On Friday, hours after the Heene family had appeared on a succession of morning talk shows to repeatedly state that Thursday’s Balloon Boy adventures had not in fact been a hoax, Business Insider announced that they had “alleged proof” that the story was a hoax after being contacted by a “Denver-area student who claims to have worked with Falcon’s father, Richard Heene, on a reality show proposal for ABC.” Money quote (literally):
The student wants to sell the infomation and says the National Enquirer is considering buying it for between $5,000 and $8,000.
The student claims to have been hired by Heene, and says the two worked together from March until May 2009 to prepare “business plans and proposals” to pitch to ABC.
Apparently, Gawker jumped at the offer, because yesterday they published their own exclusive (actually two) ” I Helped Richard Heene Plan a Balloon Hoax.”
For the first time, 25-year-old researcher Robert Thomas reveals to Gawker how earlier this year he and Richard Heene drew up a master plan to generate a massive media controversy using a weather balloon. To get famous, of course…It’s a fascinating account and after he publicly offered to sell his story, we paid him for it.
You can read all the sordid details there, though the short version is that Heene has a history of strange behavior that supports the Balloon Boy Hoax theories, and considering the Colorado police have announced they are bringing in Child Services it appears there is more evidence to come.
So how much did Gawker pay for the exclusive (and according to BI’s Joe Weisenthal, 48 hours of Thomas’ silence)? According to Business Insider Thomas was asking for $5-8000. I emailed Gawker editor-in-chief Gabriel Snyder who told me that “we didn’t pay near that much.” Paying for tips is not a new policy at Gawker (nor at a variety of other news organizations, primarily of the tabloid variety, also sometimes TV programs looking for big interview gets). Back in July Nick Denton announced he was bring back “web-style checkbook journalism.”
Anyway, cue media outrage, probably. Also, perhaps some concern. If you can make some cash off an exclusive tip why not follow the money to Gawker’s tip box. Says Abe Sauer in a post on the matter:
So it appears the lesson is, if you know somebody, however tangentially, who may have been, for even an instant, in the national consciousness, by God do not just tell anyone about it. Send an email to email@example.com first because your ability to be in the right place at the right time may be worth several thousand dollars. Corroboration? Don’t worry about it. Didn’t you get Denton’s memo?
Gabriel Snyder discussed this hoax during an appearance on CNN:
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org