Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Are Bloggers Journalists? or Does Receiving Stolen Property Equal News Gathering?

David Chen blogs for Gizmodo, a tech blog, and he recently posted pictures of a next-generation iPhone that he somehow acquired on that blog. Last Friday, investigators came to his house with a warrant for his computer, saying that it was used in a felony connected to illegally obtaining that iPhone. Chen and the folks who own Gizmodo are saying he is a journalist and therefor his property is protected under the first amendment.

A number of news stories are framing this incident as a legal question of whether or not Chen has protection under the Shields Law, which prevents a journalist from revealing anonymous sources. I agree with some legal experts, however, that this might be more of a receiving stolen property question. The Awl's Choire Sicha writes, "The reporter shield law, ... might not be germane—if the police are investigating the editor himself as the person who committed the felony. ... maybe you're going to find out that journalism and/or blogging is totally incidental to what happened here."

While I do think there will ultimately be court cases that attempt to settle whether bloggers count as journalists, I don't think this will be the case that tests those waters. There seems to be the larger issue of whether or not Chen knew he was receiving stolen property when he got that iPhone prototype and until that is cleared up, I don't see this case addressing the "Are bloggers journalists?" question.