Apple felt the effects of the cesspool earlier this month. A comment made by a 'citizen journalist' on a CNN hosted message board lead to ten point fall in its stock price. The comment falsely claimed that Steve Jobs had had a heart attack.
In some ways this seems like an odd comment to come from the CEO of a company that has been very successful as an organisor of the 'cesspool' and I'm sure that Eric would agree that user generated media is not all shit.
We should recognise that Schmidt was addressing an audience of journalists, magazine publishers and content creators. This is the old guard in media terms, a community which has an issue with the lack of journalistic standards in the blogosphere and feel threatened by fact that the keyboard is now mightier than the pen (or print press).
Google is treading a fine line between its role as a search engine and content creator. The company is in a hugely powerful position when it comes to determining what is value online, which makes Schmidt's comment a cause for concern.
He says that brands are the answer to the problem of quality on the Web, says Schmidt. Brand affinity is hard wired and brands represent authority.
The inherent point in Schmidt's argument is that brands - by definition commercially viable and therefore good for Google - are somehow more credible than human, individual voices. It's the rejection of this premise that has fuelled user generated content and commentary and the blogosphere.
Furthermore, by Schmidt's rule CNN is an authoritative brand. CNN has attempted to co-opt citizen journalists and user generated content with its forums and message boards (including iReport where the Apple rumour first appeared) but still the cesspool seeped through.
CNN has attempted to tap into the cesspool in order to drive traffic to its site, which has ultimately created conflict between its brand and its perceived authority. A halfway point between the two would see it apply journalistic standards to the user generated content that it promotes but that discussion brings us back to the debate about moderation, which leads on to a discussion about resources and freedom of expression and then the risk of editorial bias.
As an aside, CNN bills iReport as:
iReport.com: See it first. Your Stories. No Boundaries.
You won't believe what people are uploading.
I think this is further evidence that we are really at the very beginning of a digital transformation in the media sector. There is so much to be ironed out. The battle between traditional media and new media is just beginning.
Look out for a post from me over the weekend about what impact an economic crisis might have on this transformation.
More on the Schmidt story here from WebProNews.
Daniel Young, PR consultant, writes on the impact of new technology and the Internet on PR and corporate communications. Daniel is based in Australia.