Freedom of the Blog
Satellite of Love
Monday, May 3rd, 2010
Apple and Gizmodo are at war. It's a legal battle that started when Gizmodo revealed the not-yet-released iPhone 4G. But when police siezed Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's computers, the case turned into a debate far beyond the ethics of a technology sneak-peak. It has exposed the necessity of an updated definition of a journalist, one that can account for the fact that everyone with a blog or a Twitter account could consider themselves as such.
A “newsperson” is defined by Shield Laws--the laws ensuring the rights of the media--as “a person engaged on, engaged in, connected with, or employed by news media” (“news media” is defined here as “newspapers, magazines, press associations, news agencies, wire services, radio, television or other similar printed, photographic, mechanical or electronic means of disseminating news to the general public”). These definitions were not written for our world, in which people complain that the iPad hinders users’ ability to produce content, but for one where the line between media-producers and consumers was clear.
Blogger Shellee Hale was denied protection under the Shield Laws by New Jersey’s Superior Court on April 22. Hale was asked to reveal the identity of a source, something it's understood that journalists have a right to refuse to do. The judges denied her application for an order protecting the confidentiality of her sources, “finding she was not a member of the news media and her information was not "newsworthy,” according to the Opinion of the Court.
If the assumption that someone is only part of the “news media” if they are aligned with an officially recognized publication is outdated, where, then, is the line between a newsperson and anyone who comments on a YouTube video? Jeff Jarvis, creator of *Entertainment Weekly*, claims on his blog, Buzzmachine, that the definition of content is changing to include everything on the Internet. “When we email a link to a friend, that act creates content. When we comment on content, we create content,” he says.
This broad definition of content is not to say that anything posted online should be protected as “news media,” but if it’s this easy for anyone to play the role of the journalist (“disseminating news to the general public”) the laws need to protect these acting news people and accommodate the fluidity of this identification.
The New Jersey Superior Court acknowledges that “few cases around the country have discussed who, beyond the traditional news media, has status to raise the newsperson's privilege,” and recalls the Supreme Court’s warning as early as 1972 that “sooner or later, it [will become] necessary to define those categories of newsmen who qualif[y] for the privilege.” With cases like Hale’s and with Apple up in arms about Gizmodo, that time is now.
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