An online journalist's home gets raided; so why aren't we more angry?

Let’s gets this out of the way. There are a lot of unknowns here and probably lots of potential shady things yet to come out. This story, no doubt, has legs… and lots of them.

But, I have to say, I’m starting to feel really disappointed in the lack of outrage journalists are having to the Gizmodo raid. Maybe I’ve completely missed it, but we should be up in arms here!

And by “we,” I don’t just mean Webby nerds, tech geeks or digital dorks. By “we,” I mean journalists in every newsroom cross platform, across the country.

Where is the statement by the Society of Professional Journalists? The American Society of News Editors? The Online News Association, for heaven’s sake!?!?

If you missed it, Gizmodo posted a recap from their point of view, but here’s my understanding: (Note: You could easily do a search-and-replace here and change “lost” or “found” to “stolen” … or can you? Too soon to say.)

Act I: A new, prototype Apple iPhone was “lost” at a bar in the Bay Area. When this news first broke, many of us thought it was a crafty Apple P.R. stunt rather than a bonehead mistake. Turned out it was the latter and the bonehead employee was later named.

Act II: The “finder” of the phone allegedly attempted to contact Apple to make it aware of the misplaced device… but in the end, Gizmodo paid an estimated $5000 to get their hands on the “found” iPhone.

Act III: After Gizmodo posted a video and photos showcasing the “found” iPhone, it received a memo from Apple asking for their missing property back. The device was “bricked,” or remotely deactivated and made useless, presumably by Apple.

Act IV: Police raided the home of the blogger/reporter who posted the Gizmodo item. They actually knocked down his door while the blogger was not home and seized several pieces of equipment, which included laptops, iPad and more. The police have halted their investigation, once someone pointed about that the blogger is more than likely covered by the federal and state shield law.

Act V: ??? Who knows, but I can’t wait to find out.

Again, let’s get certain things out of the way here.

Yes, Gizmodo practiced checkbook journalism to purchase the iPhone. This is not a practice many of us do, condone or can even afford. But, sorry y’all, this type of journalism exists and is more common than we’d like to think. (One word: Paparazzi.)

Second, no matter the quality of it, Gizmodo is actively doing journalism. It’s not part of a legacy masthed, but one that was built by covering tech news — and it does so fairly well.

Third, you and I don’t know the details yet of how that phone was truly acquired. Hell, if Gizmodo was smart, they probably didn’t ask. But the device was acquired… someone leaked it… someone lost it… someone stole it… but the “it” was, and still is, big news. (Did you know Nokia has a missing device? I’m guessing not. Why? Because it ain’t an iPhone.)

Lastly, a journalist’s house was raided by authorities in connection to the device that he openly admitted and publicized he had. Don’t you think that was a little over the top?

So, I am asking myself, why aren’t we more pissed here? Where is our journalistic outrage? Where is the angry mob with pitchforks defending the first amendment right?

Would we be more outraged if instead of the phone it was some classified government document? Or if instead of a corporation like Apple contacting the authorities, it was the government?

Y’all, this is one of the biggest stories in modern journalism and we need to be on top of this… we need to get angry… we need to pick up our pitchforks pens and craft, at the very least, a statement that says this is not okay!

I love Apple too, but I love journalism more.

About Robert Hernandez

Robert Hernandez, aka WebJournalist, is an assistant professor at USC Annenberg. Hernandez has been working in Web journalism for more than a decade. He has worked for,,, La Prensa Gr


  1. Lemme pile on here: This case is about Apple using agents of the state to intimidate a journalist who got a scoop about an Apple product.


    This iPhone prototype wasn’t “stolen” property. It was lost.

    If the property wasn’t stolen, then Gizmodo didn’t traffic in stolen property when it bought the phone (or the opportunity to write about the phone, which Gawker Media’s lawyers now seem to be claiming).

    If the police were investigating the “theft” of the device, it simply could have asked Apple and Gawker Media in the course of its investigation for the name of the person who found/stole the device. (Or gotten a subpoena for the name. Or, heck, just walked down to the frakin’ bar and asked around.) Searching and confiscating equipment from the reporter’s home is waaaaay over the top to obtain a name.

    Unless… the purpose of this was not simply to obtain a name, but to send a message to other reporters what will happen to you should you get information that Apple doesn’t want outsiders to have.

    Don’t like Gawker Media? Don’t like checkbook journalism? Fine, but fight those fights elsewhere. Don’t let a company use the police like Mob thugs to “send a message” to journalists. That’s a precedent none of us can long afford to let stand.

  2. says:

    I’m not enraged because they are not journalists. Journalists don’t pull silly pranks at events like CES when they are credentialed as such. They have shown silly and often nonprofessional behavior in the past. If we should be enraged, it should be for their pretentious behavior and them devaluing our profession.

  3. says:

    They’ve identified the man who found and sold the missing phone.

  4. says:

    Yes, this search should be met with more outrage — even if you don’t accord much respect to online journalists with open checkbooks, this is exactly the kind of “slippery slope” action that if not fought will be used to justify searches and seizures of other journalists’ offices and homes.

  5. says:

    Real journalists know the difference between checkbook journalism and buying property that they are perfectly aware doesn’t belong to the seller.

    They didn’t pay for access to the thing, they paid for the thing itself.

    Sorry, I have a hard time getting worked up when Gizmodo made such an blatantly dumb move.

  6. Sorry, but no outrage here. The idea that journalists should somehow be immune from investigation and prosecution of crimes they may be complicit in, now that’s outrageous.

    The facts are coming out and they’re ugly for the thief and Gizmodo.

    Wired tracked down Brian Hogan, the guy who “found” (read, stole) the phone. He admitted that he personally made no attempt to find the rightful owner and return it to him.

    “A friend of Hogan

  7. Umm yes, I think both parties are in the “wrong”. One for coughing up cash and using “frowned upon” tactics, the other for loosing a prototype! In the end though they got what they wanted. Publicity.
    No big issue here, it’s business as usual.

  8. says:

    “Real”journalists? “Good”journalists? By God, the Journalism Cops are out in force on this one! Robert (and Robert) have got this one right. With friends like these school-marms, who needs the state to be your enemy? There is nothing illegal nor even immoral about checkbook journalism. It is merely a practice that MSM profession, for good reasons, CLAIMS to eschew (in fact, the networks use it all the time by providing air fare and lodging for certain out of town guests on news-driven shows).

    Like it or not, Gizmodo has a readership far broader than most currently existing newspapers and whether one thinks Chen is a “real” journalist is redolent with the verbiage surrounding the Galileo trial.

    Let’s say that when Ellsberg took the Pentagon Papers he gave them to a friend who have them to a friend and so on down the line during which some one or another paid some money. Would the country have collpased if the NYTimes or WaPo had gone ahead and published that “checkbook” tainted material?

    One can like or dislike what Gawker owner Nick Denton did when he purchased the phone. You can even indict him if he broke the law. But in the middle of all that is a journalist providing information to the public and then being subject to confiscation of work product and sources thanks to a secretive for profit corporation. When they come for you, don’t expect much sympathy from lowly “bloggers” with audiences in the tens of millions.

  9. says:

    I don’t know if the Gizmodo people are “journalists” or not.

    They are, however, people who paid money to someone to give them stolen property.

  10. says:

    This: “I’m not enraged because they are not journalists” is *exactly* why more journalists aren’t up in arms. There is a whole generation of journos that think that web journalism isn’t “real” journalism, or the the webby, start-up mentality means people aren’t doing real work.

    I think the Society of Professional Journalists has already made their statement: “Those people aren’t part of our clique.”

  11. Just to make sure I understand, a private corporation manages to cajole law enforcement to raid someone’s house over a phone that they already knew the guy had, and the only thing that people seem to be outraged about is whether the guy was a “real” journalist or not.

    Did I get that right?

    I’d be more concerned about whether law enforcement overstepped their bounds before I’d care about whether “checkbook journalism” was real journalism or not. But then again, I’m not a “real” journalist. I’m just a hack that makes money writing articles.