Checkbook Journalism and the ethics of the iPhone scoop

The tech blog Gizmodo scored a huge story when it acquired what appears to be the next incarnation of the Apple iPhone. They paid an anonymous individual $5,000 for the device after he found it in a Redwood City, CA bar, apparently left there by an Apple engineer celebrating his 27th birthday. After finding the device the man says he contacted Apple via phone, but none of the people he spoke to seemed to believe him. It was then he decided to sell it to the highest bidder. After hearing this story Gizmodo decided to pay for the device.

Is this good journalism? Apple certainly considered the device stolen at this point, and when they found out where it was they quickly moved to get it back. According to an article at DailyFinance the finder never spoke to any employees of the bar, where the Apple employee “called constantly trying to retrieve [the phone]”. The finder also never contacted Police, nor just drove to down the road to Apple, 20 minutes from the bar, and dropped it off.

Is what Engadget did ethical? Nick Denton, CEO of Gawker Media the parent company of Gizmodo, doesn’t seem to want to comment. In an interview with CNET he left that up to the media ethicists.

As a non-journalist it looks to me like Gizmodo saw the ad revenue they would get from this scoop and disregarded what must have been some pretty big red flags. What do you think? Is this kind of “checkbook journalism”, especially considering the possibility of Gizmodo receiving stolen property, okay?

One thought on “Checkbook Journalism and the ethics of the iPhone scoop

  1. Though the DailyFinance story makes a compelling argument and I am inclined to think Apple has a case… I’m no lawyer, and that’s not the question you asked.

    I don’t think illegal automatically equates to unethical. If Gawker Media broke the law, they need to be held accountable for that.

    But, if it is determined that Gawker didn’t break any laws, I don’t see any problem with them paying for the story. As a reader, I follow news sources with the understanding that they will bring me stories I’m not able to get on my own. If it costs them money to get the story, that’s the cost of doing business.

    Paying for the phone, paying sources, I don’t see any ethical problem with that so long as no laws were broken in the process. I see it as doing their jobs very well. If an Apple employee makes a blunder (obviously) it’s not their responsibility to help keep Apple’s secrets.

    -Eric Dobson

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