Saturday, March 05, 2005

Apple v. bloggers - Who is a journalist?

Took a day off to attend the South Carolina Press Association convention, and so come back to the news that Apple has won the first round in its attempt to force bloggers to disclose who is leaking material to them about the company. The California judge's ruling is only preliminary and says that bloggers should not have the same First Amendment protection as journalists -- which once again raises the question, "Who is a journalist?"

Forbes goes so far as to ask, "Is Apple the new Microsoft?"

And some bloggers are talking about a boycott of Apple.

Juris Pundit has a wider list of some of the stories and comments.

So much has been written, I won't attempt to duplicate it further. But two thoughts here:
  • Some current journalists will take comfort in this, that the "pajama brigade" has been put in its place. They shouldn't. The structure of journalism is changing to the point where I now tell my students that they should expect to spend at least parts of their careers "independently employed" (a nice way of saying freelance). Media organizations are at heart businesses, and as they adopt the practices used in other industries, they are discovering there is no longer a moral or economic imperative to have large staffs. Certainly, large organizations have used freelancers for decades, but in all but the smallest shoestring operations, and especially in newspapers, there was a sense that for you to "own" the responsiblility of what was on your pages you needed to "own" your staff, or at least a significant portion of it. In recent conversations, however, I find more journalism exectives at least willing to explore the idea of hiring people only on a project basis, or using skeleton staff augmented with temps as newsflow dictates. Those freelancers might well find themselves caught in whatever is the final outcome of the Apple case -- if a blogger writing news about a company gathered from a confidential source does not have protection, does a freelancer doing the same thing have any? Ultimately, could a freelancer working for himself or herself between traditional employment be defined as not being a journalist?
  • The Apple case is being portrayed as a free-speech case. But I suspect neither Apple nor the judge sees it that way. To them, it is a case of business law and contracts and the like. Business law and free speech (and by extension, journalism) are antithetical -- the former being built on the need for secrecy and control. If journalists stay on the sidelines, they are likely to end up with a series of rulings that mix the two to the detriment of journalism and journalists' future. It has happened before and rarely to the benefit of making information more widely available to the public. Business and government in America have always been inseparable, and restricting information on one will eventually, I predict, restrict information on the other.


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