Steve Jobs, I-Report and The Future of Citizen Journalism

Hi Multimediaites:

In case you missed it, a false report about Steve Jobs suffering a heart attack Friday made it onto CNN’s IReport (CNN’s citizen journalism vehicle), leading to a sharp drop in Apple stock. Some are characterizing what occured as a downside to citizen journalism, while others have been a bit more harsh, saying it’s a failure of citizen journalism. There were some Twitter exchanges on this topic (including some by yours truly) and the defenders say there was no failure.  It’s interesting to see some of the parsing by defenders on what exactly failure means.

At it’s heart, citizen journalism is about unfiltered, unedited reports making it on the the Web. Yet, some defenders go as far as to say that the report was clearly not part of CNN’s news operation, so we shouldn’t be applying journalistic standards in this case.


Read these and other accounts and weigh in on the comments board. Some questions to consider:

* What happened here?

* Was this error preventable? How?

* Can/should trained editors work with ‘citizen journalists’ on projects like IReport?

* The SEC is investigating this incident, what are the long-term ramifications of errors like this making it into the public sphere?

* What can we (you) as journalists do to prevent such irresponsible reports from happening again?

Good luck,


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11 Responses to Steve Jobs, I-Report and The Future of Citizen Journalism

  1. Adam Coulter says:

    What happened here is a result of a post-Virginia Tech world. In order to get the jawdropping, breaking stories and pictures, reputable new organizations like CNN are willing to sacrifice the vetting of every user post or comment before it goes live on their site. This “Steve Jobs” false report from an ordinary citizen most likely ended up causing people who owned Apple stock to lose money and the story ultimately made its way onto other news sites like If CNN’s main goal is to “empower citizens to be the reporters,” I don’t see how this could be prevented except perhaps if all sites for example IReport, start to have trained editors work with citizen journalists. We as journalists can help to prevent such irresponsible reporting by upholding journalistic ethics and standards in our own work and hope it will be inspiring enough that people will want to keep the bar as high or higher.

  2. dave says:

    This false report is terrible for the reputation of citizen journalism. With the medium growing day by day, the only publicity citizen journalism needs is good publicity. By having one or two people put up high profile lies, the entirety of citizen journalism – from the blogosphere to television such as Current – comes under the microscope. As with all new mediums, mistakes will happen. The key is to recognize these mistakes for what they are and not let them affect citizen journalism as a whole. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like it was just a mistake; it was a maliciously posted report.

  3. uhlecksuh says:

    I think what basically happened was a “citizen journalist” took liberties with the fact that they now have a forum where anyone can post information and make it available to the public. Not only post information, but do so in connection with a huge name like CNN. This error should have been preventable, though it somehow slipped by the moderator, so maybe CNN needs to hire more fact checkers to ensure they’re only allowing true posts on their site. I definitely think that these moderators are necessary because the “citizen journalists” have no code of ethics to go by, and for many, no training in the field.
    I don’t know how we can help prevent incidents like this from happening again, besides only posting facts we know to be true, and encouraging others to do the same.

  4. edoody101 says:

    I agree with that people are much quicker to put a story out rather than research what they report thoroughly. To be the first person out with a story has taken precedence over accuracy. Citizen journalism must be responsible for what they report as any news source is responsible. If a person is going to publish false material as fact than they should fall under the same laws and regulations as journalists. Libel and slander need to be enforced if people are going to pretend to be professionals.

  5. Kevin Clerkin says:

    The agenda for the mainstream media in the last few years has been report it now, check facts later. The “Steve Jobs heart attack story” was directly in line with how reporting is done today. The facts are there: breaking a news story of this magnitude attracts immediate attention from a large viewing. Apple shares about 9% in only 12 minutes because the false report of a citizen journalist. The story turns out to be a hoax, and many people question how this can happen? It is time for citizen journalists to start taking accountability for their mishaps, or for the major news organizations to check in with reliable sources before breaking a story like this. Stories will continue to break like this unless there are regulations set and accuracy is essential.

  6. cgreener says:

    The question here has become what were the intentions of the anonymous source but does that even matter? Whether it was a case of sabotage or wanting to be the person to report it first, false information made its way on to a citizen journalism reporting site. This is just another account that will harm the reputation of citizen journalists but it is not a sign of failure. Under more regulation and fact checking citizen journalists will gain more respect. Along with the sullied image of citizen journalists CNN is at fault. With CNN being such a large and respected news organization they can not afford to be affiliated with false reports. There are many outlets on the internet for reporting false information and CNN doesn’t need to be one of them.

    Also I wonder if the fact that the SEC is investigating this incident is sending a message to citizen journalists that they are responsible for reporting facts and that spreading false rumors will have consequences.

  7. Ashley Coulombe says:

    As someone who closely follows citizen journalism outlets and their creators, I immediately picked up on the importance of this incident and what it means for the bigger picture of citizen journalism.

    If one anonymous poster can make a stock plunge and an extremely successful company be sent reeling for a day – should it be allowed to continue? After all, this isn’t the first time that a citizen journalist has caused a ruckus in the world outside of the internet.

    My problem with the situation is this – not only were this posters assertions taken seriously for a much longer period then they should of been as CNN’s iReport seemed to take their sweet time removing the post, but I’m also wondering why CNN’s iReport would ever advertise themselves as “Unedited. Unfiltered. News.” Clearly it is the first two, but not the latter.

    All this proves is that nobody should ever take stock in what they read from a citizen journalist. And that’s unfortunate. There are some citizen journalists out there who are being trained by real reporters and editors and given the proper forum to work. Take for example the Lawerence Journal-World in Kansas, where editors there have set up an annual program that not only encourages blogging, but teaches people how to write, edit, and even gives them a place on their Web site to write. We need to see more of that and less anonymous posters.

    So now I guess it’s all about prevention, even though it was probably preventable in the first place by editing the site more closely. We need to see more places where citizen journalists can practice reporting, but they need to be edited and there needs to be a clause somewhere saying – hey! these aren’t trained journalists! Otherwise, someone might be presumed on their deathbed and a major company might see one of their worst stock drops in a while… wait…

    The long-term ramifications are unfortunate – citizen journalism will no longer be journalism. It will be citizen hearsay, citizen second-hand accounts, and citizen imagination.

    I’d like to see it succeed, to make a comeback after this incident. But it’s tough coming back after an SEC investigation and a very angry and powerful company, not to mention the countless readers who have just lost what little faith they have.

    It’s sad that anonymous posters like this can ruin the game for everyone else. They make it even harder for the Matt Drudges of the world to become successful without ever taking a journalism class.

    My suggestion to the citizen journalists who want to gain credibility? Take a journalism class or two or several. Exercise self-editing and good fact checking. And if possible, post somewhere where you have a good chance of people believing what you’re writing, i.e. not on CNN’s iReport.

  8. Kylie Jelley says:

    Was there a motive behind this rumor? There are no credible sources or confirmations that this was even true. Where did the citizen come across this information in the first place? This would have been preventable had CNN taken some responsibility to edit iReport. Monitors should have fact checked this and removed it before it hit the mainstream.

    Citizen journalists should take responsibility for their actions. What about a second terms of agreement signature that reminds them they are liable for fraudulent material before they are able to post reports? It would make them think twice about whether or not it is accurate.

    In this case the citizen journalist has most responsibility for the false report. But, there is also a large amount of responsibility directed at wall street to make sure that the market is not driven by rumor.

  9. Emily says:

    I think that there should be fact checkers specifically in case something like this happens. News websites should dedicate a few people to look over everything that citizen journalists write to make sure that it is true. It isn’t just the person who posted it that looks bad, it is the news website for allowing it to go up.

  10. Ben Williams says:

    I think it’s a ridiculous to say that this wasn’t a part of CNN’s news operation. This wasn’t just some random bloggers saying something. The reason it had such an effect is because it was or was presumed to be backed by CNN.

    If CNN wants to put their label on something they should at the very least be reading the submissions to see if they’re not at all reliable, or worse, dangerous, like in this case.

  11. Venuza says:

    I honestly believe that media outlets such as CNN I-Report should be trusted. It’s too much of a mix of people’s opinions. There are other places where people can post there opinions and the CNN tag should not be attached to it because they are putting their credibility in danger. Citizen journalist should also be more responsible with the stories that they post. It is also their responsibility to be fair and balanced as well.

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