Guaranteed 100% true. You can count on it.
Last week, ‘citizen journalism’ (more on this term in a minute) suffered its first major crisis….maybe.
A CNN iReporter posted an iNews item (lots of i’s here), that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack. CNN posted the item on its iReporter online site, and stock prices (and presumably Steve Jobs) reacted predictably.
The item was false.
Note: this was in print, not even video, but worth talking about here.
Some parts of the blogosphere reacted with horror to this, decrying that at long last “Citizen Journalism” had proven to be a danger to society and journalism. Some, on the extreme right wing, called for its control.
Here’s one posting I particularly like from b-roll.net
What we’ve been warning for years about the dangers of this democratization of the media is happening and this incident has opened the floodgate for the mass of idiots convinced that all it takes to be a journalist is a computers and an internet connection, not a functional brain.
Grammatical errors aside, the writer is upset…nay, terrified, of the prospect of millions who believe that all it takes to be a journalist is a computer and an internet connection.
Well, guess what!
And thank God for that. God and the Constitution of the United States, which happens to guarantee that right.
Now, in all fairness, there are also intelligent voices on b-roll:
There have been several court cases (like this one or this one or this one concerning Craigslist) concerning online service providers, in which the owners of the sites were sued for items posted by other people. My understanding is that under the Communications Decency Act, the owner of such a website is not liable for such postings because they are not publishers but merely a provider of a venue for individuals to self-publish. Most of these cases have been dismissed as a result.
CNN will simply argue that their crappy citizen journalism site is just an online service provider and falls under the protection of the law. And I suspect a court will agree.
Is the Citizen Journalism ‘crappy’ in this case?
Of course it is.
And so what?
A free press is messy. It is supposed to be. The solution to too much free speech is more free speech, to paraphrase Justice Felix Frankfurter.
And in a wild and uncontrolled world of limitless free speech, there are those who are going to abuse the priviledge. They are going to print false facts. The Jobs heart attack was clearly a false fact. CNN did not present this as their news. They presented it in their iReporter online section. Caveat Emptor.
Is this false report a warning flag to stop the notion of ‘Citizen Journalism”? I think not.
Should we establish a ‘Ministry of Truth” that would guarantee that everything we received as ‘journalism’ was ‘true’?
This would be highly problematic. Fox News, for example, would probably have to cease operations immediately.
But more to the point is that we must attain a level of maturity with respect to a technology which clearly allows anyone and everyone access to write whatever they like and publish whatever the like. (which I think is very healthy indeed). But it is a new world for us. The Ministry of Truth (ie, CBS, NBC or whomever) that used to exist is being shattered. Good.
We are now, for the first time, entering into a truly Free Press. We have never been here before.
H L Mencken once wrote that a free press was free only for those who could afford one.
In those days, that meant buying a printing press, paper, ink and a newspaper to distribute your ideas. Today, it means a word processor and an internet connection. And yes, that is all it takes.
So now a million voices are going to bloom.
You are going to hear from people you never heard from. In 5 years in Iraq, how many Iraqis have you heard from? Zero? Exactly.
But this is going to change.
New voices are going to start speaking. And every once in a while, one of them, like the iReporter on CNN is going to simply lie.
Ever go to the supermarket?
Ever see a tabloid that said “500 Pound Boy Found on Mars”
Did you think that was true? It was, after all, right there in print.
Did it make you think, ‘boy, we got to control this free press thing. Anyone can print anything they want. It’s dangerous. People might think that there ARE 500 pound boys on Mars”
I don’t think so.
350 years of newspapers have given us a maturity in dealing with print.
Now we have the web.
It’s going to be a new world.
Time to grow up.
Oh…and one last note: Citizen Journalist is a tautology.
There is no difference between citizen and jouranlist.
The First Amendment guarantees every citizen that right.
It is not something you have to earn.