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Prominent blog network operator Gawker Media paid only $5,000 for the biggest tech scoop ever, but the total cost is proving to be far greater for Gawker Media.

As has been widely reported, police raided the home of Gawker Media employee Jason Chen. Chen is an editor for Gawker-owned Gizmodo, and is the man seen showing off the next-generation that was left in a Silicon Valley bar by an Apple employee before making its way to Gawker.

According to some legal observers, Gawker and Chen may have violated numerous laws when they acquired and publicized the yet-to-be-released iPhone 4G prototype. But according to others, the police actually violated the law. The argument: Chen is a journalist, and journalists are afforded certain protections under U.S. law.

Not surprisingly, that's Gawker's defense and while it's quite unclear whether or not the laws protecting journalists would actually apply here, some have pointed out that Gawker's 'journalist defense' is somewhat ironic. They point to a statement previously made by Gawker owner Nick Denton that makes Gawker's defense look somewhat less believable:

We may inadvertently commit journalism. That is not the institutional intention.

I'm not an attorney, so it's unclear whether or not Denton's statement could influence a determination as to whether Chen is a 'journalist' in the eyes of the law, but Denton's statement does raise an interesting point: bloggers are often quick to obfuscate their role in the business of news. While they often seek the access typically provided to journalists, they are also often quick to point out that they're not journalists. After all, criticisms relating to accuracy and ethics are easily dismissed when one can turn around and say "I'm a blogger, not a journalist."

Sometimes, in an apparent effort to seem hip, they make statements like Denton's. Yet as we are now seeing, it's tough to have your cake and eat it too. If Gawker bloggers deserve certain protections under the law reserved for journalists, as Gawker now argues they do, it's safe to assume that Denton will be more careful about similar statements going forward.

That might not be such a bad thing. The truth of the matter is that many bloggers are de facto journalists. They're making and breaking the news, and in some industries, such as technology, they are arguably trusted more than traditional media outlets.

But the privileges of being a journalist come with responsibility, and perhaps this whole iPhone fiasco will help emphasize the responsibility part.

Photo credit: Yutaka Tsutano via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 28 April, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2407 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

A couple of observations: Gawker may itself not be 'committed to journalism', but that doesn't mean Jason Chen isn't or is excluded from being a journalist himself does it? The iPhone wasn't actually stolen. They, Gawker, took a gamble in that what they paid for could have been either a clever reproduction, or a marketing tactic by Apple.

over 6 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

Apparently: It was "stolen" because California law and the law of most other states deems it stolen when the finder fails to do what the law says a finder has to do. and the duty of a finder of lost property is to make all reasonable efforts to identify the rightful owner and to return it to that owner.

over 6 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Vincent, I don't know how Denton's statement might affect the determination as to whether or not Chen is a journalist. Hence my disclaimer, "I'm not an attorney, so it's unclear whether or not Denton's statement could influence a determination as to whether Chen is a 'journalist' in the eyes of the law..." As you note, it does seem that by purchasing something that Gawker had to have known was lost has muddied the waters and it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out. If Gawker (and by extension Chen) themselves committed a crime, there will obviously be no protections based on their status as journalists.

over 6 years ago

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stuart blind

Denton's comments were likely marketing. Don't know how the US governs journalism, but in European law, the ASA went into this in fine detail with the Food Standards Agency over formula milk and what was journalism and what was marketing communication. In this example, I would say Chen was defintely not disseminating material for Apple and would qualify as a journalist whether his job title was blogger or press.

over 6 years ago

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Brandon Connell

This is the price of trying to get free publicity. Now they are paying for it. There are ethical ways to gain that same publicity, and it doesn't call for manipulation. That kind of attention is grabbed by being in the right place at the right time.

over 6 years ago

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