A vital aspect of online journalism is that it has the potential to even the playing field so more voices can be heard. Of course, this wasn’t true at all at first; those with proximity to the Internet itself were more likely to blog since the average person didn’t even know what a blog was. Now, most people have computers or smartphones or at least access to them in places such as their work, public schools or even libraries. Many people of various economic and class statuses are able to be citizen journalists today; the tools themselves are increasingly accessible.
But, after reading about Mayhill Fowler’s reporting in the 2008 election, I realized how much of a role financial and class status can play in the information one can access. Information is, of course, supposed to be the most “free” resource of all, but that of course is not true.
Fowler got her start as a journalist as a part of the Huffington Post’s Off the Bus program, created so citizen journalists could participate in reporting during the 2008 campaign season. The L.A. Times states that she first became noticed after “her report on Barack Obama’s statements about small-town Americans — that job losses cause them to become ‘bitter’ and to ‘cling to guns or religion’ or other views.” These quotes caused some to deem Obama “elitist,” and also for many to criticize Fowler.
For me, there are many ethical issues in how Fowler got this story. She went to a non-press event and recorded it; even though she says her recording device was visible, how could we know?
But for me, less ethical is how she got there. The L.A. Times says, “She attended the Pacific Heights fundraiser after asking an Obama official she knew for an invitation.” How many young people, poor people, people who are far from cities, less formally educated people know an Obama official that could get them into anything? Later on, the article also says Fowler “had given nearly the $2,300 maximum to [Obama’s] campaign for the Democratic nomination.” According to Factcheck.org, 47 percent of the donations to the Obama campaign were less than $200— far, far less than the cap that Fowler reached with her donation.
Fowler has the unique position of being a citizen journalist separate from the mainstream, and having far more financial and access resources than the average citizen journalist. Yes, she sought truth and reported it, but her methods of doing so were questionable.