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Philippa Thomas, P.J. Crowley, and the Power of the Blog

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, March 14 2011

"I’m writing this because I’ve been a reporter for the BBC for two decades, broadcasting through the traditional mass media of television and radio – and now as an individual, I’ve learned at first hand the power of the blog," writes Philippa Thomas. The subject of that lesson? Reporting a few words from State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley that triggered a chance of events that ended, this weekend, with his resignation. Thomas explains more:

I’m on Twitter. I signed up as @BBCPhilippaT last January. A month later, I was awarded a Nieman journalism fellowship at Harvard University, to focus on the fast changing world of digital media and citizen journalism. In September, I signed up for a class on “Media, Politics and Power”, attracted by lecturer Nicco Mele’s motto that “to understand the digital age you need to live it”. As a coursework assignment, I began to write a personal blog.

I took another class, “New Media and Public Action”, with the social media evangelist Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody”. In October, we were debating the power of social media on the day the “New Yorker” magazine published Malcolm Gladwell’s broadside “Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted”. Since December, we’ve all watched as social media played its part in uprisings across the Arab world.

I’m on sabbatical. But I’m a journalist on sabbatical and I live in a digital world .

So a Harvard event on Thursday 10th March featuring the State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley talking about new media & foreign policy was not to be missed...

Fascinating stuff, though it's worth noting that Crowley's comments about the conditions of Bradley Manning's imprisonment would have been story-worthy in any medium, and Thomas did double-check with Crowley in a way that made her role as a reporter clear. (“Are you on the record?” I would not be writing this if he’d said no. There was an uncomfortable pause. “Sure.”)