Saturday, October 04, 2008

Citizens' Power of the Press

The World Wide Web has given us all the power of the press, in a sense. It's given us all the power to publish press releases online, to point media consumers (and potential book buyers) toward news stories via social networking sites, to blog our way to fame and fortune, to enter articles about ourselves in communal online encyclopedias, and even to become citizen journalists at offshoots of such major news organizations as Turner Broadcasting. That's been a huge boon for those of us who are involved in book promotion campaigns, because it's meant that any author, publisher, or book publicist can generate book publicity by flexing that power of the press and using it to do good.

Unfortunately, it's also possible to abuse the citizens' power of the press, as evidenced by the fool (soon to be imprisoned, I hope) who posted an unfounded "news" item about Steve Jobs' supposedly failing health on and sent Apples' stock prices plummeting. Jobs is fine, and Apples' stock prices will recover, but the damage to free-for-all news sites such as has been done. Who will trust the "news" reporters they see posted online by citizen journalists after this event (which you can read about here)? How will you know whether the citizen journalists are sharing news stories or perpetrating a hoax? And, if you suspect the Net is filled with misinformation -- given the fact that we're all living with information overload and too little time on our hands -- why will we even bother going to such sites as and Wikipedia to sort through the real news, the potentially real news, the suspiciously difficult-to-believe news, and the clearly ridiculous reporting.

In the case of this incident, a citizen journalist has caused real people actual harm. And he or she has also harmed everyone who uses the citizens' power of the press for book promotion, or to become part of the newsmaking universe for any other reason. It's distressing, and I hope this individual -- and any others who think it's amusing to use the citizens' power of the press to hurt others -- is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Joining this creep in a very long jail sentence, I'm glad to anticipate, will be O.J. Simpson. Sometimes, the legal system really does work, despite rumors and evidence to the contrary. As a sidebar: I'm glad that Fred Goldman, and not Simpson and Judith Regan, will benefit from any increase in book sales for which this long-awaited conviction is responsible.

Goodbye, O.J. And, let's hope, goodbye to everyone who would even think about misusing the potent newsmaking tools that are now in all citizens' hands.

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