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Journalist “forgot” she was reporting on trial

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An inexperienced Sydney journalist “forgot” she was writing about a murder trial when she published a news story that resulted in a jury being discharged in Melbourne.

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Yahoo 7 reporter Krystal Johnson has apologised to the Victorian Supreme Court, which heard she by-passed sub-editors because they were “busy” to publish a news story about a murder trial based on information she found online.

Justice Lex Lasry said Johnson’s explanation for how she came to publish the prejudicial material “strains credibility”.

He has referred the “very serious breach” to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who could pursue contempt-of-court charges.

Johnson was called to Victoria today to explain herself to the court after Justice Lasry was forced to abort the trial last week.

Lawyer Justin Quill, for Johnson, told the court his client “forgot” she was writing about a murder trial.

She had been compiling the story when she was “called away” because of breaking news.

“She forgot the first part of the report that this was a trial,” Quill said.

“There was a time gap between preparing that part.”

Quill also told the court Johnson had begun preparing her story based on material sourced from AAP.

AAP covered the filing hearing last year but not the trial opening. AAP did not provide material on the trial to Yahoo 7, which is a subscriber.

Johnson has been criticised by News Corp Australia – which did cover the trial – for “ripping off” its story.

Quill offered an unreserved apology on behalf of Johnson, telling the court she had been vilified online and punished enough.

It was “human error”, he added. Johnson published the story online without referring it to sub-editors because she saw they were busy.

Quill said rather than being “lazy”, Johnson was being “over-zealous” by trying to include as much information in her story as possible.

Crown Prosecutor Andrew Tinney said the publication of the story was a failure of management.

The delay in the trial had caused anguish to the victim’s family and traumatised the accused and his family, he said.

“The concern is not just for this trial, but the integrity of future trials.”

Justice Lasry said guidelines for covering Victorian trials were available on the Supreme Court website. It was a fundamental rule that material not before a jury should not be published.

Johnson was supported in court by Yahoo 7’s head of editorial Simon Wheeler.

-AAP

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