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by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger | bio

I had the good fortune to hear Arianna Huffington speak at a small gathering last month at the Friars Club in New York City on the nature of the online universe she has been so instrumental in creating.

Huffington talked in particular about the new initiative Huffington Post is launching in mid-July with NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen and his site, NewAssignment.net. Called Off the Bus, it involves recruiting ordinary citizens to cover the presidential candidates.

The name itself is a play on "The Boys on the Bus," Timothy Crouse’s book about the reporters covering the 1972 presidential campaign. As bad as it was then, it’s only gotten worse. Much worse.

As Huffington described during her talk, and as we’ve all witnessed ourselves, reporters often end up covering other reporters reporting on the candidates, spewing conventional wisdom all the way to the national conventions -– and thereafter. The same experts get quoted, over and over again. The talking heads on television all look and sound the same. And why not? Essentially they’re all saying the same thing.

And here comes Huffington, out in front of the news, proud to find that her site is bookmarked by all the networks because she, and other blogs, keep page-one stories alive until they actually hit page one. She cited the much-studied example of the bloggers’ role in publicizing the comments then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made in 2002 praising Sen. Strom Thurman’s 1948 segregationist presidential campaign — comments that ended up costing Lott his leadership position. (For more reading, here’s a recent story from the L.A. Times about how blogs are influencing and reshaping the media.)

Huffington expects the Off The Bus initiative will make political campaigns more transparent — and more interesting. Questioning the role of the media in a democratic society, Huffington said that when we pull people into the debate via the internet, we will change the balance of power.

I can’t wait to read what gets unearthed by people who are not paid and who are not following campaigns day after day on the designated press bus or on Air Force One. Just people, like the rest of us, willing to make their voices heard — and willing to listen.

After the jump, read about how you can join Off The Bus.

* * * * *

Last month, Arianna Huffington described the launch of Off The Bus and put out a call for people to join. Here’s who they’re looking for:

a) people who want to be part of our blog network and, as bloggers, correspondents, and critics follow a candidate, develop a beat or stake out some original territory.

b) people who want to join our mailing list and be notified about special projects and investigations they can help with.

c) people who have a special expertise, technical skill, or knowledge of campaigns or politics that our bloggers and staff could call on from time to time for advice and input.

Send your name and contact information to [email protected] and let them know what you are interested in.

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