Why are Journalists Special?

by on March 4, 2005

I think this is almost certainly a bad thing. As I’ve written before, the idea that a rumor about the general characteristics of an upcoming product is a “trade secret” borders on the absurd. And precedent would seem to show that you can’t be held responsible for the lawbreaking (or in this case, contract breaking) of your sources as long as you obtained the information legally.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I buy this business about giving journalists special exemptions for the confidentiality of their sources. With the explosion of new online media, it’s becoming increasingly unclear who counts as a “real” journalist. Instapundit doubtless gets more Internet traffic than many a small-town newspaper’s web site, and he offers more news than the average tabloid. So by what standard other than prejudice against a new form of media should he receive lesser protections than his print colleagues?

I don’t know enough about this area of law to have a good idea of how things should be changed. But any law attempting to draw sharp distinctions between journalists and everyone else is taking the wrong tack, and will find that position ever more untenable as the line between “the press” and “the people” continues to blur. The law needs to be changed to reflect that fact that nowadays, anyone can become a pseudo-journalist by signing up for a TypePad account.

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