Bloggers’ Sunshine Requests Get Less Respect Than Newspapers’–Paff v. Chatham

Paff v. Chatham, 2011 WL 5105477 (N.J. Super. A.D. Oct. 28, 2011)

A blogger asked the city how long it suspended a rogue police officer. The city refused the blogger’s sunshine request. The court did too, saying as part of its multi-factor analysis:

The threshold consideration under the common law right to access is whether the plaintiff has standing. Newspapers are afforded standing as entities that collectively represent the public interest. See Home News v. State Dep’t of Health, 144 N.J. 446, 454 (1996) (“The press’s role as ‘the eyes and ears of the public’ generally is sufficient to confer standing on a newspaper that seeks access to public documents.”). Both parties agree that Paff’s sporadic blogging activity does not qualify him as a journalist. See Too Much Media, LLC v. Hale, 206 N.J. 209, 237 (2011). Thus, his interest in the subject matter at issue is not that of a news source. [some cites omitted]

It’s hard to stand up for the blogger if he gives up the issue himself. But even a sporadic blogger can act as “the eyes and ears of the public,” especially a niche watchdog blog like “NJ Public Employee Discipline Appeals.” Then again, given the troubling Hale precedent, maybe the New Jersey courts have just decided to privilege newspapers over bloggers. It would be great if courts like this explicitly acknowledged that they’re making a silly and incoherent choice.