OJ Simpson trial attracted massive media circus, changed the nature of modern news coverage


LOS ANGELES (KABC) — O.J. Simpson’s death Thursday not only resurfaces memories of one of the most famous trials of the 20th century but also highlights the impact the case had on modern media coverage.

His trial lasted nine months in 1994 to 1995 and drew more than 2,500 journalists to the downtown Los Angeles courthouse. Entirely new pool coverage facilities had to be built in the courthouse and the then-shuttered Hall of Justice building across the street to handle the global coverage.

“We literally ran hundreds of miles of cables,” said Scott Shulman who served as the television engineering consultant for the Radio and TV News Directors Association during the trial, responsible for building and managing what was nicknamed Camp OJ. “From a journalistic standpoint, there was nothing like it and I don’t think there will ever be anything like it again.”

Shulman, who was at the trial every day, witnessed the circus-like atmosphere that arose with countless millions of eyes peering into the courtroom on a global scale. Even though he believes the wall-to-wall coverage of the trial was necessary, he says it grew into something most attorneys and judges despise.

“I think that’s probably the lasting legacy of OJ, is that nobody wants to participate in something like this again,” Shulman told Eyewitness News.

But putting the trial on stage for the world may have saved Los Angeles from the deadly mayhem it experienced just two years ago before. The riots surrounding the Rodney King trial had left racial tensions at an easily ignitable level.

“Given the fact that you had an African American defendant who’s famous and two white victims, you needed absolute transparency at the trial,” said retired Eyewitness News reporter Mark Coogan. “You had to show everything, every nanosecond of the trial. Otherwise conspiracy theories could rise up. You had to show everything.”

And little went un-shown, even from the time of the chase. As the world watched, the white Ford Bronco with Simpson in it drive north on the 5 Freeway, then Eyewitness News reporter Ric Romero and his photographer were right behind it.

Romero was the first reporter to find Simpson on the freeway, after looking for him at the Orange County cemetery where his ex-wife was buried. He believes the live, unscripted ordeal, was an early precursor to reality TV and what is now a staple of local news in L.A.

“Television news covers car chases now when they didn’t do that before … OJ Simpson’s slow speed chase,” he said.

Tonight at 6:30 p.m. on our 24/7 streaming channel, we take a closer look at the impact OJ Simpson had on Los Angeles and around the world.

We’ll have in-depth reaction, including from ABC7 journalists who covered those pivotal moments as they happened.

Watch “OJ Simpson: The Case, Chase and Coverage” Thursday at 6:30 p.m. wherever you stream ABC7 Los Angeles.

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