Citizen Journalism Not a Failure, Blogs a Failure?

This morning a rumor about Steve Jobs having a heart attack started circulating. The person who started the rumor submitted it to MacRumors using an anonymous proxy IP address. I saw the report right when it was submitted and after some brief research dismissed it. The story was also posted to CNN’s iReport (citizen journalism site) and also appeared on Digg with a large number of diggs (but not yet on the front page). I tracked back and found the story was being promoted by a semi-coordinated effort by members of the 4chan message board.

So, I chose to ignore it, since we get fake rumor submissions daily.

Digg users also figured out that this was likely fake, and despite the concentrated efforts, the story was kept from appearing on the front page due to a corresponding number of Digg users burying the story. This is how it’s supposed to work. Most digg users are apparently knowledgeable enough to know that a post on a site like iReport is as legitimate as a random forum post… which is to say not that much.

But here’s where it got real. As best I can tell, Alley Insider — a site that I like and has a relatively large readership — posted the story as possibly true. Here’s an excerpt from their original report before they corrected it:

Apple’s Steve Jobs Rushed To ER After Heart Attack, Says CNN Citizen Journalist

“Citizen journalism” gets its first real test. A story of major consequence that, thus far, no one else has reported.

CNN’s iReport:

Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable. I haven’t seen anything about this anywhere else yet, and as of right now, I have no further information, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If anyone else has more information, please share it.

We’re making calls, but as yet we have no idea whether it’s true. Confirmation/denial the moment we get it.

Meanwhile, very interesting that this report appears on CNN’s site. If it proves correct, CNN will look great. If it is wrong, CNN’s credibility will likely be significantly damaged–and we wouldn’t be surprised if this caused them to pull back from “citizen journalism.”

From here it seems the story kept growing, and Apple PR even issued a denial. The story’s been picked up by numerous sites as a failure of citizen journalism.

It’s nothing of the sort.

Citizen journalism (which is a stupid term) works as it always has. People post random crap — much of which could be fake or made up — but you know this when you read a site like that. You know that digg submissions that make outrageous claims are likely self serving posts. You do not take these reports at face value.

But, if you run a prominent and influential site, the moment you publish something, you are giving it some credibility. You have filtered it from the mass of information on the internet as something worthy to post. You may not believe it, but just by posting it, you add credibility to it.

If you want to blame someone for dropping Apple’s stock price today, you can point fingers at the individuals on 4chan or the person that originally submitted it, but the real reason it gained traction is the reporting of it on mainstream blog sites.

I don’t expect everyone to adopt my personal approach to publishing, but those are my thoughts on today’s events.

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29 Responses to Citizen Journalism Not a Failure, Blogs a Failure?

  1. Completely agree, bloggers have always gotten bad raps for not being professional and checking their facts. Bloggers have gained reputation since, but its still a fact that most bloggers/editors post stuff as they get it to be the first to have breaking news, then go back and retract/re-edit.

  2. Adrian B says:

    I think your personal approach is what makes me like MacRumors style so much. Even though it is “only a rumor site” (not true, but still) I feel MacRumors has one of the best non-sensational approach in a world where even respected media sometimes behaves sensationalistic. Kudos.

  3. Tom Krazit says:

    Excellent post, Arnold.

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  5. Pingback: Citizen Journalism Not a Failure, Blogs a Failure? | Arnold Kim | Voices | AllThingsD

  6. someone says:

    I agree – Unfortunately CNN knew this would happen but still other news organization will report it as such…

  7. Dave Winer says:

    Except you’re totally misusing the word blog — Silicon Valley Insider is a professional publication, run for profit. A blog is something like this site, written by an individual, hopefully with some expertise, who does it for love not as a job. Not saying one is more or less reliable than the other, I’ve seen bloggers say things that they knew were incorrect, and I’ve seen professionals do it too. In this case it was a pro.

  8. Arnold Kim says:

    Hi Dave,

    Blog has become so generic a term that I’ve used it loosely here. I know you have a fair amount of authority of the term, but (also for profit/”professional”) is frequently referred to as a blog, and I’ve since conceded to such usage.

    Regardless, I think my point is the same. “Site of some authority” – whether it be ‘blog’ or ‘professional web news publication’ (I certainly wouldn’t call it mainstream media).


  9. John Dowdell says:


    On any story, we need to ask “How do you know what you say you know?”

    Lots of professional reporting relies on that “authoritative sources say” base too. Isn’t necessarily true, but hasn’t proven itself to be true.

    Faith-based reporting. We’ve got to get over it.


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  11. I think we’re all missing the point by trying to point a finger of blame at citizens, blogs, or “mainstream” media. The problem is that the process of communicating information has become a much more elaborate game or telephone (Chinese Whispers for you folks across the pond). More details in my post about information accountability:

  12. Pingback: Citizen journalism is dead. Not so fast! | Jean Biri

  13. tweetip says:

    1st Tweets ~ Steve Jobs Heart Attack ~ Timeline/Chart…

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  16. Jon N. says:

    Great post, I agree.

    Mainstream media sites also use sensationalist headlines for RSS feeds that I see pop up on my iGoogle page quite frequently. They often use something like, “Sex, drugs, fun” to describe something mundane and then they alter their headline after they have been clicked to the top of the various user submission sites.

  17. bud says:

    Apple became a wallstreet darling partially because they made their stock so malleable to rumor, while still being a solid performer. It is partially the deal with the devil they played to get noticed, and traded. But it makes them vunerable in bad emotional non thinking ways from the wallstreet daytrading kneejerks.

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  19. s.s. rao says:

    Blogs have proved to be a total failure. Blogs are created only for self-satisfaction and nothing can be expected from it. Earlier, I was under a mistaken notion that the Press/T.V. would pick up the travails of people in distress and highlight them for draw the attention of the policy makers for giving them the much awaited relief. However, all the hopes shattered. For example, please go through the blog titled “Justice delivered is justice eluded” (One can access it through Google Search) and no one has taken cognizance of the same for mobilising public support for a public cause.
    9390397505, Hyderabad, India.

  20. fritz says:

    I believe that a news channel such as CNN should really check their source a bit more instead of relying on some blog. I blog to keep a collection of the things I like. Blogs should not be a source of information unless it is a credible and trusted source. BLOGGING WILL NEVER DIE.

  21. Pingback: Source of Jobs Obituary Fingers Source of Jobs Heart Attack Report | John Paczkowski | Digital Daily | AllThingsD

  22. enerAmelp says:

    Reason why is great to be a gay 🙂
    Bachelor parties whomp butt over bridal showers. It was joke ^_^

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  24. Don’t be 4Chan hating… It got me through college…

  25. Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! 🙂

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  27. What I really like about blogs is the fact that they trigger an idea in my mind. Once that happens, I feel as I have to comment with the hope it’s beneficial to some people. Due to the fact there are various blogs with completely different points of view, they encourage your understanding. It is at these moments when you have valuable insignt many others may not have had, including the blogger him/herself. I find myself coming back to your web log only because you have lots of impressive insights and also you happen to be at this a while, and that is very exciting and tells me you know your stuff. Keep sparking thoughts in other people!

  28. Pingback: Fausse mort de Steve Jobs : à qui la faute ? L’avenir est-il aux vérités faibles ? « narvic's lab

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