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Senior Editor

Latest non-mainstream news in the never-ending Gizmodo-Apple Affair

May 14, 20104 mins

Betrayal, coverup, flight, and the greatest unintentional tech comedy in ages

You can’t invent stuff like this.

To summarize: the gadget Website Gizmodo, owned by Gawker Media, stunned the tech world when it published photos of what was certainly a prototype of the next iPhone. Their initial reporting was the phone had been lost by a tipsy Apple software engineer, and found by someone who let Gizmodo examine it.

But there were a few problems with the Gizmodo account. Gawker chief Nick Denton proudly declared they’d paid the finder, a young guy named Brian Hogan, $5,000 to “access” the phone — disassemble it. Denton and the Gizmodo editors insisted, despite growing evidence to the contrary that Hogan and they had done EVERYTHING THEY COULD to find the original owner and return the phone. “We didn’t know it was stolen,” said Gizmodo editorial director Brian Lam.

Our iOneApple blogger Yoni Heisler posts here on the just-unsealed affidavit that police used to obtain a warrant to search Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s home for evidence that he, and Gizmodo, had received stolen property. (The full affidavit is online.) Heisler includes the full text of Lam’s email to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, or “Hey Steve” as Lam writes, and it’s jaw-droppingly delightful.

“Hey Steve, this email chain is off the record on my side.” How much more mainstream media can you get than promising to keep it all “off the record?” This from the guys who condemn all those cozy insider “access journalism” relationships that mainstream media curry with vendors like Apple.

“I understand the position you’re in, and I want to help, but it conflicts with my own responsibilities to give the phone back without any confirmation that its real, from apple, officially.” Brian takes the high road: empathizing with Steve, understanding, but gosh that darn conflict means he can’t just give it back. Without something in return….

“Something like that [the confirmation] – from you or apple legal – is a big story, that would make up for giving the phone back right away. If the phone disappears without a story to explain why it went away, and the proof it went to apple, it hurts our business. And our reputation.”

You can almost feel Brian’s pain here. He’s caught between really wanting to help Steve but, hey, it would hurt Gizmodo’s business if they couldn’t explain why they returned someone else’s stolen property. And, of course, their reputation. Reputation is very important in the Digital Media Age, which is so full of conflicts.

“When we get a chance to break a story, we have to go with it, or we perish. I know you like walt [Mossberg, Wall Street Journal tech columnist] and [NY Times tech writer David] pogue, and like working with them, but I think Gizmodo has more in common with old Apple than those guys do. So I hope you understand where I’m coming from.”

Boy, do we ever. I think Brian’s media envy is showing. But, to give him credit, he’s being subtle, or as subtle as he can be. He doesn’t say “Start giving us access like you do “those guys” and we’ll give the phone back.” No. He just reminds Steve that Gizmodo has something Steve wants and Steve has something Gizmodo wants. You know…respect.

“Right now, we have nothing to lose. The thing is, Apple PR has been cold to us lately. It affected my ability to do my job right at iPad launch.” Just the right blend: a smidgin of muscle flexing, a warning glint in Brian’s eye, that perfectly calibrated aggrieved blue-collar work ethic: hey, Steve, come on: I’m just trying to do my job here, guy.

“So we had to go outside and find our stories like this one, aggressively.” Exactly. Some stranger shows up and hands you a stolen iPhone prototype, you don’t ask any questions, and you “aggressively” sign that $5,000 check. And then “aggressively” dismantle the phone that doesn’t belong to you.

I have to hand it to Brian, and his boss Gawker’s Nick Denton. When they’re right, they’re right.

It’s NOT mainstream journalism.

For more on the Gizmodo-Apple Affair, you can also check out “Love’s Labor Lost: A Felony in Three Acts” by John Shakespeare

Senior Editor

I cover wireless networking and mobile computing, especially for the enterprise; topics include (and these are specific to wireless/mobile): security, network management, mobile device management, smartphones and tablets, mobile operating systems (iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry OS and BlackBerry 10), BYOD (bring your own device), Wi-Fi and wireless LANs (WLANs), mobile carrier services for enterprise/business customers, mobile applications including software development and HTML 5, mobile browsers, etc; primary beat companies are Apple, Microsoft for Windows Phone and tablet/mobile Windows 8, and RIM. Preferred contact mode: email.

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