Monday, April 26, 2010

New Media; New Politics


New media and new new media have reached into modern Americans lives in ways in which previous generations could have only dreamed. New new media has become almost the norm for young Americans to express themselves and make themselves be heard by multitudes, not only in this country, but literally around the world. It is no surprise that during the political campaign of 2008, new new media such as YouTube, Facebook and Digg, were invaluable tools which helped break through the wall of political apathy that had plagued young Americans, compelling them to go out and vote in numbers that had not been seen in 36 years (Levinson, 2009, p.60), making the 2008 election historical in numerous ways ranging from sociological to technological.
New new media has not only provided a highly visible forum for political candidates to reach new audiences, but proved itself to be an incredibly effective fundraising tool that empowered financially-challenged candidates, such as Howard Dean in 2003, and Barack Obama in 2007-2008; the latter ultimately winning his bid for the presidential election. Just like previous media savvy presidential candidates, such as Franklyn D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, Obama became a master of New and new new media and exploited them to his advantage in ways his rivals could not (Levinson, p.62).
New media and new new media have, just like radio in 1936 and television in 1960 (Levinson, p.6), marked the beginning of a new era in American politics in 2008.

Old Media vs. New New Media Campaigns
Unlike Old media political campaigns, in which a candidate’s ability to project his image and message was inextricably correlated to the extent of his campaign budget as well as the limitations of air time by the stations broadcasting these messages; neither of these limitations apply to new new media. New new media operates in both real time and virtual time (Strate, Jacobson & Gibson, 2003, p.370). No longer does a candidate need to wait for a specific air time, or television interview, or to keep paying for ad space in a newspaper for him to be able to deliver his message. In new new media, a candidate’s message and image are available 24 hours, seven days a week; so long as he, and his supporters, have the ability to sustain a website, blog, and or keep postings, links or keep embedding his message to other internet outlets his presence will only increase. Additionally, candidates have the ability to communicate directly with their audiences through live web events, above all, at a considerably lower price than broadcasting it through old media. Candidates also have the ability to add follow ups, responses and updates to any messages they would like to continue to emphasize throughout their political campaigns.
Most notably, in old media days advertising prices ranging anywhere from $20,000 for a 30second off-peak spot to $394,000 for the same air-time during Desperate Housewives (Atkinson, Claire, 2006) represented insurmountable obstacles to overcome for candidates without the support of billionaire donors and lobbyists .
But air time restrictions do not apply in new new media. Audiences now have the ability to not only access a candidate’s message any time they choose to, but to manipulate their candidate’s audio, video and freeze frame the image to exert control over it anyway they want.
Arguably the VCR and tape recorder gave audiences some of these capabilities, but new new media has enhanced them exponentially.
New Technology; New Challenges
Although with any new technology, the advantages of new new media also present additional challenges for which candidates and their media advisors must keep a close eye on, as doctored videos, images and sound bites can be created by opponents and spread like wildfire over the internet if not properly controlled. New new media can make or break a candidate who knows how to harness it, or fails to do so.
Howard Dean, a Doctor and former Vermont Governor, generally considered a pioneer of online campaigning, and a victim of new media as well. During the 2003 primary campaign season Dean was able to raise an unprecedented $15 million dollars through his online campaign.
Driven by his internet savvy campaign manager Joe Trippi, Dean was not only able to effectively raise money, but allowed other decentralized internet groups to raise his profile on the internet allowing him to reach younger voters in a way no other candidate had been able to up until that point (Wolf, Gary, 2004). Dean’s successful online efforts inspired even Republican candidates such as Ron Paul and John McCain to follow suit, with Ron Paul raising more than 66% of his campaign funds from his online fundraising (Terhune, Leah, 2008).
However, on January 19th of 2004, Dean’s success would come literally to a screeching halt due what many in the media dubbed as the “I have a Scream” speech.
While giving a passionate concession speech at the end of the Iowa Caucus, a tired, hoarse-voiced Howard Dean emitted an emotional scream at the end his discourse. However, when the audio clip of Dean’s scream was incessantly played by the media (old and new), the sound of the scream became such a nuisance that it led Dean’s critics to imply that he did not have the composure to be a viable presidential candidate. Dean’s failure to quell the media crisis triggered by his scream eventually cost him his campaign.

Howard Dean 2.0: The Obama Campaign
According to Lawyer Phil Nash, and internet activist who runs the Campaign Advantage organization, President Barack Obama’s successful online campaign was not limited to his ability to successfully raise funds online but the ability of his team to communicate and engage audiences throughout the internet (Terhune, 2008). Powerful elements of the Obama Campaign such as Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, left their successful venture to join him and to help him engage a new generation which had been long disconnected from politics as usual and had built their society in their new social media outlets.
With the help of Hughes, Obama’s campaign management team was not only able to build a successful website in which people could donate and follow Obama’s campaign messages, but they also targeted other highly visible and diverse social websites too such as MySpace, Twitter, MyBatanga, MiGente, Asian Ave, Facebook and YouTube. Obama’s opponent, John McCain, soon followed in his steps but with much less success (Terhune 2008).
Obama’s successful presence in the internet created other byproducts which worked to his advantage. One of these byproducts were the videos of aspiring singer/songwriter Leah Kauffman, better known as “Obama Girl” Kauffman, along with Video producer Ben Relles, created a video which received more than 2.3 million views during its first when it was posted in YouTube in June of 2007(Levinson, p.59).
Although exact measures of Obama Girl’s impact could not be accurately quantified, scholars like Paul Levinson attribute a great deal of responsibility to her videos for attracting the attention of the under-30-years voter demographic. And even though many of those who voted for Obama will not remember a word of his speeches, they will certainly remember the hook for Obama Girl’s hit: “I’ve Got a Crush on Obama”.
Overall, Obama’s success was mostly based on perfecting the foundation laid out by Howard Dean’s 2003 campaign. His ability to strategically exploit new new media, in a way unmatched by any other candidates, resulted not only in catching the attention of a new generation of voters, but their contributions as well. More than 80 percent of all online contributions were made by people between 18-34 years old benefitting the Democratic Party (Edsall, Thomas, 2006).

New New Media: New Debate Format
New new media changed the 2008 presidential not only in the way candidates disseminate their message to their audiences, or fundraise, but it also changed the way presidential candidates debates are conducted. For the first time, a major news network, CNN, allowed potential voters to ask questions directly to a candidate via YouTube (Levinson, p.60). No longer were audiences subjected to see and hear only the questions asked by professional reporters. Now regular people could have the same chance by uploading their video questions for everyone, especially the candidates to see.
This unorthodox new type of debate allowed for a different tone during to be set, and allowing the candidates to answer in a way that was more candid than had ever been seen before. Even though, in the eye of some experts, some of the questions may have seemed coached (Levinson, p. 61) questions like the one directed to Barack Obama regarding whether he was a legitimate African-American, and his evoked answer, “Ask the New York Cabbies”, are media moments which could not have been replicated by any professional reporter; professional reporters would have shied away from such a question.
Ultimately the CNN/YouTube debates did more than just change the format of presidential debates; it infused new life in an old media formula. The republican debate broke ratings records by attracting an estimated 4.4 million viewers while the Democratic Party debate attracted 2.7 million (Seely, Katherine, 2007). The fusion of old media with new new media has set new standard of collaboration that can be foreseen as yet another step of media convergence.

New New Media; New Political Reporting
Just like seemingly trivial gossip bloggers like Perez Hilton have impacted the internet blogosphere and gossip journalism in general, new new media has given rise to new media political outlets and pundits. Websites such as the,, and have become open forums for liberal and conservative authors to openly express their political points of views; although the actual impact of such blogs is undetermined; their trends seem to be followed closely by political advisors close to those in power such as Sarah Palin and Barack Obama (Levinson, p.46,48).
Despite a sharp decline in printed media and the loss of thousands of journalistic jobs, experts still believe that old media and professional journalists are still necessary (Levinson, p.54) and that the rise in the “citizen-journalism” is due to so many professional journalists being displaced from old media to new new media after being laid off. The rise of new media journalists can be seen as a necessary compliment to conventional media which can help fill in the news gaps left by old media such as the failure to report the absence of weapons of mass destruction after the Iraq invasion in 2003 (Levinson, p.55)
However, those who venture into the world of “citizen-journalism” have received less than a warm reception and unlike conventional journalists employed by an old media source, citizen-journalists are technically not protected by a federal shield law the way traditional journalists are. As seen in the cases of reporters such as Judy Miller, and video Blogger Josh Wolf, both of whom spent three to eight months in jail respectively, can attest that online journalism is still a grey area to which the first amendment will not always lend its protection (Levinson, p.39,40).

Public Relations Challenges
As previously discussed during the New technology, New Challenges chapter, the immediacy and wide dissemination of information can present serious public relations challenges for candidates if not promptly addressed. As illustrated in the Howard Dean’s “I have a scream” crisis, his passiveness on attacking the issue cost him his campaign.
Barack Obama went through some serious public relations hurdles which emerged and spread through new new media, most notably a YouTube video of Barack Obama’s church pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. On March 13, 2008 it was reported that a video, originally taped in 2003, showed Reverend Wright, making some very inflammatory remarks against the United States (Ross, Brian; El-Buri, Rehab, 2008). The video was widely disseminated in both, old and new media and Obama’s opponents wasted no time in exploiting the video for their political advantage; associating Obama to Reverend Wright’s ideology. Obama expeditiously made a posting in the Huffington Post the day after newscasts broke the story, condemning what Reverend Wright had said (Obama, Barack, 2008). Obama followed up his posting by making a video in YouTube touching on the sensitive topic of race relations in the United States; an issue he had carefully managed to dodge up until that moment.
Obama’s quick reaction towards his crisis, as well as carefully crafted messages repudiating Reverend Wright’s rants and his video making a call for better race relations outmaneuvered his opponents’ attempt to smear who would eventually become President Obama.

New New Media Levels the Political Field
The incorporation of new media and new new media in the political process has done more than changed the way politicians replenish their campaign coffers; it has leveled the playing field for candidates, voters and those involved in reporting the political process. Candidates who would have been considered non-viable by their own parties now have a direct line of communication with their constituents as well as a stable platform to broadcast their message without having to pay exorbitant amounts of money as they would have to do through old media outlets.
New new media has also created a forum for voters who would have been largely disfranchised: young voters and small donors. These voter segments have been for years, whether due to a generational gap that could not be abridged or due to restrictive economic barriers that were designed specifically to keep them out, they too now have a direct line to their candidate in which they can be a part of his/her movement. As democratic candidates have proven since 2004, the model of connecting with a large number of small donors can be just as rewarding as pampering to a few large ones.
New new media, and social media, though seemingly trivial before 2004, have proven to be powerful tools that can benefit or damage a candidate’s reputation, as well as a great source of information for voters to make educated decisions. Even though many people have made the mistake of writing them off as a fad, new media and new new media have proven they can, and have changed the world, and will keep on changing it as new technology emerges and progresses.

Edsall, Thomas B. (2006, March 06). Rise in Online Fundraising Changed Face of Campaign Donors. Retrieved April 3, 2010 from

Levinson, P. (2009) New New Media. Boston: Pearson.

Obama, Barack, (2008, March 14). On My Faith and My Church. The Huffington Post.
Retrieved April 3, 2010 from

Ross, Brian & El-Buri, Rehab (2008, March 13). Obama’s Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11. Retrieved April 3, 2010 from

Seely, Katherine Q (2007, November 29). CNN/YouTube Breaks Ratings Record.
Retrieved April 2, 2010 from

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