Gizmodo’s iPhone Scoop: The Nick Denton Interview


Maybe you heard, but yesterday, Gawker Media’s gadget site Gizmodo published quite a story. It might be short of hyperbole to note their “get” of a new iPhone prototype as one of the biggest scoops in tech reporting history.

Well, earlier tonight, we received an e-mail from a source inside Gawker noting that “Steve Jobs called [Gizmodo editor] Jesus Diaz and [Gawker Media publisher] Nick Denton today and said, ‘Give me back my phone!’ ” Also, that Denton “walked around the office ALL DAY with the biggest shit eating grin I’ve ever seen. Like, literally all day — it was amazing.”

Well, I checked in with (my former employer) Nick Denton to confirm this via e-mail. Nick told us to get in touch with him over his preferred method of communication, instant messaging. And we got to ask him a few questions about this pretty fun scoop of his, how the company plans to move forward legally, viewing the scoop through the prism of the journalism around it, and of course, whether or not Steve Jobs actually called to get his goddamn iPhone back.

Nick! It’s Foster.
hey hey

You must be having a day. Did Jobs really call you and Jesus?
if he did call, it would have been off the record. I did see the rumor on The Awl

Have you been having what one could characterize as a “good” day? And do you guys have any plans on returning what may or may not be (but come on, definitely is) the property of Steve Jobs?
we have received a letter from Apple claiming ownership and, yes, we will of course be returning the phone to its rightful owners

You guys gonna run the letter?

Wonderful. Can you empathize with people getting drunk and “losing” their iPhones in bars?
Ha, I have done that myself a couple of times — as Doug reminded me tonight.

It happens to the best of us. I don’t think you and your guys were the only ones with shit-eating grins today. This was fun.
Well, it’s more interesting than the usual gadget journalism, which involves sucking up to Apple and hoping you’ll be given a review copy.

The iPad coverage said quite a bit about the future of access “journalism.”
Most of these reporters are extensions of the PR industry.

Anybody come to mind specifically who’s at-large in New York?
I was struck by Ihnatko.

I feel like maybe a certain major local daily might be a little beholden to Apple…Are you, Jason, Brian, Jesus at all concerned about the access to official Apple events in the future?
None of us thought about that. We had a story. We wrote it. You know how Gawker works. If you think too much about the consequences, you just become part of the system.

Always. But I had to ask. You think Apple’s relationship with the media they’ve convinced (or who’ve convinced themselves) that they’re “saving” totally compromises any sanctity it might’ve once held? One example: the New York Times has yet to pick this story up in so far as I can tell…
I think Times is doing the story tonight — and Bilton did a short item on Bits.

That said, do you think they’d ever think twice before hitting publish before running this story themselves if, say, David Pogue found the new iPhone?
Dunno, what do you think?

I mean: is there a bigger scoop in technology journalism? Any decent journalist ought to be willing to sell their mother for a story like this.

That’s not the case, sadly. Not because they love their mothers, though. This begs the question: Mama Denton or iPhone scoop?
You would, though, wouldn’t you? My mother’s dead.

Well, my mom’s terrible with the Jewish guilt, so probably, yes.
I used to cover Silicon Valley for the Financial Times. I’d never experienced such control freak publicists. New York corporate communications professionals are angels of transparency by comparison. Apple’s PR people have more power than any others — because they can dole out access to the hottest gadgets on the planets. I don’t blame them for herding the tech reporters; only the tech reporters for going along so uncomplainingly to the slaughter.

True, but you paid for the scoop, no? Is the competition for tech reporting and breaking stories going to become a game of big bankrolls? Not to discredit your guys, but if you didn’t have the money, locking down the exclusive would be a different story. I’ve worked on a scoop [Gawker] paid for before. It was great. It was fun. But let’s say those tech reporters don’t willingly toe the press lines, and get denied access, and can’t pay for scoops….

You started Gizmodo without the resources (i.e. money) you have now. So someone could, theoretically, eschew publicity lines and still be competitive. But was checkbook journalism ever on the horizon early on?
I never had any problem with it. Anything for the story. And paying sources does have a side-benefit: winding up the J-school ethicists. You saw that piece in All Things D, yes? I think it’s fine if you check out the story especially carefully. Funny how the TV networks contort themselves to get money to sources — while maintaining they don’t pay for the story.

Oh, I’m well aware. One last[question. [Former Gawker Editor-in-Chief] Gabriel once told me he was working on a tagline for the site, something along the lines of “Truth is the only virtue.” [Ed. It was actually “Honesty is our only virtue.”] I thought it was a little cynical, but he had a point. Maybe this is a little grand, but – and I’m asking you not as a business owner, whose business isn’t necessarily in philosophical platitudes — but do you think making the truth a commodity harms the public interest?
above my pay grade. letter is up

To wit.

Or as the aforementioned Gawker tipster from the beginning of this post put it: “Nick thinks this will give them more paid-for exclusives which he’s fine with. He thinks they’ll also get false tips, [and] will also pay for tips they’d normally get for free because of the news that he paid for this.” Well, at 3.8M pageviews and counting, he’ll probably manage to find the cash to burn, somehow. Meanwhile, we at Runnin’ Scared have yet to pay for scoops because we’re too busy trying to figure out how to expense coffee from the Mud Truck, even though their coffee sucks. The end.