Will the Citizen Journalist Decide the 2012 Election?
by Jay Pounders
As we head down the stretch of the 2012 Election Campaign the role of the citizen journalist is emerging as a power player unlike any election in our history.
Citizen journalists can trace their roots all the way back to Thomas Paine and the Federalist Papers that pre-date our Constitution. True to our nature, Americans have never shied away from expressing our opinion. With expanding access to technology and the declining influence of newspapers and the major news networks, the power of the citizen journalist has never been greater. The advent of the personal computer and the rise of the internet has allowed private citizens to self-publish their political views in a myriad of ways including personal websites and blogs and the expansion of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, the audience for the citizen journalist is practically unlimited. No longer do the major news conglomerates have exclusive ability to instantly reach millions of people around the world. In fact, in many instances, the citizen journalists are the first to report on breaking news events and as demonstrated during the Arab Spring, they often are able to provide detail and context to events that professional journalists and the major news media are unable to provide.
The rise of independent media and the blogosphere have allowed greater access to information and opinions that might have been ignored or silenced in the past as people seek out others that share their view point and give voice to their issues.
One of the first citizen journalists to make his mark on the national media was Matt Drudge who started the infamous Drudge Report in the 90s while working as a clerk in the CBS Studios gift shop. Originally distributed to a few hundred subscribers via email, the site is now credited with being one of the largest drivers of internet traffic on the web, surpassed only by Google and Yahoo. For those of you who may have been living under a rock, the Drudge Report is an aggregate news site that post links to other sources and includes political, entertainment and general interest news. While the site made its splash on the national scene when it was one of the first to publish details about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the site generally does not feature original content. That is not to say it does not have an agenda as it caters to Republicans and by selectively choosing news from right-wing sources and bloggers it portrays each days’ events as a barrage of bad news for Democrats through the prism of the disenfranchised conservative. Estimated to earn up to $50 million dollars per year in ad revenue, a recent ThinkProgress report showed that the site has generated up to 30 million hits in the past year for conspiracy web sites promoting such nonsense as 9-11 was an Inside Job to President Obama is a Kenyan-Born Spy.
The success and proliferation of Matt Drudge’s site has led to numerous copy-cat sites and several that seek to emulate the simplistic design and format but from opposite side of the political spectrum, including the Drudge Retort and a site I started in 2011 “for progressives and the people who love them” (www.AntidDrudgeReport.com).
Ordinary citizens began to proliferate the web with personal websites and blogs after 9-11 and began to have a major affect on our national consciousness beginning with the 2004 election and has grown each year. Major news outlets started getting in on the act by including blogs and comment sections on their existing sites to elicit readers’ opinions. Professional journalists are also getting in on the act with their own blogs as they seek to build their audiences threw Twitter and other social media. Citizen journalism is now big business as demonstrated by the 2011 purchase of the liberal-minded Huffington Post by AOL for a reported $315 million dollars.
There are reportedly over 156 million public bloggers posting on the web. There are a number of easy-to-use websites that allow private citizens to create and maintain a blog that allows them to communicate instantly with their fellow citizens. While many of these blogs focus on everything from personal hobbies to entertainment, the political direction of our country is now being driven by ordinary people more than ever as more and more people turn to citizen journalists for analysis of issues and news that affects their decisions on who they will support in the 2012 election.
This new development is not without risks as there is very little editorial control or fact-checking done before information is posted on most of these sites and most citizen journalists have a political agenda to promote. People also tend to believe things that fit in with their own beliefs and as people congregate towards those websites that cater to their particular viewpoint, this can lead to more polarization and the wide-spread acceptance of false information and rumors. This may be why a recent poll showed that more than more Americans, especially conservative Republicans, believe that President Obama is a Muslim now than they did in 2008.
The rise of the Citizen Journalist comes at a time when public confidence in all of our institutions is at an all-time low, including the government, the business community and the professional news media. The move away from reliance on traditionally-accepted powerful elites is being replaced by the emergence of small networks of people sharing information and ideas on how to solve our problems. This is reflective of our American tradition of rugged individualism but it also comes with a need to apply a discerning eye on the information being shared. As we hail the Citizen Journalist as she waves the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, we should remember to tread lightly. You never know where that flag has been.
Jay Pounders, former singer/songwriter for Geffen Recording artists, Crossfire Choir, is the Creator and Editor-in-Chief of the Anti Drudge Report. Living and working in Los Angeles, he calls himself a proud Obamacrat.