CNN’s iReport.com finds itself in the middle of the news today, and not in a good way. The site, one of the remaining bastions of the so-called “citizen journalism” movement, solicits videos and photos from the general public and shares them online and on the company’s television channels under the motto “Unedited. Unfiltered. News.”
An anonymous writer posted a rumor, citing “an insider,” that Apple CEO Steve Jobs suffered a major heart attack and was being rushed to a hospital. After the story was posted, Apple’s stock fell 10% and the company’s PR team rushed to reassure investors that Jobs, in fact, did not suffer a heart attack. The stock has recovered, but the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the matter. In short, an unaccountable “news” outlet evaporated nearly $10 billion with a b dollars, though much of that money was recovered. This is why we have editors. This is why journalism requires gatekeepers, editorial guidelines, and standards for fact-checking and attribution. Other objections to the rise of “citizen journalism” aside (the “journalists” aren’t paid, signal to noise ratio is low, investigative work has all but disappeared, etc.), there are very real consequences to letting anyone report the news without even a minimum of editing. Blogging’s great, it’s what I’m doing right now, but the News with a capital ‘N’ takes a little more rigor.
This comes on the heels of a story a couple weeks ago involving automated news aggregator Google News. The site uses algorithms to suss out the day’s news and pictures and present them in order of relevance and subject. A couple of weeks ago, the site’s code picked up on a hit on a 2002 Tribune Co. story about United Airlines facing bankruptcy. Other aggregators, including Bloomberg’s news ticker, picked up the story but didn’t include a dateline. Stockholders noticed, and shares dropped from $12.50 to $3 (making $1.14 billion disappear) in a matter of minutes. Trading halted, the company released a statement, and the stock recovered to $10.92, which is $300 million less than what it started with. While it’s tough to make the case the journalism saves lives, right here we have evidence that sloppy “journalism” can have tremendous consequences when treated as news. (both stories via Slashdot)