Last night Steve Jobs gave a great interview with Kara and Walt, and I was with him for most of it – with him as he railed against the walled gardens of cable and mobile phone operators, with him as he showed really cool new iTunes/RSS/Podcasting integration, with him as he dodged questions about whether Apple was going to get into the video market. But then he started justifying his decision to sue a few bloggers for leaking Apple’s product plans. He claims that no one has the right to publish confidential information just because they can, and so far, the courts are agreeing with him.
I say, fuck that. I’ve stayed out of this one because it’s orthogonal to search, but it’s directly related to my ability to do my job, and I am not alone. At the core of this case is a clear attempt to draw a line between professional and amateur journalism, and as a practitioner of both, I have to say it’s a very dangerous line to be drawing. Should the courts decide whether the next Tom Paine has to work at the Wall Street Journal before he starting cranking out his pamphlets? I don’t think so.
When I was 25 years old,I was a young, untrained reporter at MacWeek, a new Macintosh trade publication. I cultivated as many sources inside the industry as I could, trying to get scoops about what Apple might be doing next. My readers were volume buyers at corporations who were eager to know what was next, so they could plan their purchasing.
Through a source, I got my hands on an early prototype of a new machine, called the Mac IIci, which was Apple’s major play in corporate America. I took it apart, had some engineers stare at it for a while, and wrote up a cover story, including a photograph of the motherboard. I was told later that corporate sales at Apple tanked for a while, as folks waited for the hot new machine.
So, why didn’t they sue me? One reason: Jobs wasn’t running the company then. Jobs would claim that I was working at a “real publication” – it was owned by Ziff Davis at the time – but I have to say, most bloggers today are far more qualified to run a story like the Mac IIci scoop than I was back then.
During the Q&A, someone asked him about another dumb move: pulling all Wiley books from his Apple Stores because he didn’t like an unathorized biography Wiley published. Why did he do that, the questioner asked. “I didn’t want to do business with them,” he answered. He has that right. But then he added: “People can publish whatever they want to publish.” I guess so, as long as they are “real publishers.”
Forcing journalism into some kind of a “qualified” box is a very bad idea. Jobs vowed at the conference to take this issue to the Supreme Court if necessary. I hope he does, and I for one plan to fight him the whole way there. If you agree, help EFF work on this issue. Thanks.