CNN’s Crisis Vulnerability

Turner CEO Phil Kent

In its most recent weekly online edition (January 29, 2009), Georgia-based publication Business to Business posted a “conversation” with Turner CEO Phil Kent and how he’s responded to several crisis situations. One of the examples screams to me that it was preventable and that CNN leaves itself open for more of the same.

At issue, CNN’s Web-based iReport, which carries this disclaimer: “ is a user-generated site. That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post. Only stories marked ‘On CNN’ have been vetted for use in CNN news coverage.”

This policy seems counter-intuitive. Here’s a global network that employs seasoned journalists worldwide, journalists who are held responsible for accuracy and balance. Yet, this same network hosts an unedited site where anyone is free to “report” anything. Here’s what happened last October and how Kent responded to it, as reported in Business to Business Magazine:’s new citizen journalist outlet, ironically called iReport (a name Apple might have wished they would have trademarked), reported that Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, was rushed to the hospital after suffering a severe heart attack, a report later unfounded and

With no verification, the news quickly spread in the blogosphere, and caused Apple stock to sink to an 18th-month low before rebounding by the end of the day.

“The system worked exactly the way it was supposed to because our editors don’t oversee iReport,” he says. “As soon as the community that self-monitors iReport saw that this was bogus, they pulled it off.”

“Would you blame the phone company for someone calling up and making a death threat on the phone line,” Kent asks.

“Somebody abused our terms of service; knowingly filed a false report and we’re cooperating with the SEC and the State’s Attorney General to investigate whether it was deliberate stock manipulation. There was nobody here that did anything wrong.”

Kent’s phone company analogy doesn’t work. The lack of his unmonitored, unedited “news” page would not be the end of getting news online. It simply would put some voluntary control over the veracity of the news.

How many more similar situations does CNN set itself up for? CNN is not the only one, either. Other news organizations have their own contributor access pages. And, Fox News’ Ureport also provides a viewer-generated news platform.

More than a few professional journalists have expressed concerns about the Wild West nature of the Internet. In an effort to reach out to their viewers, readers and listeners, bona fide news organizations seem to be cultivating and nurturing the very beast they fear.

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