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?