Shame on You: An Open Letter to Gizmodo

I sent a copy of this as a letter to Joel Johnson @ Gizmodo. I have no pre-existing relationship with Joel, but was dismayed by their treatment of the next-generation iPhone release, and thought to express some of the reasons behind my general displeasure.

Hey Joel…

I thought I might drop you this little missive to express a tiny bit of the disappointment that I have with you and your fellows in your treatment of this new iPhone issue. I think that you are missing something very important, and I thought I would take the time out of my day in the (almost certainly vain) hope that you might consider the actions of Gizmodo in a different light.

Here it goes.

You guys run a gadget website. I’m frankly part of your target demographic. I own lots of gadgets, I like lots of gadgets, and I spend a fair amount of time reading about possible gadget purchases. Your reviews and discussions are frequently helpful in making my buying decisions. But let’s get real for a moment: you guys make a living by providing a venue for those who make gadgets to get attention from those who buy gadgets. This requires that you walk a rather fine line. You must provide accurate, reasonable information for consumers, or nobody will bother coming to gizmodo.com. And you must provide reasonably positive reviews of products, because no company would bother advertising on a site which gave their consistently negative reviews.

But here’s the funny thing: Apple doesn’t really advertise on the web. They prefer to use print media and television for the most part. So they don’t directly pay you for advertising. So guess what? They don’t really need you. And that means they can dictate whatever access they grant you on whatever terms they like, and you will suck it up because all the people that do use you for advertising want to hang onto the popularity of apple products to get advertising views.

In other words, you need them way more than they need you. You cover Apple products in spite of all the irritation that it might entail because it makes you money.

Another way that you can choose to make money is to traffic in gossip and rumor. You might even argue that it’s for the benefit of your readers. Heck, we all like to engage in this kind of thing. “What will the next iPhone be like?” Heck, I’d like to know. My 2 year contract is about up, it’d be great to see what was coming down the line. So, you guys write editorials speculating, and you go out into the industry and try to snoop to find out what’s going on. And, of course you try to encourage relationships with people “in the know” who might tip you off.

There isn’t anything wrong with that. The people who provide tips are grownups, and presumably can make decisions about the risk that they are willing to take in revealing their companies secrets, and can take whatever measures they think appropriate or necessary to ensure their anonymity.

But in this matter, you’ve taken that option away from Mr. Powell. He didn’t choose to reveal a company secret to you, or to sell you an Apple prototype. You acted ruthlessly, paying an (as yet anonymous) third party for access to a prototype which you knew was not their property, without regard to whom it might hurt, and shamelessly and profitably exploited the information for your own benefit. I think this is way out of line.

You can sit and pretend that outing Mr. Powell was for his benefit, and perhaps you are right. But what truly would have been to his benefit would have been to convince your anonymous third party to turn Apple’s property back over to them, and to not shamelessly exploit this information for your own benefit.

Shame on you.

I’m posting a copy of this letter to my own blog at http://brainwagon.org.

Mark VandeWettering