Monday, June 9, 2008

Mayhill Fowler, accidental journalist

There has been a flurry of articles about Mayhill Fowler, a blogger/reporter for the Huffington Post's Off The Bus page, over the past few days. She has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, and all of these articles have pondered (or in some cases, navel-gazed about) the role of "new media" and the "citizen journalist" in today's journalistic mix (my blogger pal Marc Cooper, who supervises Fowler's work, has also had posts about this debate on his blog the past few days.)

As many readers will know, Fowler and her digital recorder have managed to capture comments by both Barack Obama (the "bitterness" remarks) and Bill Clinton (the "scumbag" tirade) that put dents into the momentums of both primary campaigns at very strategic moments. Although she is getting plenty of attention lately, Fowler and the kind of journalism she represents have taken a lot of hits recently from those who don't like the idea of a loose journalistic canon rolling around the electoral landscape. For example, a lot of critics have made a big deal out of her cluelessness about where things stood in North Carolina, where she seemed to think the election was very close (and see this hit piece on her last April in Talking Points Memo's Cafe Talk section.)

I think this underscores that there is still plenty of room for more traditionally “professional” journalists in this game, especially when it comes to comment and analysis–in other words, experience and training still count for a lot, even if some bloggers might find that an elite notion. But the mix is clearly changing, and when it comes to newsgathering, especially given the incredible and regrettable cutbacks in newspaper staffs and the migration of much journalism to the Web, bloggers and amateurs have their rightful place. And when they gain enough experience and credibility, they, too, can find audiences as commentators and analysts. The internet promises to make the so-called “marketplace of ideas” a reality at long last.

Photo: Robert Durell /Los Angeles Times

Update: Mayhill speaks for herself! Check it out here at the Huffington Post.

Update II: A debate on L.A. Observed about citizen journalistic ethics including Marc Cooper.

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