Friday, October 03, 2008

'You won't believe what people are uploading'

Whoever wrote the positioning statement for CNN's iReport page didn't know how right he was.

"," the pithy headline says. "See it first. Your Stories. No Boundaries. You won't believe what people are uploading."

Well, no, you won't believe what people are uploading. That's because you
can't believe what some people are uploading.

FOR EXAMPLE, THE "iREPORT" that Apple chief Steve Jobs had been rushed to the hospital after suffering a massive heart attack. Not true.

The problem is, a lot of investors and Wall Street traders
did believe what they read on the Cable News Network site. And Apple's stock tanked -- a 5.4-percent drop at its lowest.

Now, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating, according to Bloomberg News:
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the origin of a false report on a CNN citizen journalist Web site that Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs had a heart attack and was hospitalized, according to a person with knowledge of the inquiry.

The agency's enforcement unit is trying to determine whether the posting was intended to push down the company's stock price, said the person, who declined to be identified because the probe isn't public. The report is ``not true,'' Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said in an interview.

Concern about Jobs's health weighed on the shares this year, contributing to a 51 percent drop. The stock swing caused by today's erroneous report drew renewed calls for Apple, which has said only that Jobs's health is a ``private matter,'' to be more forthcoming, said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at Yale University's School of Management.

``Leaving it to rumor and speculation is reckless,'' said Sonnenfeld, who has personally owned Apple shares since 1997, the year Jobs returned as CEO. ``If he is healthy, they should say so. If he's not, we should know that too.''

The shares fell as much as 5.4 percent earlier today after the post on cited an anonymous source saying Jobs was rushed to the hospital after suffering a ``major heart attack.'' The report has been removed.

John Heine, a spokesman for the SEC, declined to comment on whether the agency will look into today's erroneous report.

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, dropped $3.03, or 3 percent, to $97.07 at 4 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock earlier fell to $94.65, the first time it has traded at less than $100 since May 2007.
IT TOOK JUST A DAY to find someone in the journalism universe stupider than the Detroit radio reporter who got fired for wearing an Obama T-shirt while covering an Obama rally. Unfortunately, that "someone" is a whole network.

The one whose executives came up with
"See it first. Your Stories. No Boundaries. You won't believe what people are uploading."

were they thinking? Without close supervision -- and fact checking -- by an adequate number of editors for the task, CNN's iReport is ripe for victimization by a Janet Cooke a day. At least.

In the present era of lean budgets and leaner newsroom staffs, do you think CNN's
iReport is getting supervision equal to the task? Today's fiasco -- possibly a criminal stock-manipulation fiasco -- says no.

I hope Apple sues CNN for millions, because CNN violated the cardinal rule of journalism:
"If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out."

CNN didn't know the "citizen reporter" from Adam, but that didn't stop the cable-news outfit's web editors from taking his unconfirmed report and plopping it prominently on the
iReport page. With nary a call to an Apple flack for confirmation.


BUT IT gets worse, according to Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley Insider:
"Citizen journalism" apparently just failed its first significant test. A CNN iReport poster reported this morning that Steve Jobs had been rushed to the ER after a severe heart attack (story and screenshot below). Fortunately, it appears the story was false. We contacted an Apple spokeswoman, who categorically denied it.

CNN's iReport kept the report up until at least 10:15 AM, about 20 minutes after we published Apple's denial. The story has since been removed.

UPDATE: Here's CNN's official statement. CNN says it removed the story because the "community" brought the story to its attention. Importantly, CNN also refers to the content as "fraudulent," which is much stronger than "inaccurate." "Fraudulent" implies an intent to deceive.

CNN's iReport, Original Story

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.
Immediately after reading the iReport story, we contacted Apple. Katie Cotton, Vice President of Worldwide Communications, replied quickly, saying "It is not true."
A GUY with a trade blog can get an Apple flack on the phone after reading the CNN iReport, but a CNN web editor couldn't do the same before almost sinking Apple's stock by publishing something that flew in over the Internet transom?

Let the journalism world watch this train wreck carefully, then proceed exceedingly cautiously into the brave new world of "citizen journalism."

"Citizen reporters" work for free. And, sometimes, you're going to get exactly what you pay for.

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