Obama end-runs the media
Just as Franklin Delano Roosevelt bypassed the press by directly addressing citizens over the radio, the savvy Obama media team has developed a direct connection to the cell phones and email boxes of millions of Americans. “His opt-in e-mail list is 10 million large…and now he’s probably got a million cell phones,” Republican consultant David All told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The email blast announcing the selection of running mate Joe Biden didn’t come off without several hitches. The campaign’s timing for the announcement was blown by the ABC News story late Friday night that the Secret Service had been dispatched to guard Biden. The first of the promised email alerts went out at the rude hour of 3 a.m. Saturday in the East. And many of us who signed up for the mobile-phone bulletin never got one at all.
Glitches aside, Obama’s high-tech, word-of-mouth network – which includes the elaborate social-networking features at a website designed in part by a former Facebook executive – is credited for much of his success in the caucus states, where heavy volunteer turnout was crucial.
The well-wired campaign probably is a major reason why the number of primary voters under the age of 30 nearly doubled in the 2008 primaries vs. those in 2000. Seventeen percent of under-30 voters cast ballots in this year’s primaries, as compared with 9% of the age group that voted eight years ago, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
Obama’s private network could be a major benefit to him in the general election. While 58% of the eligible U.S. population voted in the 2004 presidential election, fewer than 42% of those under 24 bothered to cast ballots, according to the Census Bureau. If Obama can use his network to lift the turnout in November among the younger voters who typically are glued to their mobile phones and the web, it could be just the edge he needs to put together a winning margin.
What does this mean for the MSM? Quite a bit.
The ability of a candidate (or other news maker) to route around the media further challenges the already tottering relevance of newspapers and television broadcasters, who are capable of delivering breaking news only within certain production- constrained timeframes.
Word of Biden’s selection came too late for the evening network newscasts, many late local TV news shows and the deadlines of several East Coast newspapers. While all the media were able to catch up with the story on their websites, a paper like the Wall Street Journal had no VP story on its front page; papers like the New York Times had to run weasel-worded articles about how it might be Biden or someone else, and papers like Newsday and the Cleveland Plain Dealer urged readers to visit their websites to get the latest news.
With all due credit to ABC for the late-night Biden scoop, its inability to do much with the story demonstrates how lame the mainstream media can look in a situation like this.
Because the traditional media – especially print – can't effectively deliver breaking news on a timely basis any longer, they must begin changing radically the nature of their coverage. Good places to start would be to emphasize:
:: Scoops whose release they can control, such as in-house investigations and enterprise projects.
:: Analytic and interpretive pieces that go beyond the breathless, often mindless bulletins that clog cable news and the web.
:: Hosting and moderating forums for vigorous debate on the issues of the day by proactively soliciting comments from both subject-matter experts and ordinary folks.
The other big lesson for media is that they shouldn’t let Obama be the only one with fat lists of email addresses and mobile numbers.
The traditional media need to invest in their own electronic-alert systems (and compelling products to utilize and monetize them). They also need to learn to actively promote their stories on Digg, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and all the other places that a growing number of people look for news.
If the MSM sit back and wait for readers and viewers to come to them, they are going to be mighty lonely.