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

In case you missed it, a false report about Steve Jobs suffering a heart attack last 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.

Yet, there was a failure here. Bad information got out.  Apple’s stock crashed.  People were hurt.

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.

When we talk about the future of journalism in our classes, we always talk about the need for editors — the need for those trained in discerning what is news and what may be….false.  So, what is the lesson learned here and how can we prevent such a debacle from happening again?

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?



About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at He also edits part-time for with the NFL and college football network.
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