The case, which involves company secrets that Apple says were disclosed on several Web sites, is being closely followed in the world of online commentators, but it could have broad implications for journalists working for traditional news organizations as well.Hmmm... So it's what we do, not who we do it for.
If the court, in Santa Clara County, rules that bloggers are journalists, the privilege of keeping news sources confidential will be applied to a large new group of people, perhaps to the point that it may be hard for courts in the future to countenance its extension to anyone.
"It's very serious stuff," said Brad Friedman, who describes himself as an investigative blogger (his site is bradblog.com). "Are they bloggers because they only publish online? I think you have to look at what folks are doing. And if they're reporting, then they're reporters."
On its face, the lawsuit brought by Apple has to do with theft of trade secrets. But Susan Crawford, a law professor at Cardozo law school of Yeshiva University (and a blogger herself), says that the steps Apple has asked the court to take open a broader question.Perhaps we bloggers are becoming more mainstream?
"Under what circumstances should an online forum be forced to disclose a source behind information that they're posting?" Ms. Crawford said. "There is no principled distinction between a New York Times reporter and a blogger for these purposes. Both operate as news sources for wide swaths of the general public."
Blogs, she added, are already becoming more and more powerful, and some have readerships that exceed those of small-town newspapers. "We've seen it with Rather being brought down by bloggers," she said, referring to the CBS news anchor, who came under intense scrutiny by bloggers after a "60 Minutes Wednesday" segment on President Bush's National Guard service was broadcast.
Attempting to draw a distinction based on the medium used by the blogger or reporter is misguided, said Jack Balkin, a professor at Yale Law School (also a blogger). "In 15 years, there may be no clear distinction between reporters on the one hand and bloggers on the other," he said. "It won't just be an either-or, where you have a reporter for The Chicago Tribune on the one hand, and a guy sitting in his pajamas drinking beer on the other."So, what's the issue?
Mr. Friedman, the blogger, said that ultimately, bloggers' role as purveyors of important information that traditional news organizations might ignore made online journalists more important than before, and so more deserving of protection.Yup: it's all about transparency. Maybe the mainstream press doesn't want the bloggers to get all the good, juicy scoops? Ah, another decade or two and the line between blogger and mainstream will be so fuzzy nobody will be able to tell the difference.
"As the mainstream media has become more and more corporate and more and more like the governmental and corporate bodies that mainstream journalists used to report on," he said, "a lot of this stuff has fallen now to the bloggers - to do what mainstream folks used to do. It's still serving the exact same purpose: keeping the bad guys honest."
Read on, MacDuff. Read on.