Ask any journalist what makes the biggest difference in covering public agencies, and they’re not likely to name the top dog.

As helpful or unhelpful as an elected official may appear, they are rarely the first stop on a reporter’s quest to get information. Instead, they turn to an organization’s front line of defense public service—the public information officer, or PIO.

That’s why it’s nice to see good folks be recognized for their work assisting the public and the Fourth Estate.

The annual Phoenix New Times “Best of Phoenix” arrived, and “Best PIO” goes to a couple of staffers at the Superior Court for Maricopa County—Vincent Funari and Karen Arra. Congratulations!

(If you’re surprised the New Times has such a wonky category, you may not have noticed that the alternative news weekly has been in court a time or three. If anyone desires a transparent and fair court process, it’s the New Times and its soon-to-be-vamoosed owners!)

I first came across the good news on the court’s own Facebook page, but there was no link to read the glowing tribute penned by the digitally-ink-stained wretches. Whazzup, I thought? I mean, if anyone knows social media and how to link up a storm, that court and these PIOs do.

So I shuffled over to the PNT’s own site, searched, located the item—and had a good chuckle at how the newspaper heaps praise along with a side of sarcasm. You can read it here.

Given how accomplished Vincent and Karen are, it’s no wonder that they decided to excerpt only the pertinent portion and leave the snarky history lesson aside.

But here at AZ Attorney, we enjoy the whole, unvarnished story!

If you come across either of these great professionals when you pass through the court, give them your best wishes; they’ve earned it.

Curious to know what judges think of Facebook?

It may not be advisable to stroll up to a jurist and ask her or him; they may get kind of prickly. Instead, on this Change of Venue Friday, flip through a comprehensive new report from the Conference of Court Public Information Officers (or, as I like to call them, some of the hardest-working PIOs in any sector; follow them on Twitter here).

The complete report, titled “2012 CCPIO New Media Survey,” is here, and it paints an evolving picture of judges’ comfort level with social media, at least in regard to the propriety of using it themselves. (Use by lawyers and—ugh—jurors is left for another study.)

Or, as the cheeky Wall Street Journal Law Blog said, judges today appear to be “less freaked out” by Facebook and Twitter.

Reporter Joe Palazzolo writes, “Fewer of them hate the idea of incorporating new media in their professional lives, and more of them are convinced they can use such tools in their personal lives without ethical issues.”

Ha! “Fewer of them hate” it. That may not sound like we should break out the bubbly, but it is quite a change from even a few years ago.

Here is a chart from the CCPIO study showing the shift.

Judges are warming to social media, a new study says in August 2012

And here are a few of the findings from the study:

“The 2012 data reveal several major conclusions:

  • “The participation of judges in the survey continued to climb, as did their use of the technologies surveyed.
  • “The percentage of judges who strongly agree that their own use of the technologies in the survey poses no threat to professional ethics has doubled since the first year of the survey. This applies whether the technologies are used in personal or professional lives.
  • “The percentage of judges who strongly agree that courts as institutions can use the technology without compromising ethics has also doubled since 2010.
  • “The percentage of judges who strongly agree that new media are necessary for public outreach has doubled since 2010.”

Very impressive.

(I am amused, though, that we continue to hold fast to that moniker “New Media.” Ironically, the last time I hectored readers about the oddity of that phrase was when I covered an event put on by court personnel. Is “New Media” a court thing? Let’s all just stop it. After all, social media is descriptive; New Media is kind of a throwback, sort of a Steamboat-Willy-gapes-at-moving-pictures vibe. New Media is old. If judges can change, so can we. Onward.)

Have a great weekend. And as you post a status update in social media, think of a judge.