Taking the train to work this morning, little did I know that I would get sucked into a blog- and Twitter-storm over the essence of journalism, social media, “citizen journalism” and a bunch of other topics. That’s how things roll in the blogosphere: one minute you’re reading Twitter, and the next minute you’re trying to defend journalism, or being attacked for not defending it, or some combination of the two. My mistake — and I do think it was a mistake — was to post a Twitter message after seeing a report on CNN’s iReport “citizen journalism” portal about Steve Jobs having a heart attack (a link I got from a Twitter post by Loren Feldman).
I said there were reports of a heart attack, but that they were unverified. A minute or two later, I said that the sources were iReport and a comment from someone at Digg who said they heard it on the news. A few minutes later, I said that it could easily have been a troll, or someone trying to move the stock price (which did drop as a result of the news). A few minutes after that, someone pointed to a report at Silicon Alley Insider, that said Henry Blodget had called Apple and gotten a denial, as others subsequently did. All’s well that ends well, right? Well, maybe not (Henry’s justification of his own reporting of the rumour is here).
I got a number of comments after my initial Twitter message that said I shouldn’t have posted anything without confirming it. Kara Swisher of All Things D, whom I consider a friend, scolded me for doing so without calling anyone, and later said that she never reports anything unless she knows it to be true. Should I have called someone? Perhaps — although I was on the train, and I don’t have Apple’s head of PR on speed-dial, as some people do. And in retrospect, a single unsourced rumour on iReport and a comment at Digg was probably not enough to go on. Point taken.
As I said on Twitter, I often feel like I’m working without a net when I blog or post messages to Twitter or otherwise use social media. Am I journalist? Yes. But I’m also a person. Do people who read my Twitter posts expect journalism, or do they expect a person? To be honest, I think that varies. Some people who commented on Twitter said they were fine with me posting the rumour, since I said it was unverified, and that as far as they’re concerned, Twitter is “like a digital water-cooler” and therefore standards are looser (and yet in some cases better). Others said they agreed with Kara and that they expect better of me.
Fair enough. Like I said, I’m learning as I go. But does this mean citizen journalism has failed? I don’t think so. As I commented at Zoli Erdos’s blog, and on the Read/WriteWeb post, it didn’t take long for the rumour to be corrected (and not by a traditional journalist either), and as far as I’m concerned, that is what social media or citizen journalism or whatever you want to call it is supposed to be about — it’s a process, not an event. Can it be abused? Obviously it can. Should we all be a little more careful, myself included, before we rush to post something? Sure we should. Did citizen journalism (or whatever you call it) fail? No.