My Speech On Citizen Journalism For The 2010 Smart Girl Summit
My name is John Hawkins, I’ve been blogging since 2001 and blogging professionally since 2005. One of the things I’ve learned since then is that the sort of journalism independent conservatives do is, by necessity, different than you’re going to see in the mainstream media or even on the left side of the blogosphere.
There are two reasons for that.
The first is that journalism often costs money and we don’t have any. So, if some wacky pastor is going to burn a dumptruck full of Korans in Florida, we can’t afford to go down and watch the show. If Sarah Palin is about to pop out kid #6 in Alaska, we can’t afford to head up to witness the birth of little Wolf Palin. The Washington Post? The New York Times? The Washington Times? They don’t have that problem. Even some of the liberal blogs don’t have the same issues because they have donors who think independent liberal journalism is valuable.
Let me give you a prime example from just last week-end. GOProud is a gay conservative group. They had a fund raiser in New York and they brought in Ann Coulter as a headliner. They called the fund raiser Homocon. Not surprisingly, this turned out to be a controversial event. The event turned out to be so sold out that they weren’t even allowing journalists in at the end. Well, guess who the very first sponsor of Homocon was? That’s right, youu’re looking at him. So, even though the event was sold out, I could have gotten in and covered it. Honestly, I didn’t do it because I couldn’t afford to pay for a plane ticket and a hotel in New York City. Know who was about to cover it? A liberal I’m friendly with named Megan Carpentier, who works for TPM. Since I wasn’t going she asked me if I could get her in, I did, and TPM gave her the money she needed to cover the event.
The second problem conservative citizen jounalists have is reach. Here’s a little secret: A lot of the biggest stories are out there because someone wants them out there. A lot of times, it’s opposition research done by a party or group that’s handed to a reporter with a big bow around it. Obviously, they want to get it out to the biggest audience possible. So, newspapers like the Washington Post, Washington Times, and New York Times have a big advantage over us.
Believe it or not, even liberal blogs have an advantage over us. That’s liberal reporters read these blogs to get stories and if something is hot on the Daily Kos, TPM, or Firedoglake, it has a decent shot of making it into a big paper. On the other hand, I can almost guarantee you that if there’s a hot story on Right Wing News tomorrow, there’s about a 95% chance it won’t be covered on talk radio, Fox isn’t going to discuss it, and the Washington Times isn’t going to talk about it either. Even if they do, they won’t mention that they got it from Right Wing News. It’s just a very differnt culture and it discourages independent journalism on the Right.
All that being said, there are a lot of things you can do on the journalism front.
In fact, if you’re a local blogger, instead of a national blogger like me, the disadvantages I just mentioned almost disappear. That’s because you can go to the local school board meeting, townhall meeting, or Tea Party. Even if something is across state, a lot of time you can drive to the event, attend it, and drive back home without having to get a hotel for the night.
You also probably don’t have to compete with as many media outlets as we do on the national level — in fact, in your town, and chances are, they’re all liberal. So, if you can get something in print that reflects badly on the Left, you may literally be the only game in town.
On the national level, you’re not helpless either. For example, I do a lot of interviews with big name conservatives — Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Milton Friedman, Robert Novak — and I interview politicians, too. In the interview I did with Ron Paul, he took some shots at Abe Lincoln. It made news. You can make news with interviews, too.
You can also take advantage of the fact the Republicans in Congress are much more willing to talk to bloggers than they used to be. Not so long ago, I managed to get all 4 of the top members of the GOP leadership — that’s John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mike Pence, and Cathy McMorris Rogers — on the record about whether they were willing to defund or repeal Obamacare if they take power next year. You can get stories like that, too, if you’re willing to be proactive.
So, independent conservative journalists can make a big difference. If you don’t believe that, look at the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque. That story was driven by Pamela Geller at Atlas Shrugs. You could also ask Dan Rather about citizen journalism. And if he’s not available, you could ask ACORN all about it. There are stories out there waiting to be broken and I hope that someone in this audience ends up being the one who breaks them because the conservative movement needs it and more importantly, the country needs more people like you getting involved in journalism.