Former journalist and now Jupiter analyst Joe Wilcox has taken a long hard look at the ruling that Think Secret, AppleInsider and PowerPage are not protected by California’s journalist shield law in What Is Legitimate Press?. Joe gets it spot on here:
According to a story over at today’s SilconValley.com, a judge has preliminarily ruled that California’s journalist shield law does not apply to three Websites–AppleInsider, PowerPage and ThinkSecret–subpoenaed by Apple. According to the story, Apple contended that protections against revealing sources only applies to "legitimate members of the press," a position the judge apparently accepted in his preliminary ruling.
The question unanswered by the preliminary ruling: What are legitimate members of the press? It’s custom for a news outlet to credit one of its peers for breaking a story. I can think of several print publications–all arguably legitimate press–that credited ThinkSecret for breaking news on iPod mini. I would think that other legitimate members of the press regarding at least one of these sites as legitimate press to be enough validation.
Apple’s view of what counts as "legitimate press" is simple: it’s anyone that only prints what they want printed. At one Macworld Expo a few years ago, I was initially refused press credentials – on Apple’s instructions – because MacUser was "a rumour site". Given that it’s the oldest established print magazine in the UK covering the Mac market, you can imagine how interesting I found that. Thankfully, we were able to get some senior Apple Europe people to straighten things out, but the message was clear enough: Apple will only recognise as press those who print what it likes.
(As an aside, I’m told that Apple has improved in this regard recently.)
The notion that Nick Ciarelli, for example, is not a legitimate journalist is not only absurd but borders on a professional slur. Nick does better investigative journalism than 99% of the journalists I know. In an age when most journalists covering businesses are poodles who do little more than rewrite press releases, he’s not afraid to go after the real story. He certainly knows more about journalism than the judge in this case, who appears to have simply taken what Apple said as gospel truth and failed to actually bother to consult with any experts on journalism.
I can only hope this gets overturned on appeal. If it doesn’t, it’s a dark day for real, investigative trade journalism.