Jobs heart attack post highlights citizen journalism perils

Report on CNN-sponsored site taken seriously because of CNN's reputation, some say

Friday's false report on CNN's iReport site that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack is a strong example of potential pitfalls posed by so-called citizen journalists.

The report prompted a temporary 10 percent tumble in the company's stock price before Apple moved quickly the quash the report that Jobs had been hospitalized for chest pains and shortness of breath. Though CNN quickly yanked the report from the Web, the citizen journalist posting the phony report to the CNN site that allows any Internet user to report news had already done the damage.

The stock rebounded only after the share price fell below US$100 for the first time since May 2007.

Calls to Turner Broadcasting and CNN parent Time Warner were not returned.

While many news sites using citizen journalists filter comments or posts from citizen before they go live, CNN does not, said Ellyn Angelotti, interactivity editor and adjunct faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists and journalist professors.

The main goal of CNN iReport "is to really empower citizens to be the reporters," she said Friday. "They don't want to be that filter the way that some news organizations feel is important. Citizen journalists can't exist without real journalists out there to fact check and provide sense out of these flood of information."

She added that other breaking news stories have been uncovered first by updates to Wikipedia or Twitter messages. While this story originated on a CNN site, she added that CNN has distinguished between the iReport and official CNN reporting.

"[On iReport] they are saying this person reported it and they are a CNN iReporter, but what that means is they are a citizen journalist, and this is information that is coming from the community and not something that we have had a chance to verify through our news sources," Angelotti said.

Erick Schonfeld, a blogger at TechCrunch, said that this incident shows that iReport news carries more weight than a Twitter microblog or other blog posts because it is on a CNN site.

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