Monday, October 6, 2008

Citizen Journalism and Knowing

Sometimes what people know is wrong.

The journalism field has been abuzz since last week when a citizen journalist posted on CNN's iReport that Apple guru Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack. A great version of the problem is here.

This false report affected stocks, got the feds involved. It provides a whipping boy, or case study, (depending on your take) on the idea of citizen journalism.

Bad facts, bad story. But the CNN iReport community did what online communities are supposed to do. According to CNN, "the community brought it to our attention." In other words, real online communities create and maintain their space, they self correct the problems that emerge, or often they shout down the people who are obscene, are trolls, or who are just plain wrong.

So I'm of two minds here. The pro journalist side of me, who has done it for real and who teaches it at a j-school, dislikes the idea of anyone posting to something like CNN without the traditional rules of verification. But the new media realist in me likes the idea of communities maintaining their own space, fixing the problems that emerge.

So what's it all mean for what people know? Ah, here lies the danger. Ideas get lodged in the public mind, even untrue ones. It's damn hard to dislodge those misconceptions and all it takes is one friggin stupid story to do the job.

Sometimes when a thousand citizen journalists bloom, the fertilizer smell is hard to avoid.

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