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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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A promo for CNN's citizen journalism site, iReport.com, reads: "You won't believe what people are uploading." Maybe readers should take that literally.

An anonymous writer posted a false story to the site claiming that Apple Inc.'s CEO Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack, sending the company's stock tumbling Friday. The Securities and Exchange Commission confirmed Henry Blodget Monday that it was investigating the circumstances surrounding the article.

Unlike stories on CNN's main site, most content on iReport.com can be uploaded by anyone, without editing. The erroneous piece stayed up for more than three hours – long enough to bounce around the blogosphere – before an Apple spokesperson quashed the rumor.

Citizen journalism, or user-generated content, has proved successful enough to argue against abandoning it over snafus like this, say new media experts. Rather, the episode serves as a public reminder that "news" now includes both traditional journalism and a crowd-sourced model that treats verification as a public process, not a prerequisite for publishing.

Both models have their place, says David Ardia, head of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, but users must give the crowd-sourced model time to work. "If you are consuming this news when it first comes out, you have to recognize that the fact-checking function hasn't happened yet."

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