I've got my kids today (sitter's home sick), so I'll keep this one short and sweet: As many of you already know (certainly the readers of my book), I'm ambivalent about the usefulness of crowdsourcing in journalism. Today proved my ambivalence isn't misguided. This morning a citizen journalist with supposed inside information posted a story to CNN's iReport site claiming that Steve Jobs had been rushed to the hospital with chest pains. Apple stock, unsurprisingly, dive bombed as a result, its fall only arrested once Apple spokeswoman Katie Cotton came out disputing the claim. (The story has been removed. Here's CNN's statement). (Update: Now the SEC has announced it will investigate the posting.) CNN wanted to give its viewers a voice. Instead it provided stock manipulators with one. Nice.
I think the crowd make excellent sources and additional sets of eyes and ears, but I believe the future lies in carefully cultivated partnerships between professionals and their audiences. Examples: I'm a huge fan of Talking Points Memo and their TPMMuckraker project, am bullish on my colleague David Cohn's crowdfunded journalism site, Spot.Us. Both let professionals work the phones and write the copy, but encourage the crowd to do what it does best (unearthing data and marshalling support for underreported stories, respectively).
Okay, so I never make things short and sweet. But here's my point: I'm much less enthusiastic about straight-up, so-called "citizen journalism," in which readers are asked to perform the same duties as their professional counterparts, without any support or guidance from them. CNN's iReport is a case in point. CNN threw up a shingle on their Website, and asked its viewers to contribute their own reporting. This both diminishes the contributions of the amateurs by ghettoizing it onto the back of the bus (metaphorically speaking), and fails to hold it to the sort of standards that professionals must adhere to. Like, say, identifying yourself before posting a story that could cost shareholders millions of dollars. Anonymity has its place on the Web, and it might even have its place on news outlet comment boards (though that debate continues to rage). It does not have its place in journalism, per se.
iReport's tagline is "Unedited. Unfiltered. News." I think there are some internal conflicts in that claim. "Citizen journalism makes about as much sense as citizen dentistry," Leo Brody, the founder of NowPublic, told me when I was writing the book. And it looks like someone—or in this case, Apple's shareholders—nearly got an accidental root canal.