This article was published 14 years ago
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Journalism’s future is citizen-driven, should be feared

A grainy video taken from a cell phone camera with the sounds of gunshots erupting in the background was uploaded to CNN’s iReport on April 16, 2007.

It was the only video captured during the Virginia Tech massacre where a lone gunman killed 32 students before taking his own life.

Not only was it the deadliest school-shooting incident in United States history, but it created a phrase every media outlet soon would adopt — citizen powered journalism.

But it wasn’t the first.

In 2004, bloggers debunked a “60 Minutes” story when the news organization obtained memos of President Bush’s military record that claimed he did not fulfill his service while enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard.  The documents were challenged by bloggers.

Their argument: memos written on typewriters in the 1960s had only one font style, and the font style used in the memos was from Microsoft Word.  CBS News later claimed the documents were indeed fake — the incident cost anchor Dan Rather his job at CBS News.

Besides allowing readers to comment on stories, media outlets are adopting citizen journalism sections.  MSNBC got into citizen journalism when they purchased Newsvine, a site where members write stories that normal news organizations would ignore.  Fox News has one as well, and WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge is involved citizen journalism, too.

Citizen journalism gained the spotlight again when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed in St. Paul, Minn. in summer 2007. Drivers who were stuck in traffic were able to capture the aftermath by uploading photos and videos taken from their cell phones.

There are plenty of risks associated with the citizen journalism, and it suffered a major one last week.
An anonymous user uploaded a story to ireport.com claiming that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack and was rushed to a nearby hospital.

“Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack,“ wrote the anonymous poster. “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.”

Apple stock’s dropped 10 percent after the report was posted on the Internet and spread. Apple denied the report, and CNN pulled the story.

The Security and Exchange Commission is investigating whether the incident was a possible stock manipulation.
Could have this incident have been prevented? Absolutely.

The same story was suggested to the Apple rumor site, Macrumors.com, but they did not publish the story because it was submitted through a proxy service and could not validate the story’s authenticity.

Many have called the incident a death-blow to citizen journalism, mainly because of the ease of submitting a story and how much people take its authenticity into account.

This isn’t the first time citizen journalism has had a black eye.

In 2002, United Airlines filed for bankruptcy. The later emerged from bankruptcy in 2006.  A story was written about the chapter 11 filing and was posted on the Internet in 2002, without a date.

A news aggregator site from Florida called Income Securities Advisers picked up the story, applied the date of when the crawler found the story in 2008 and a reporter from Bloomberg found the story, reported it and the stock selling of United Airlines began, almost causing United Airlines to file for bankruptcy again on a false report.  The stock plummeted from $12 to $3 in less than an hour.

All of these stories could have been prevented if reporters actually asked a spokesperson from either United Airlines or Apple if this story was correct instead of assuming  that the Internet was correct.

These recent events have led to citizen journalism being labeled a fake service that should be banned, instead of being a check and balance system for traditional journalism.

This column appeared in the Daily Reveille newspaper on Friday, October 17, 2008 called "Journalism's future is citizen-driven, should be feared"