A note published today written by Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of the prominent technology website The Verge, disclosed that Deputy Editor Chris Zeigler, a founding member of The Verge, had secretly been working for Apple, Inc. — a company that The Verge covers closely — while maintaining his role as a journalist for the past two months.
"Chris began working for Apple in July, but didn't tell anyone at The Verge that he'd taken a new job until we discovered and verified his dual-employment in early September," Patel revealed. "Chris continued actively working at The Verge in July, but was not in contact with us through most of August and into September. During that period, in the dark and concerned for Chris, we made every effort to contact him and to offer him help if needed. We ultimately terminated his employment at The Verge and Vox Media the same day we verified that he was employed at Apple."
"Obviously having an Apple employee on The Verge staff is a conflict of interest," Patel, unafraid to state the obvious, wrote in his note.
Vox Media Editorial Director Lockhart Steele stepped in to conduct an independent review of The Verge's work and staff interactions with Chris during the time he worked at Apple and Vox Media to determine if that conflict had manifested itself in any of our coverage or affected any of our editorial decisions.
That review wrapped up this week. After interviews with more than a dozen Verge and Vox Media employees who worked closely with Chris, and a careful review of emails, Slack logs, and various login histories, Lockhart determined that Chris' conflict of interest did not have any impact on editorial decisions or journalism produced at The Verge or elsewhere in Vox Media. Chris did not attempt to steer any coverage towards or away from Apple, and any particular decisions he helped make had the same outcomes they would have had absent his involvement.
A surprising result, to say the least. And, in that vein, "Shocked, shocked I say" might be the knowing reaction of jaded industry observers. After all, technology news coverage has been consistently criticized for its culture of "access journalism," whereby powerful companies carefully grant stories to thankful media entities who typically respond with favorable coverage and kid-glove critique; lather, rinse, repeat. Perks like early access to gizmos and straight-up gifts come standard, a Neiman Foundation report stated in August. Of course, as technology increasingly comes to control markets, personal information, and even the flow of media itself, the role of independent journalism seems sort of important. I would say more, but I have to go hop on the Google bus — what, did you think anyone could live in San Francisco these days without working two jobs?
just remember, folks: money can't buy journalism.— Chris Ziegler (@zpower) May 15, 2009