Citizen journalism is evolving so rapidly that even a leading figure in the field is reluctant to fence in the genre with words. "I'd be hard-pressed to give you a fast and firm definition," admits Amanda Michel '02, who has spent the past year directing Off the Bus, the on-line Huffington Post's citizen journalism coverage of the 2008 presidential race.
Michel says she approached the challenge of such uncharted territory by setting two clear goals from the outset. "We wanted to really craft the genre of the citizen journalist: What is it that they can provide the public sphere that a traditional journalist can't?" she says. The "Huff Po's" second focus was to use the scale of the Internet to report on a large, geographically widespread story, such as the Obama campaign's nationwide canvassing effort early in the primary season, by amassing information gathered by many citizen journalists.
"You know that a reporter can only be in one place at one time, so there are a lot of things that happen in politics where the coverage under-serves itself because of that natural fact," Michel says.
A philosophy major and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UVM, Michel worked for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, her first immersion into the power and potential of the Web. Starting as a volunteer, she eventually joined the campaign's Internet team and rose to a staff position as national director of the Generation Dean youth outreach effort.
"I was thrown into new situations and found that I really thrived," she says. "I like to be constantly challenged, and I like the challenges to not just be intellectual challenges, but human challenges as well."