Late Monday the news broke that the blogger who leaked the info on the latest iphone had his home searched by police officers pursuant to an investigation into how this took place. Now I know this may sound like my standard apple bashing but it’s not this is 1st amendment stuff people. I’m talking freedom of the press. It is fundamental to our democracy and needs to be fiercely protected. Like it our not we are entering a new age of journalism and as a result we are going to have to reassess what we understand what a news source is. Bloggers are journalist, No I do not consider myself a journalist I’m just some idiot with a virtual megaphone shouting in the middle of a park. I’ve had this argument before the fact that I blog does not negate actually journalist blogs as news reports. Yes it is largely up to interpretation whether or not an organizational body is a news company but the benefit of the doubt must be given to even the fringe.
The full accounts can be found online but I will give a quick synopsis for those not paying close attention to the minutiae of tech blogging. Gizmodo was contacted by an anonymous source about finding a prototype new iphone in a beer garden. Gizmodo agreed to pay $5000 dollars to obtain the unit. Gizmodo dissected the device, photographed the device, and reported on the features they found. They received national coverage from most of the major press and apple contacted them and requested they return the device. Gizmodo published the request and returned the device. On Friday the blogger who reported the story had his personal home/office searched by the California
police. The blogger was not home when the officers arrived and after some time forcibly entered the house. The blogger eventually returned home to find the officers searching his premises at which point he identified himself as well as presented documentation from the legal department of the parent company of Gizmodo which stated he was protected from this kind of search as a journalist. The police accepted the document as evidence however continued with the search eventual confiscating several computers.
Journalistic sleuthing or corporate espionage?
The big button issue for me is how this turned into a police matter. As of now California
has claimed that this is merely an investigation and no criminal charges have been filed yet. If this is the case what has transpired is reprehensible. I may not be right about this but the only possible justification of this transpiring is if Gizmodo is implicated in corporate espionage. Even for that it would have to be shown that someone paid to have the phone stolen. This situation seems unlikely given the public statement apple has made to date.
Yes I think this is fucking important!
Yes apple is notoriously nasty to tech journalists, back in 2005 they successfully shut down think secret a popular apple site for similar early release leaks. I understand apple’s desire for message control. I’m not saying a company doesn’t have the right to try and control their message. What makes this case different is the police involvement and the potential chilling effect this could have on news in general. Tech companies love to believe that trade secrets give them total control over their products no matter what happens to them. Thanks to the DMCA this is almost even true. This is a problem bigger than the leak of a hot new product. Back in 2004 there was a big uproar over the electronic voting machines. It was revealed by some people that these devices could be hacked very easily because the company mistakenly left the code online without protection. Diebold, the company that made the software tried to get all the reporting and websites talking about this suppressed, they failed in their efforts, but the legal actions that come out of this new incident could easily change the way events like that could take place.
Journalists have codes of ethics that they are supposed to distinguish them from average citizens, and in this case there are definitely some ethically murky things. However how less ethical is this then some of the things that transpire at TMZ or the national enquirer. Lest we forget the national enquirer did break the John Edwards affair scandal. While we can argue the tastefulness of the story or its methods we can’t exactly argue its journalism with significant gravitas. It’s clear that the blogger community will need to mature, and most journalistic bloggers should still go through J-school to steep themselves in the traditional training and ethos of the community they want to be identified with. However it is essential that Journalism be measured not by the institution it comes from but by the content of the work. What determines whether or not a piece of work is journalism is not that it appears in the New York Times, Fox News, Time magazine, or some website like Arstechnica.com, or BoingBoing.net. Failing to see this is to erect a defacto journalistic oligarchy that would go against the concept of freedom of the press.
image from OTAVIO SILVEIRA