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New media feels heat after Apple misstep

CNN's citizen reporters sent Apple stocks plunging Friday with a false report on Steve Jobs.

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By contrast, CNN's iReport is less mediated by human input. The most recently uploaded stories show up on the home page, as well as the "newsiest" stories as determined by an algorithm that factors in user opinions. CNN spokesperson Jennifer Martin says the Jobs story never appeared under "newsiest."

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The filter of peer ratings works well for Helium, another site that publishes user-submitted writings. Submissions go through an automated plagiarism check and are then reviewed by the site's community of nonstaff writers. The top-rated articles rise to highest visibility.

"What it tends to do is discourage the bad actors over time because they get vetted out," says Peter Newton, vice president of business development.

Another way to minimize potential misinformation, says new media guru Jeff Jarvis, is for websites to nurture relationships with trusted news gatherers and give readers clearer caveats. "We thought we were in the business of saying what we know in the news. But we're more in the business of saying what we don't know," writes Mr. Jarvis at buzzmachine.com.

That's the approach taken by tech website Silicon Alley Insider. Editor Henry Blodget flagged the Jobs iReport, said he didn't know if it was true, and published the post before hearing back from Apple.

That decision sparked complaints. Even Jarvis – who expresses exasperation with professional reporters wanting to pounce on citizen journalism – says this particular story should have been relayed with more sensitivity than usual.

Defending his decision, Mr. Blodget wrote that the site doesn't view its role as a gatekeeper but takes advantage of the "immediate feedback loop" of its readers. In this case, the crucial feedback came from Apple's spokesperson, whose denial Blodget claimed as a scoop.

Silicon Alley Insider can plausibly distance itself from traditional reporting expectations, but can CNN?

The iReport site has its own URL and the tag line, "Unedited. Unfiltered. News." It also has a disclaimer that "CNN makes no guarantees" about its content. CNN producers pluck some of the material, vet it, and use it on cnn.com or CNN TV. The Jobs article was not picked up.

The iReporter could face charges under securities laws if he or she knowingly published false information in connection with buying or selling Apple stock, Mr. Ardia says, while CNN and Silicon Valley Insider probably are safe under the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

CNN is not changing policies after Friday's incident, says Ms. Martin.

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