Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Are bloggers journalists?

The courts may get to decide this one sooner than we think.

There have been some other reports on this, too, especially regarding Thinksecret (see Forbes article), but the New York Times looks today at the Apple Computer suits against AppleInsider.com, PowerPage.org and Thinksecret.com, and specifically the journalistic issues it raises. Apple wants information on their sources for advance word on Mac products, such as the budget Mac introduced this week.

An attorney for AppleInsider and PowerPage asserts they should be given journalistic protections:

"Bloggers are becoming a more and more critical source of news," said Kurt Opsahl, the lawyer representing the two sites and a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group based in California. "A lot of confidential tips first start out on the blogs before being picked up in the mainstream media."
I can see both sides of this argument. One one hand, I subscribe to the more the merrier idea -- more chances to pry out useful information. On the other, I can see the argument by the "traditional" journalists that if you so dilute the franchise, then any protections that exist could wash away -- not necessarily a bad idea if you are of the libertarian bent, but problematic in an era of increasing secrecy accompanied by prosecutorial zeal.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Worth paying attention to. Wonder if the sites will ask for friend-of-the-court briefs from journalism organizations.

The Washington Post on Friday has a good story on Nicholas Ciarelli, a Harvard student who started ThinkSecret.com as a teen-ager. But I can't figure out where the Post is coming from on this. Here's this nut graf:

Ciarelli, now a 19-year-old Harvard University freshman, is part of a legion of Internet news gatherers whose influence is expanding as concern grows in some quarters about their accountability and journalistic standards. With the easy anonymity offered by online posting of tips and digital photographs, Web sites run by product buffs have caused headaches, and generated valuable buzz, for companies in many industries -- including automobile and cell phone manufacturers -- by leaking product information.

So is the Post implying that anonymous tips can only be used appropriately by mainstream media? And, of course, Post reporters don't troll political and similar blogs looking for leads, do they? I detect a little snideness here.

Yes, it does bother me a bit that Ciarelli was writing under a nom de plume (Nick de Plume, to be exact).
But scarier to me is lower in the story, where it's noted that the Uniform Trade Secrets act might be a tool to be used in such cases where someone knowingly publishes trade secrets from someone bound by a confidentiality agreement. Business journalists should be very concerned with that. Good business pages skirt that line almost daily. Otherwise, they're not much more than warmed-over PR rags.

Again quoting the story and Andrew Beckerman-Rodau, who runs the intellectual property law program at Suffolk University Law School in Boston:

"Just because you don't have a relationship with the company doesn't necessarily immunize you, if you publish what you reasonably should have known was a trade secret," Beckerman-Rodau said. "The First Amendment has been asserted more and more against intellectual property rights, but it's not faring well. Most courts haven't accepted it."


At 1/11/05, 11:23 PM, Blogger Mother in Chief said...

As an unemployed journalist and current blogger, I have been wondering this as well. It’s strange to use the word “I” when I’m blogging, especially when I’m blogging about news items. I guess I feel more like a columnist than a reporter. Looking forward to this debate.


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