By Melissa Quinn
When Elizabeth Lauten first saw actress Stacey Dash’s tweet supporting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney last year, she knew it would be news.
The city resident was just playing around on Twitter in the wee hours of the night when she read it. Clad in a Redskins sweatshirt and without makeup, Lauten switched on her webcam, reporting the “Clueless” star’s declaration of support on CNN’s blogging platform iReport.
She broke the story long before any of the major news networks, broadcasting the information and offering commentary from the comfort of her home.
“I thought it was relevant news and was interesting,” she said. “You really didn’t see an African-American in Hollywood coming out for Romney. She wasn’t even allowed to have an opinion before millions jumped down her throat.”
And now Lauten’s video is up for a CNN iReport Award, joining 36 other nominees after beating out more than 100,000 fellow users.
“Of all the things I did this fall, it’s funny that this is the one that’s nominated,” she said.
Lauten, who works as a press secretary for Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN), became familiar with iReport after attending a meeting at the Heritage Foundation — a conservative Washington think tank. It was advertising a contest CNN was hosting, and the winners would be sent to either the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., or the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
So Lauten entered, creating a campaign-style video on iReport demonstrating why she should go to Tampa. And she won.
Once in Florida, Lauten uploaded more than 25 videos to iReport — a digital platform that allows viewers to post their content on CNN’s website — during the convention.
“It’s a fun way to get involved and do some citizen journalism,” said Lauten, who has lived in Alexandria for several years. “This was an easy thing I had done from the comfort of my own home.”
The politics junkie started recording commentary on the happenings within the political arena but expanded to movie reviews and random news of the day. Lauten has found throwing her hat in the journalism ring has helped her work as a press secretary.
“Journalism is where all of this began for me,” she said. “It’s really coming full circle. ... It makes you a little more aware of what’s going on.”
Now that Lauten has returned to the Hill after a brief hiatus, she’s stopped offering political commentary. But she believes in the good the platform can do for the millions of iReport viewers and has even gotten her boss involved. Fincher recorded his first iReport two weeks ago, focusing on the House budget vote.
“It’s a great way for people who consume news online and who don’t want to hear from the talking heads [on network television],” Lauten said. “iReport gives congressional members the opportunity to say what they want to say to a much larger network than they have on their own.”
Around the CNN community, Lauten has become well known for her iReports. She’s developed a reputation as a lover of fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer, and when the 81-year-old died last week, her contacts at CNN urged her to post on iReport.
“They pitch stories over to you. It’s a nice little community,” she said. “They value [my work] and try to get me excited about things.”
CNN began offering iReport Awards three years ago, with users nominated across seven categories: breaking news, original reporting, compelling imagery, personal story, commentary — where Lauten is nominated — in-depth storytelling and excellence on the web.
Winners are chosen through a combination of online voting and a panel of judges, which includes CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon and Emmy Award-winning video and multimedia producer Richard Koci Hernandez.
“The iReport Awards are a wonderful way to acknowledge standout citizen journalism,” said Katie Hawkins-Gaar, editor of CNN iReport, in a statement. “We love nothing more than helping amazing stories reach a global audience, and it is an honor for us to showcase such quality examples of storytelling through the awards.”
The voting period ends May 6, and viewers can catch the nominated users on CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin.