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Apple v Bloggers: a question of journalism

Apple v Bloggers: a question of journalism

Duncan Riley> The debate of bloggerss as journalists continues to rage, in particular with the ruling in the Apple v Bloggers case last week in which a Californian judge ruled that the basic freedoms extended to journalists should not be extended to bloggers. I could literally write a book on the subject (if I had more time!) given the amount of argument raging on the topic. But I’ll keep my book writing pursuits to one at a time and instead share with you some questions and answers I’ve just provided with a journalist, who shall remain nameless, on the subject. You’ll see from my responses that it’s often hard to stick to one tangent given the many competiting arguments and perspectives in defence of the notion of bloggers as journalist and the threats that the case ruling has upon United States based bloggers.

Journalist: Why or why not should bloggers have the same type of protections that MSM journalists have when it comes to protecting sources? What, if any, distinctions are there between bloggers and mainstream journalists?

The question of extending the protections that MSM journalists have when it comes to protecting sources goes to the question of recognising blogs as a legitimate source of news and bloggers as legitimate journalists.

It is interesting to note that the Dictionary definition of journalist is “one whose occupation is journalism.” or ” One who keeps a journal.”. Journalism itself is defined as “the profession of reporting or photographing or editing news stories”.

Some in the MSM have been quick to attack blogs based on the actions of a few blogs in a medium that includes over 34 million blogs worldwide, and between 8-10 million in the United States alone. If we were to pursue the same argument as those attacking blogging, we would be considering the print publications of newspapers from groups such as the Communist Party of America, for example, or some of the more extreme, fringe cults. We do not, and nor should the blogosphere be considered in the same way due to the actions of a few.

But back to the topic of journalism.

There are numerous similarities between blogs today and the development of print media in the past. For example, US newspaper journalists in the 18th and 19th centuries often waited in port cities for foreign papers to be delivered so as to be able to report from news abroad and provide their own commentary on them. This was mixed with local news the journalists had gathered from within their immediate communities. The same is true, to some extent, of blogs today. Blogs provide a legitimate news source that provide a mix of first hand news stories and commentaries on news reported by others. Indeed, newspapers world wide still follow a similar pattern, with the use of wire stories from groups such as AP to provide coverage of news stories outside their immediate areas, often with additional commentary to compliment the first source stories from the local community.

In that regard, there is little difference between blogs and the print media.The only true difference is whilst some (but not all) print outlets have large teams that include editorial staff and others, most blogs do not. A closer parallel would be to compare blogs to small
community newspapers. Where I live in Australia, for example, a number of small community newspapers exist, often owned and printed by larger media conglomerates, that are literally one-man shows. The sole journalist is also the editor as well. Thats were most blogs are at
today. Nobody argues that small town newspaper journalists should not have the right to protect sources, and those same protections should be extended to bloggers.

It is not up to Government to define who or what a journalist is, for them to do so results in a restriction of press freedoms and a threat to the freedom of speech guaranteed under the US Constitution. All people writing in/ or to the public sphere should be extended the same
rights, regardless of medium.

Journalst: How do you think the case could affect bloggers? Do you think the case could have a chilling effect that goads bloggers into not publishing leaks, or will it embolden them to keep going?

Whilst there will be some in the blogosphere that will be hesitant in publishing leaks, particularly those pertaining to large corporations, I think mainly that the blogosphere will be embolden by the case and will continue to challenge decisions such as was made last week. I think it would take either US legislation or a High Court loss to dampen the enthusiasm that many have in the blogosphere for breaking news, and the result of any attempts to stifle free speech in the United States will only result in the off-shoring of blogs and bloggers overseas to localities that are more friendly to journalistic freedoms.

I would note though at this point, I cannot see any Government moves to stifle speech amongst bloggers, indeed the White House has just appointed a blogger to the White House Press Corps.

Journalist: Apple has so far tried to get sources from three blogs. Is the company unfairly picking on bloggers? What do you think about Apple’s focus on blogs as a means of publication of leaks? Why or why not are the company’s concerns about trade secrets justified in the case of the “Asteroid” product?

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The pursuit of bloggers by Apple over seemingly trivial leaks is a PR disaster for Apple that has the risk of seriously damaging a company that has of recent times be riding a wave of positive consumer sentiment.

Support in the past amongst bloggers for Apple and its products has always been very strong, and Apple owners are over-represented in the blogosphere as compared to Apple users in the general population. Already there is talk of an Apple boycott over the case.

In terms of “picking on” bloggers, Steve Jobs has lost his mind. No doubt that the lawyers see bloggers as easy pickings, given that bloggers do not have the financial backing to mount an effective defence against a corporate giant such as Apple.

Will this bring Apple down? no, but a company that relies so strongly on positive word of mouth may well find that their growth slows as many start comparing it to Microsoft and others.

In terms of their concern of trade secrets, yes, they are right to be concerned, but the 3 blogs are not party to the privacy clauses of those who leaked the information. In pursing the case, Apple is essentially punishing bloggers for the indiscretion of its own employees. If they do have an issue within the company in relation to leaking of corporate secrets, they should be seeking to address this internally and asking questions as to any flaws within their corporate culture that would allow this to happen in the first place. If their is rot amongst the Apple troops, it will only expand the longer it is ignored.

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