Here is a fascinating case in which a newspaper sought to invoke a shield law that protects reporters from having to reveal their sources. The purpose of the press shield is to allow reporters to obtain information they wouldn’t be able to obtain without a promise of confidentiality. A state court judge held that the law does not apply to “online bloggers” and ordered the Alton (IL) Telegraph to turn over the identities of two people who commented on the newspaper’s website, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Prosecutors have been seeking the identities of five people who posted comments on an article about the horrific beating death of five-year-old Ethan Allen. The paper resisted disclosing the identities of these individuals, asserting the press shield. Judge Richard Tognarelli said three of the comments were just discussion, irrelevant to the investigation but the identities of “purplebutterfly” and “mrssully” must be turned over because they posted information relevant to the investigation.
How you view this ruling probably turns on how you define “blogger.” Someone who posts a comment on a news article doesn’t qualify as a blogger in any normal sense of the term. The reporter’s shield should absolutely extend to bloggers defined as people who do journalism online. But a commenter on an article is not likely a “news source” in need of protection. Typically, there is no communication between source and reporter, no promise of confidentiality, no societal need to protect the identity of someone who posts relevant information in a public forum.