Sunday, August 24, 2008

Obama end-runs the media

Barack Obama’s veep text blast is not only the greatest advance in political public relations since the fireside chat but also a more important wake-up call for the mainstream media than the one many reporters got at 3 a.m. Saturday.

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.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seeemed that only those over 40 who, " Just like the feel of the paper in their hands", and still were reluctant to adapt to reading their news on at moitor were the newpapers only solid base. Now residential nursing homes are using the Wii to encourage the elderly to stay active. This and other physicaly interactive devices will allow older people to adapt to computers and put down thier papers.

2:30 AM  
Anonymous Sheldon Senzon said...

Alan, you're right on the money as usual. Unfortunately many in MSM resisted changes in technology, expecting and hoping for "business as usual". Our newspaper friends still seem to be in denial, perhaps this whole new emerging technology stuff is just a fad.

4:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But was it really wise for the Obama campaign to basically say f*** you to the mainstream media. While the MSM is less relevant, it is still a force in politics. The MSM still has the power to create or kill a narative through its coverage. Why the Obama campaign wants to irritate the notoriously petty and peevish MSM at this point is a mystery to me.

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Garrett said...

You couldn't be more right. How do you get MSM to embrace these ideas?

We don't do them and we are a top-20 newspaper.

I've pushed for more open-minded thinking but there is a much greater focus on cutting costs.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7.16:

Obama doesn't need to worry about annoying the mainstream media. He is their creation and they are in his thrall.

The MSM have sworn their eternal fealty to Obama and the Democrats. From the tingle in Chris Matthew's leg to the John Edwards coverup, the media are in the tank.

They are committed and they have no choice.

6:49 PM  
Anonymous NPinsider said...

Also worth noting that moveon and obama had ads up on facebook that day offering free stickers to the first million takers. Complete with graphics...

Newspapers would still be sending cutsheets back and forth.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Bradley J. Fikes said...

The 3 a.m. text was horribly botched. The MSM still got the story first. And some who got the text message at that ungodly hour were not amused: http://tinyurl.com/5kdvtc

If anything, this failed experiment shows how hard it is to bypass the MSM, even in its enfeebled condition.

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I agree that the MSM coverage has been all Obama, all the time. But that's because McCain is so dull and uninspiring. Even McCain's campaign is mostly about Obama. However, the MSM has been much more critical of Obama than McCain, who has always been a favorite of the DC press corps. Yes, McCain has been overlooked, but that means his many glaring flaws have been overlooked, as well.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Jim of L-Town said...

I love your site, but have to disagree with you on this one.
If he really wanted to beat the MSM it would have been better to release it at high noon on Thursday.
It would have generated a lot of buzz and not missed the news cycle.
Any good pr guy knows to release bad news on a Friday afternoon to avoid the huge hit of a news cycle.
Was this bad news? Did he purposefully want to play down the selection of Biden? A 3 a.m. release (one that was scooped by ABC) seems really lame.
Sorry to disagree, but the buzz created by a noon Thursday e-mail release would have far out stripped what happened.

Jim of Michigan

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a thought.

Obama is lefty.

Lefties like to control things.

This gives him control over what goes out and when.

double-edged sword.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stupid lefties, always trying to control things and demanding special baseball gloves and hockey sticks!

7:53 AM  

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