Bogus Jobs' Heart Attack Report Rattles Citizen Journalism

Ultimately, the issue comes down to definitions: How can we easily ascertain the difference between trustworthy information and meaningless chit-chat? A site with CNN branding -- even if it's under the name iReport -- can clearly be misinterpreted as legitimate news, as Steve Jobs and his Apple colleagues discovered. And while iReport may contain some legitimate news, the same lack of editorial standards that sets it apart from mainstream media also erodes away its reliability.

"One thing that should differentiate journalism sites from any other kind of sites is the issue of verification. That is what we do. We don't just publish -- we verify before we publish," Tompkins says.

Services such as iReport, then, essentially become open forums of expression. Few would question the value of such forums -- but again, it all boils down to definitions. Does an open forum constitute journalism?

"The frame 'citizen journalism' itself is a little on the toxic side for me," Tompkins says. "Can you go down to the bus stop and talk to a 'citizen physician'? If I work on my garbage disposal, am I a 'citizen plumber'? The whole notion that anybody can be a journalist I think is wrong-minded, because journalism as a craft does mean something. It actually embodies a conduct and a standard of truth-telling that I think still are important."

Lines may become blurred in the age of information, but the importance of definitions -- concepts such as "journalism," "truth," and "rumor" -- remains constant. The manufactured hospitalization of a well-known CEO makes that all too clear.

"Information is moving much faster, but it doesn't mean the information is any better than it ever was," Tompkins says.

"If anything, this may send a real warning signal."

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