:
Yahoo News: Did you know that a group of reporters was trying to get your name to trend on Twitter today?
Lyle Denniston: They were trying to do what?
YN: They were writing "team Lyle" on Twitter to get your name to show up on the site as most talked about.
LD: Oh really? Well I'm an old guy so I don't understand that kind of thing. I guess it's positive, right?
YN: Yes, definitely.
LD: Ok, that's good.
Denniston is a sober voice of reason and depth in a sometimes untrustworthy and superficial world of Supreme Court reporting, when short-timers (like myself!) descend for a few big-ticket cases and then flit away again. But what's earned Denniston even more fandom than his encyclopedic knowledge of the Supreme Court docket is how quickly and generously he shares what he knows on SCOTUSblog. Many reporters who don't personally go to the Supreme Court press room to await paper copies of decisions rely on Denniston to be the first to report the outcome, and to post the actual decision online. Denniston says he enjoys this collaborative approach, rather than jealously guarding the news.
"The thing about life in the blogging universe is that people do share and support each other. It's not the same dog-eat-dog competition feel you have in the newspaper business," he says. "I like that a lot."
But a change he is less excited about is the emptying out of the Supreme Court press room. "So much of the raw material with which Supreme Court reporters work is online, so most of the reporters don't come around to the press room anymore. The press room is really very lonesome, there are only about four or five of us here [on a non-decision day]." He says this has resulted in less "intimacy" in Supreme Court reporting, which sometimes misses out on the personalities of the justices and other court characters, and ignores lower-profile decisions.
"[The justices] are very real people," he says. "And mostly they're accessible and they're fascinating people. I learn a lot from them every time I have a conversation with them. They're all younger than me now that Justice Stevens has retired. I like to see these young people develop."