Mayhill Fowler was in right place (no press allowed) at the right time (when Obama had his guard down). She is just one example of the many citizen journalists that came out of the woodwork for Huffington Post’s project OfftheBus for the 2008 elections. She was also responsible for the infamous quote that would later be referred to as Bitter-gate. The citizen journalism project Offthebus was successful in covering events leading up to President Obama’s victory in a way unlike mainstream media and large publications. Huffington Post gave passionate citizens who were interested in politics the chance to become involved along the campaign trail to report honestly and without the same type of bias of on the bus reporters.
Interestingly enough, upon searching for Mayhill Fowler’s latest work one can find her blog and a popular post about leaving the Huffington Post after Fowler grew tired of producing content for free. In her email to Arianna and Roy Sekoff, Fowler writes, “I’m not only an opinionator; I have this last year gone out and done actual reportage. I’m no longer going to do that for free. I’ve paid my dues in the citizen journalism department; I’m a journalist now.”
This last statement is debatable to some professional journalists who still don’t consider the two times Fowler got lucky as “journalism.” But as she states, she’s a journalist now. Whatever “paying my dues” involves…
There’s a certain extent to which writers, especially citizen journalists, can call themselves Journalists. Yes, they are doing original reporting. Yes, they are constantly updating their blog or pro-am content aggregator site. But it is also true they might not have the same ethics, teachings or editing standards as traditional or professional journalists doing the same honest reporting. Despite this, I personally believe given the current state of censorship and laws recently created to prevent news from getting out, the more journalists the better. (Massachusetts is currently voting on the Free Flow of Information Act, a journalist shield bill that would bar government from forcing journalists to disclose sources.) Trying to draw a line between citizen journalists and professional journalists is just another way to keep out press at important events and punish reporters like Fowler who may not exactly have the same credentials as professional press. It’s a slippery slope that can only lead to fewer sources for news and the role of reporting relegated solely to mainstream media.
Another reason we need to keep citizen journalism protected is that journalism is changing. With new technology, globalization of information and more mobility than ever, everyone has the ability to create and report news. It may not always be ideal. It may be a camera taken on an iPhone or an unedited, blurry video clip. But now is not the time to sort out who is and who isn’t a journalist. We are at the cusp of even newer technology every day that will change the way we read, share and interact with the news. If we start drawing lines we will be inevitably drawing lines between old media and new, and that kind of discord is not the kind of thing that wins a war against censorship.