At first glance, Howard Kurtz’s column today in the Washington Post (Blogging Without Warning) gives a solid analysis of the impact of bloggers on the MSM. But by focusing on Mayhill Fowler – the blogger who broke both the Obama bitter comment and the Clinton scumbag one – Kurtz belies his position as a member of the MSM by consistently highlighting her lack of experience and training.
Kurtz’s descriptions downplay her efforts to cover the Democratic primaries, and seem to suggest she just got lucky – both times. Teferencing Fowler as “the woman” (something he does twice in the article), Kurtz writes:
“I have no journalistic training,” says the woman who spent the previous 15 years trying unsuccessfully to get several books and novels published. “I just discovered that I’m impelled to get out there and get the truth of the matter.” But that has required overcoming her natural reluctance to hurt her political side.
Fowler is part of a new breed — citizen journalist, liberal advocate, agent provocateur — and her success has stirred questions about her methods. Fowler freely admits she has donated to Obama’s campaign and started her blogging stint a year ago because she admired him.
Tying right back in with We the Media, Kurtz brings up a number of the issues forseen by Dan Gillmor as citizens have the same ability to publish as journalists. But really, how likely is it that the same bumbling “citizen journalist” would end up with the only recordings of two major players in the primaries as they make serious verbal flubs?
What I find most interesting about the Post article, is its end:
In an e-mail, Fowler says she has come to realize that her presence “flummoxes some longtime journalists — because suddenly here I am, unpaid but as a consequence with much more freedom to find out what’s going on out there, and writing for a new and encroaching media that is a Wild Wild West of lawlessness.” But she has also had to reexamine her own beliefs.
“Over time, I’ve become more like a traditional journalist,” Mayhill says. “I’m now much more skeptical and much more distanced.”
This idea is borne out by Mayhill’s most recent post on her blog (Running Behind the Bus), which explains what she’s been doing as a blogger for the Huffington Post for the past year. She is unique among bloggers in that she’s been following the candidates around from one campaign stop to the next. She also gets clearance to sit at the local press table, has daily deadlines for her editors at the HuffPost, and according to Kurtz’s column, gets fact-checked to some extent by those editors. While she is apparently paying her own way to follow the campaigns around, she otherwise sounds an awful lot like a press-pass carrying journalist.
This is an interesting development in citizen journalism, and one that wasn’t forseen by Gillmor.