Steve Jobs, citizen journalism and the false heart attack

Steve Jobs Speaks At WWDC07

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The false report about Steve Jobs that briefly surfaced on CNN’s iReport site has prompted a wave of discussion on the “failings” of citizen journalism.

Apple swiftly dismissed the rumour, and CNN removed the item.

Across the web, there are comments about “the dangers of citizen journalism” (BBC), “citizen journalism just failed” (Read/Write/Web) or the “perils of citizen journalism” (Computerworld).

These reports suggesting the imminent death of citizen journalism are greatly exaggerated. They miss the basic point by treating an unsubstantiated report on a unfiltered web page as if it were published by a professionally-edited news outlet.

As a CNN spokesperson told the BBC that: is an entirely user-generated site where the content is determined by the community. Content that does not comply with Community Guidelines will be removed. After the content in question was uploaded to, the community brought it to our attention.

While the site may be hosted by CNN, it is clearly labelled as not part of its professional news operation.

We need to stop judging citizen media sites by the standards that we apply to established news outlets. It is like comparing apples and oranges. They are not the same and not intended to be the same. Citmedia sites tend to work on the basis of publish first, verify later.

The stupidity here lies with those who took an unsubstantive rumour and acted on the basis of it.  How many of us would act on something we overheard on the bus or in a bar? The rational thing to do is to check it out, to verify the facts.

This is the value of journalism. In an age when everyone is a publisher, there is a greater need than ever for journalists to verify and authentic information, rather than leap on a rumour.

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  • Peter Horrocks says:

    Alf, I agree it doesn’t call into question Citizen Journalism per se. However it does raise the question of the relationship between unmoderated Citizen Journalism and established news brands.

    In i-Report CNN have created an innovative out-sourced (and off-site) way of generating Citizen Journalism without having to devote significant resource to filtering and checking it, at least within the i-Report site. However the attention given to this false story shows that there is at least some damage to the CNN brand, even thought it had not made its way into any formal CNN news products.

    It will be interesting to see whether there are attempts to post other false stories to i-Report and whether CNN feels that it needs to introduce any professional pre-filtering in order to avoid further PR damage. The upside is that the moderation within the i-Report community does seem to have worked and I would hope that CNN stick to their guns and maintain i-Report in its current form at least for the time being.


  • Thanks for the comment Peter. Perhaps CNN will feel it has to keep a closer eye on iReport after this. I also wonder whether the fact it was published on a site that belongs to a major news organisation gave the false report additional credibility.

  • The dangers are quite apparent in the BBC blog entry: “CNN published an inaccurate report”, writes BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. CNN would of course argue that “CNN” and “publish” are both wrong — CNN set up a site where a user published something. But if even the BBC technology correspondent uses CNN and iReport interchangingly, how would an ordinary user tell them apart?

    So, yes, it is stupid acting on something overheard on the bus or in a bar. But apparently there were some people out there who didn’t get the difference — who thought the information was coming from the bus drivers’ radio, not some random bus passenger. In your view, the site is “clearly labelled”: For someone who understands citizen journalism, it’s a no-brainer indeed. For others, the concept maybe isn’t as easy to grasp: If it says “iReport” on a CNN TV screen, it has been checked. If it says “CNN” on the iReport site, it has been checked. If it just says “iReport”, it has not necessarily been checked.

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