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Are checkbook journalists less worthy of protection?

April 27, 2010 | 12:13 pm

Getprev Gizmodo's biggest scoop so far this year -- an exclusive look at a new iPhone prototype -- cost the company $5,000 up front, which seemed like a bargain at the time. The money went to the unnamed person who supposedly found the phone at the Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City, where an Apple engineer named Gray Powell reportedly left it. In return, Gizmodo drew a flood of visitors to a series of posts by blogger Jason Chen about the secrecy-shrouded device. It was, in short, a coup.

And now it's a criminal case. Sheriff's deputies searched Chen's home Friday night, confiscating more than 20 computers, cameras and other electronic gadgets. They did so over the objections of parent company Gawker Media, whose chief operating officer, Gaby Darbyshire, wrote in a letter to police that state and federal laws bar authorities from seizing a journalist's property, as was done with Chen.

This case is unique, however, in that Gawker paid its source for someone else's property; had Chen not been a journalist, no doubt police could have arrested him for buying what's arguably a stolen good and compelled him to reveal his seller. But Chen's a journalist, and his iPhone seller is therefore a "source."

So what do you think: Does Chen deserve the full protection of state and federal law afforded to reporters? Or do checkbook journalists belong in a different legal class? The Times may weigh in on its editorial page in the next few days, so for now take our unscientific poll, post a comment or do both.

-- Jon Healey and Paul Thornton

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