This week, some members of my team and I attended a PRSA luncheon about citizen journalism.  It featured Web savvy media folks from CNN, the Chicago Tribune,, and our friend Mark Scheffler from BusinessPOV.  They talked about how news dissemination is no longer the sole domain of mainstream media.

Rather, anybody with a computer and, heck, even a modem can be a news outlet.  They discussed outlets like Korea’s OhMyNews, our friends at the Chi-Town Daily News, the future of news dissemination, from blogs to news via cell phones.  It’s all about convergence, even with citizen journalists.

They touch a little bit on ethics, but unfortunately these guys were limited in their vision of CitJ in PR.  They’re affected by it every day in the news biz, but we were left wondering, “What about us?” 

This was amid the newest entrant into the political fray: YouTube.  Philip de Vellis admitted the other day to be the architect of the pro-Obama ad, a remake of Apple’s seminal “1984” ad.  The 2007 version equated Hilary Clinton with Big Brother.  Many pundits have discussed the two minutes hate against the ad’s implications and the then-anonymous author, especially because it’s become known that the company he worked for, Blue State Digital, is loosely affiliated with the Obama campaign.

He has since resigned (or was fired), but claims the innovative ad was done on his own time, unbeknownst to his former employers.

The ad, employing hi-tech digital techniques (such as superimposing the Obama logo onto the hammer-throwing dissident’s shirt), has opened up a huge can of worms in the world of politics and PR.

How does a campaign control its grassroots efforts?  While Obama praised the artwork, he did not speak out against the message: Obama > Hilary.  Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post says it’s a viral watershed moment; candidates can no longer control the message. 

Calling Clinton Orwellian is a huge step for Obamaniacs, especially since many have called the current administration proponents of INGSOC.  It’s an interesting development and only a mere 20 months before the 2008 election.  You wonder how weary of campaigning and cherry picking Americans will be by the election.  Still, if Obama, who rails against negative campaigning, appears to condone this underground and independent PR effort, what will citizen journalists or citizen advertisers present in the coming year and a half?

One can imagine a spate of user-generated content (like this one showing Mitt Romney’s doublespeak about abortion) becoming a true player in the campaign.

And what are the larger implications for other types of PR?  Web parodies are nothing new, but how can we, as PR professionals, control the messaging about clients in an unchecked environment like the internets?  While ads like de Vellis’ are no doubt creative and entertaining, the implications are scary.  Orwellian, almost. — Alex Parker