As mainstream media outlets gather together this Sunday morning to discuss and review the Republican National Convention week that was, I spent time quietly reflecting (from the beach) on my experience as a citizen journalist. If someone had told me a couple months ago that I would be in Tampa, Fla. reporting for The Huffington Post and watching Thursday night's Republican National Convention speeches from the rafters of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, I would have told them they were nuts.
After all, I am a tap dancer from Ohio.
In the week's leading up to my "Off the Bus" cover the conventions assignment, I researched what equipment I should buy, what gear to pack, what people I should speak to and how not to get arrested at a political protest. What my research did not prepare me for was how quickly the time would pass by and how exciting talking to people in the Tampa community -- unrelated to the campaigning and political hoopla happening downtown -- would actually be.
In my first blog, "Women Protest At Republican National Convention: 'Hands Off My Vagina" I experienced first-hand the unique voice grassroots groups are adding to this year's campaigns. A little bit of determination and creativity can generate attention and CODEPINK activists were an example of how protesting can cause a necessary distraction -- inside and outside the convention walls. This story also attracted some hate email from those who felt I "should have chosen the kitchen" instead of reporting on "non-political" issues such as women's rights and how "Men fortunately think about the real issues, like the economy, jobs and the future of our children."
I spoke with local political activist Susie Shannon about her involvement speaking out at Tampa City Council meetings and her experience participating in last Monday's March on the RNC protest. University of South Florida student activist Michael Blosser spoke about his pessimism towards his generation's "lack of involvement working for change" and how he was inspired to create a student protest group, Occupy USF, who protested with hundreds of students outside the Republican primary debate held on campus earlier this year and protests that brought attention to tuition hikes and the student loan debt crisis in June.
I'll be blogging more in the coming weeks about higher education and how the presidential campaigns have yet to address the student loan debt crisis, the high unemployment rate the younger millennial generation is faced with and how these young adults, many independent undecided voters, will directly impact this year's presidential election results. Why aren't the Republican and Democratic parties listening to these critical voters?
I met with a local Presbyterian pastor, David Shelor, in New Tampa talking about whether or not religion really mattered in this campaign. When speaking about his congregation he said, "I think they ought to take their faith into the voting booth." When asked about whether or not religion should be a political topic Shelor later went on to say, "What concerns me in the political rhelm is when politicians use God in addressing their perspective -- God isn't a tool for us to use to pursue agendas." Although God was referenced throughout the convention, at times being inside the Forum itself felt more like a revival church than a political convention, Mitt Romney's Mormon faith was left quietly sitting in the background.
Social Media and Citizen Journalism
In the New York Times Campaign Stops Opinion page this morning Sasha Issenberg writes about "Why Campaign Reporters are Behind the Curve" and who would have imagined Clint Eastwood's bizarre speech talking to an invisible Obama sitting in a chair would be the convention story of the week overshadowing Mitt Romeny's speech sparking an "Invisible Obama Twitter page with nearly 50,000 followers, scores of tweets questioning the Hollywood legend's sanity and a viral video of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow pronouncing that moment 'the weirdest thing I've ever seen if I live to be 100." And to think -- I was there in the nosebleed section listening and watching it all unfold in person and on Twitter.
When I entered myself into Huffington Post's "Off the Bus" cover the conventions contest I did it not because I thought I had a chance at winning, but as a way to actualize and affirm my interest in politics and journalism. The behind the scenes vantage point I experienced this past week being a citizen journalist on the ground at the RNC opened the door to many new possibilities. I'm excited about new forms of media that are telling the stories of every day people like HuffPost Live, an online news outlet that brings people together from all over the country talking about issues the main stream media nor the campaigns are capturing.
It was an honor this past week representing the Huffington Post and citizen journalists everywhere who are creating a new form of journalism right before our very eyes. It's time the mainstream media woke up to this fact. They can simply no longer deny citizen journalism does clearly exist.
Good luck to the Off the Bus DNC crew in Charlotte. We look forward to following you next week and hearing your stories. Sleep while you can!
Follow Jessica Wilt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JessicaLWilt