CNN’s iReport New Channel for Savvy PR Pros

As you may know CNN purchased, revamped and re-launched a citizen journalist site called iReport.com, which is basically YouTube for news where people can submit their videos, photos and even fully-edited news stories, complete with citizen-anchors, fancy graphics and investigative reports. In BETA-form for the past few months, it seems the site is now locked and beginning to pick up some steam with more than 100,000 news stories submitted.

The submissions are uncensored and unverified, unless they are selected to appear on CNN, in which case some fact-checking is done. When a submission is selected, it is stamped with an “On CNN” label so viewers know that it was picked up.

Some have criticized the site as a contradiction of CNN’s reputation as a trusted name in news and have suggested that libel and defamation suits could come from harmful submissions. For instance, says the Wichita Eagle, while you’re out of town, someone who means you harm goes to your house, posts one of those “Sex Offender Lives Here” signs and does a feature story about the problems neighborhoods run into in such situations. Your enemy puts it — unverified by anyone — on iReport.com, where the entire world has access to it courtesy of CNN. And if it’s done properly, every time anybody Googles your name, guess what they discover about you.

A rather paranoid assumption in my view, but I suppose I just don’t consider myself as someone who has enemies — especially anyone who would go so far as to create a fake news story about me. Besides, the scenario suggested by the Wichita Eagle could easily occur via YouTube or Google Video without the help of user-gen news sites.

CNN executives acknowledge that iReport.com’s openness is something of a departure for a news organization that prides itself on accuracy and editorial judgment. But citizen-reporting has become increasingly popular and in many cases has even proved beneficial in the reporting of breaking news. (Some of the most compelling footage from last April’s shootings on the Virginia Tech campus came from the 420 user-gen video clips CNN received, while last year’s California wildfires yielded more than 11,000 submissions.)

It’s also important to note that iReport is not entirely new. Sites like Fox News’ uReport, MSNBC’s FirstPerson, ABC’s i-Caught have been operating in largely the same way for quite some time now and there haven’t been any defamation lawsuits filed to-date.

For PR pros, these kinds of sites are super cool as we now have a new channel through which to distribute news about our clients, including speaking engagement highlights and new product launches/demos, a practice already seen on YouTube and Google video. Although, I would strongly advise you use caution when creating these reports, as deceptive tactics will most assuredly result in flamed comments and damage to the brand. PR-generated reports should be identified as such, just as we would identify ourselves in a video press release. If you approach citizen-news sites with the same creativity and complete transparency as any good news announcement, you should come out strong – and your product demo might even get picked up by the sponsoring media group.

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