Rory Cellan-Jones

CNN, Steve Jobs, and a dodgy rumour

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 3 Oct 08, 18:01 GMT

To what degree are mainstream media organisations responsible when they publish reports from bloggers or comments from viewers which turn out to be untrue?

The dangers of citizen journalism were graphically illustrated today when CNN published an inaccurate report from someone who claimed that Apple's boss Steve Jobs had been rushed to hospital after suffering a heart attack. Apple's shares dived in the minutes after the report was published. Here's what the piece said:

"Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable. I haven't seen anything about this anywhere else yet, and as of right now, I have no further information, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If anyone else has more information, please share it."

The report was not on CNN's TV channels or on its website but on, which the cable news channel runs as a forum for anyone who wants to come and give news and views about anything.The slogan at the top of the site reads: "Unedited.Unfiltered.News."

When I contacted CNN, a spokeswoman was keen to stress that this was not their content - and it had been removed as quickly as possible. Here's the statement they sent me:

" is an entirely user-generated site where the content is determined by the community. Content that does not comply with Community Guidelines will be removed. After the content in question was uploaded to, the community brought it to our attention. Based on our Terms of Use that govern user behaviour on, the fraudulent content was removed from the site and the user's account was disabled."

This kind of rumour would never be published or aired without checking by a major newspaper or broadcaster. But mainstream media organisations - including the BBC - are all under pressure to have a more open relationship with their readers and viewers, to prove that they "get" the Web 2.0 world.

The border between professional and amateur journalism is getting more blurred. But if a professional news organisation publishes an inaccurate piece by an amateur journalist, whose reputation suffers?


  • Comment number 1.

    Frankly, journalism is getting lazy.
    If people want to create blogs and websites covering what they want to as news, then that is up to them, but CNN, BBC, ITV, Sky etc, should not be encouraging rubber necking by constantly asking for videos and photos to be sent in via SMS.

  • Comment number 2.

    Exactly, you only have to look at 24 hour rolling news to realise the checking process essentially doesn't exist anymore.

    I was involved in the Buncefield Oil Depot explosion in 2005 and it was briefly reported as a plane crash on BBC News 24, based on one bloke who thought it sounded like one.

    For the next few hours newscasters were saying "initial reports of a plane crash were unfounded". Initial reports? You made it up, based on rumour, with the motive to be the first channel to broadcast that tantalising nugget of information.

    Basically, broadcast rumour to try and be the first with "Breaking News". Breaking News is like breaking wind, it's usually badly timed and it stinks!

    The problem is people who see rumours under the banner of CNN, the BBC or whoever, may miss the "disclaimers" broadcast a few hours later.

    Preemptive journalism such as this has undermined the authority of the entire industry in my opinion.

  • Comment number 3.

    1st Tweets ~ Steve Jobs Heart Attack ~ Timeline/Chart...

  • Comment number 4.

    It's a shame that people see this as some kind of failure of 'citizen journalism' - it's not. It's a failure of the editorial and fact-checking process.

    Any 'Unedited. Unfiltered' news source should always be taken with a pinch of salt. But unfortunately the majority of the world are foolish enough to take an idea and run with it online, no matter what the consequences.

    Also, the BBC and the rest are not 'under pressure' to have a better relationship with anyone. It's just evolution. We and you have the technology to enable better relations. So it's not so much of 'you telling us' everything, as we had been used to, up a one-way street.

    It's also not about "getting Web 2.0" - it's about information dissemination and News Gathering to help inform, educate of entertain us - that's what we (are forced to) pay the BBC for.

    The best thing to come out of this 'story' is that it has shown what will actually happen to Apple's stock should Steve Jobs need 'rebooting'.

  • Comment number 5.

    I laughed when I read this because non 'citizen journalism' is so poor now.

    I am not a journalist, but always thought the accuracy and impartiality were the central principles. Unbreakable.

    I am a dr and so know a bit about that , whenever I read about medicine or even articles on the politics of the nhs I am appauled at how there are so many simple factual errors.

    This is always worsened by 'magazine' type journalism be it in a magazine or on the radio.

    The people who run these things need to get a grip and not just let things be said in the name of free speech otherwise journalism becomes the hateful voice of an angry mob.

  • Comment number 6.

    ps. The irony of my writing that has not escaped me!

  • Comment number 7.

    The world media is in a feeding frenzy about financial matters and along comes some Microsoft lovey dovey nerd who has a personal issue with Apple Mac, and he has the power to wipe billions of dollars worth of value off Apple Inc.

    I don't know who I should feel sorry for first. The operators of the site where the story was posted, the nerd that posted it or the idiot who read the post and reacted to it.

    Either way, the operators of the site need to have control over what's posted and to have such postings checked before being allowed in to the public domain.

  • Comment number 8.

    I would agree entirely in principle to what Mr Cellan-Jones is saying, if it were not for the fact that 'professional' journalism is so poor. This is rather a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Anybody that reads news that is on an open news blog site knows (unless they are stupid) that the records are unverified. But I expect professional journalists to report honestly, and not to 'spin' the story to maximise the 'ooh' factor for little old ladies in Leeds.

    Even the BBC now stoops to unbelievable lows in trying to get interviewees to say something vaguely controversial so they can leap on it with an 'ah-ha' (with an implied 'gotcha!'

    I'm afraid the reputation and credibility of journalism is at all time low, and journalists, not blog sites, are to blame.

  • Comment number 9.

    "... 7. At 09:24am on 04 Oct 2008, martinpittaway wrote: Either way, the operators of the site need to have control over what's posted and to have such postings checked before being allowed in to the public domain."

    Which then creates a Privately Controlled Public Domain Distorting Reality to a Hidden Agenda, martinpittaway. ..... which would be Virtual Slavery if there is no open source Input Facility for Greater Control.

    That is Too Much Akin to Oppression and Suppression to have any Notion or Chance of Success and Survival/Continuity .... Sustainability.

  • Comment number 10.

    Too many journalists fail to do what everyone think sjournalists are supposed to do, and that is to search for stories or find the real news behind a press release. So many of our main stream media, particularly the printed press, print verbatim political press releases from their favourite parties or are willing to ignore facts in an attempt to print their biased version of the news. Blogger are not worse and no better, but are at least honest in their bias, and I speak as a blogger myself.

  • Comment number 11.

    That's an internet troll for you, I'm afraid. Journalists need to be made aware that user content is not always true, or even safe. There are people out there who do things for 'lulz', simply because they can, for the fun of it - that particular comment looks like someone doing so.

    Journalists should do their own work, not have the public do it for them, as it only leads to instances like this one.

  • Comment number 12.

    Surely a quick check before publication would have been in order? especially as it referred to a relatively well-known person.

    As has already been mentioned here, the BBC is lazy with reporting checks and over-quick to ask for 'sensationalist' reports when there is a major incident.

    Not good journalism on the part of the BBC IMO.


  • Comment number 13.

    "The border between professional and amateur journalism is getting more blurred. But if a professional news organisation publishes an inaccurate piece by an amateur journalist, whose reputation suffers?"

    And who is getting closer to who? One of my favourite slurs of 24 hour news is that it is nothing more than "24 hour rolling rumour and speculation" with no real news.

    All the main media channels including the BBC have been caught out reporting nothing more than rumour and speculation as 'news'. This is amateurish.

  • Comment number 14.

    If we remember The Day today graphic:

    Fact x Importance = NEWS!

    Unfortunately the weight of Importance makes the value of Fact insignificant, so we might as well draw fox heads on sticks!

  • Comment number 15.

    Number 13. The allegation that a)all 24 hour news is nothing but rumour and speculation and b) the BBC reports that stuff as news is often heard. But I'd be more impressed if you came up with something more than "rumour and speculation" about that allegation. Examples please.

    And after a week when my colleague Robert Peston has been consistently ahead on the biggest financial story for decades I think it's hard to accuse the BBC of a lack of professionalism.


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