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This news media blog explores the nexus between the press, the public and technology with two missions. One, to engage citizens in an online conversation about the role of the news media in their lives, in the hope that they will use and critique the media more effectively. And secondly to explore how the press can remain relevant, essential and accountable to citizens and communities.

Mike Fancher is Editor at Large of The Seattle Times.

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April 15, 2008 4:10 PM

Citizen journalism may be a bitter pill for some

Posted by Mike Fancher

However you feel about the political firestorm over Barack Obama's comments about bitter people, it is noteworthy that the controversy began with a blog posting by a citizen journalist.

Ironically, the citizen reporter, Mayhill Fowler, is an Obama supporter, which is why she was invited to attend the closed-door session at which the candidate made his comments. Press Here to see her original blog posting on a citizen-journalism portion of the Huffington Post called OffTheBus, which is described as "ground level coverage of campaign '08":

There are many different ways to participate -- you can blog, you can contribute to our group journalism projects, you can monitor local campaign events, or, if you're an expert in a particular subject area, you can make yourself available to OffTheBus contributors for interviews. It's important that you tell us where you're located so that we can notify you of state and local journalism opportunities.

Initial mainstream news coverage of Obama's comments ignored Fowler's role, according to Jay Rosen, who helped create OffTheBus. Rosen explains the back story to Fowler's reporting:

When Arianna Huffington and I conceived of OffTheBus in March of 2007, we talked about this possibility: A contributor of ours gets invited to a fundraiser and tells us what the candidate said there. We knew it was likely because we would be opening OffTheBus to people who were active in politics. We decided that if we trusted the writer, we would probably run the piece, after doing what was necessary to verify the words of the candidate. If the campaigns wanted to try to ban from every gathering of supporters those supporters who had a blog, or a diary at a site like Daily Kos or TPM Cafe, or an affiliation with a project like ours -- well, that didn't seem very practical to us.


We knew there could be problems with this approach, and possible disputes with the campaigns. But we also felt that participants in politics had a right to report on what they saw and heard themselves, not as journalists claiming no attachments but as citizens with attachments who were relinquishing none of their rights. We talked about it, but we never anticipated anything this big, or wave-like.

Rosen said Fowler's post drew 250,000 page views and over 5,000 comments in 48 hours. It also got widespread attention in mainstream media and in the blogosphere, not to mention from the Clinton and McCain campaigns.

This incident reinforces how thoroughly the media landscape is changing. (For example, no meeting is closed if anyone in the room is blogging.) Rosen says citizen journalism is uncharted territory, and responses to his posting suggest many readers will evaluate it based on whether they like the story that is reported.

This one created a frenzy that tells us we are just beginning to see how complicated the future of journalism will be.

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Citizen journalism may be a bitter pill for some

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