Sunday, December 14, 2008

Analysis: How will the tech-savvy Obama team remake the presidency using modern technology.

What would you like to see the new administration do?
Will these new ways improve American democracy or cheapen the democratic process?

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008; Page A05

In the 26 years since the weekly radio address became a modern White House staple, presidents have often treated the speech to the nation as a task to be endured rather than an opportunity.

Not so with President-elect Barack Obama, who has been using his four minutes of weekend airtime not only to speak directly to the American people, but also to create news.

Yesterday, Obama used the address to announce Shaun Donovan, New York City's housing commissioner, as his nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Obama has previously outlined a series of specific proposals aimed at reversing the nation's economic torpor, and he sketched out a plan to save or create 2.5 million jobs over the next two years.

Dan Pfeiffer, the incoming White House deputy communications director, said Obama will continue to use the addresses "to make significant news."

That contrasts sharply with President Bush, who presented little policy or political perspective in his radio addresses.

Bush's topic yesterday was the fight against illegal drugs; other recent subjects have included Thanksgiving and the transition process. Even when Bush dedicated six straight radio addresses to the economy -- from mid-September to late October -- the tone was more review than preview.

The incoming president's approach to the address also differs in how content is presented, by marrying the 100-year-old technology of radio to 21st-century tools: The speech is still beamed out to radio stations nationwide on Saturday mornings, but now it is also recorded for digital video and audio downloads from YouTube, iTunes and the like, so people can access it whenever and wherever they want.

"One of the fundamental precepts of our campaign was to use the new technology to reinvigorate our democracy. That's a commitment we will bring to this administration," senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said.

That strategy speaks to a broader revolution of how Obama will communicate with the American public, said Doug Sosnik, who was a senior aide in the Clinton White House.

"Once a decade or two, a president comes in and redefines how the White House communicates," Sosnik said. He noted that President Ronald Reagan, who introduced the weekly radio address in 1982, also perfected the political power of television broadcasts. That built on the concepts first grasped by John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s, while President Bill Clinton took it a step further by focusing on cable and satellite television.

"The mainframe for this White House will be the Internet, not TV," Sosnik added. "They will cater to TV. And it will be integrated into the overall digital strategy. But it's not going to be the end-all."

In its availability and its immediacy, online video offers a powerful newsmaking tool for the president-elect, Pfeiffer said. It is also easy to produce: A videographer can record Obama delivering the address in his transition office in fewer than 15 minutes.

"Turning the weekly radio address from audio to video and making it on-demand has turned the radio address from a blip on the radar to something that can be a major newsmaking event any Saturday we choose," Pfeiffer added.

The roots of this digital communication strategy can be found in Obama's campaign for his party's nomination for president. Faced with the prospect of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's financial juggernaut during the Democratic primaries, Obama and his team made a series of early investments in building a direct-to-voter contact operation that relied heavily on the use of Web video. That helped to reaffirm the idea that each and every supporter had a hand in any successes the campaign enjoyed, and to forge a firsthand connection.

Obama announced his intent to seek the presidency via Web video, and throughout the primaries and general-election campaign, he used the medium to sidestep mainstream media and to speak directly with voters. Campaign manager David Plouffe became something of a cult hero to Democrats around the country, thanks to a series of purposely rudimentary video messages shot in his office and sent to supporters.

And some Obama videos have become YouTube phenomena: His speech on the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. and race in America has been viewed more than 5.5 million times, while his victory speech in Grant Park on Nov. 4 is nearing 4 million views.
"Through their new-age communications brilliance and their resultant electronic fundraising, they have changed politics forever," said Fred Davis, a Republican media consultant and the lead ad man for Republican Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign. "They have given the Democrats a major advantage in presidential politics long into the future."

Making the success of that communication strategy work equally well from the Oval Office is the task of the coming weeks and months. Obama's decision to use the weekly address as a platform from which to make news represents the leading edge of that effort.

Now, instead of asking backers to register friends to vote, Obama will aim to use technological advances to build grass-roots support for policy initiatives, according to Joe Trippi, who managed former Vermont governor Howard Dean's 2004 Democratic presidential bid.

"Obama will be more directly connected to millions of Americans than any president who has come before him, and he will be able to communicate directly to people using the social networking and Web-based tools such as YouTube that his campaign mastered," Trippi said. "Obama's could become the most powerful presidency that we have ever seen."


Mr. Bretzmann said...

I thought it was interesting when the cable anchor introduced the video clip of Obama's address yesterday and called it his "radio address" and then came back after showing it to explain that it was obviously a video, but "trust us, it's available on the radio too." He seemed flustered and wasn't really sure what to call it because the country is used to having a weekly radio address. What do you call it, the (future) President's weekly video address? Audio-Visual address? Weekly Youtube address? Weekly address? We should have a contest to name it...

JeremyL said...

I was thinking the Visual Hearing Address But that sounds a bit to strait-forward. I'll think of something better and put it up on here.

So Mr. Bretzman... How about the Iraqi guy throwing shoes at Bush today? They left football to show that like it was breaking news or something.

ryanh said...

I think that the presidency will be more efficient and easier to understand using technology to their advantage. I don't have any specific ideas in mind right now, but I am sure there are many ways in which using technology could help Americas youth understand the government easier and how it works. I think that if the presidency can update or make the voting process uniform that is one way that Obamas team can help improve the democratic process. If they could make that process easier and idiot proof that would be impressive.

Addie said...

At first, I thought it seemed cheap that the President Elect of the United States had his address on YouTube... he is after all, going to be the President of the United States of America. The prestige, dignity and power of the position didn't seem to belong in the same venue as Chris Crocker and girls professing their undying love for Edward Cullen.

But it's such a practical way for the president to address the nation. I've been watching them on YouTube! While radio is still an enduring medium in our culture, it is no longer even close to being the primary one. While TV is still huge in everyday life, the internet is overtaking television.

It would be a waste if President Elect Obama did not take advantage of the technology switch.

Who does Barack Obama have a huge appeal to? Youth! Kids! Me!

And who is on YouTube?
Youth! Kids! Me!

So it only make sense that he use the medium that people like me are on and going to probably stay on in the future.

Kyle K said...

I love technology, there is no doubt about that. It allows us to do so much. With the social networks of Facebook and Myspace, we can easily keep in touch with those we no longer see. YouTube allows us to watch scientists show off there new ideas and creations (well we can also see a panda sneezing or a great Rick Astley music video, but thats beside the point). With blogs such as this one we cans see peoples viewpoint not from a single community but from people around the world. Text messaging, e-mailing and instant messaging allows us to send millions of people a message at once (like when Obama chose his v.p.). When I found out that McCain did not use e-mail i was perplexed. How can somebody not take advantage of such great means of communications.

So to answer the question. Obama's teem will be able to connect with almost every single American on a daily basis. I can foresee Obama personally posting polls or opinion blogs on Facebook to see how the Americans feel. I can foresee him sending text messages to let the people know what is going on. So even those that don't tune into the news will have the chance to stay updated. Having a tech-savvy president is crucial role to creating morphism.

kylem27 said...

Hmm, I think that it is a good thing that he is tech-savvy. It is kinda cool that instead of having some old white guy that just learned that a blackberry isn't just a fruit is president. Whether he is a good president or not, he will certainly help bring the white house foward technologically.

Vince said...

Technology has come so far in the past decade or so, and I think that Obamas team will take use this as an advanage throuhout his term as President. I think his race to the Presidency proved this point, with all the emails, text messages, phone calls, and bloggers, it showed that Obama knows technology and will continue to use it for years to come. I wouldn't be surprised if we receive text message updates or emails periodicaly just to tell the American peoplewhat is happening in their country.

PS Packers can't close a game

Alli B said...

I think Obama's team will take advantage of modern technology by using to keep in touch with the public. He will most likely use email, text messaging, and social networking sites to update the people on what he is doing. I think these new ways will improve American democracy because it will allow many young people to easily stay informed on what the government is doing.

shannon_o said...

I think this is a great idea and will be to the advantage of Obama. I believe this will make it easier for others to understand what's happening.

StephV said...

I think having a tech-savy president will be great for all the young people. It will help to get them more involved and interested in whats going on in the White House. On the contrary, I think older people are gonna have a harder time staying involved with whats going on, if, and I know this is a big if, everything switches to computers, older people will be lost. I wonder if in years to come if the amount of young people involved in politics raises because of you new tech-savy White House the number of older people involved will dwindle...? MORPH!

d gunderson said...

I think Obama is going to get a lot more people up to date about his views and what he's going to do, because more people use the internet now than they watch TV or read the newspaper. So far I think its great that he has addresses the public once a week and tells us what exactly he plans to do about a specific topic. I just hope it goes better than the text message at two in the morning telling me he picked Biden as his running mate.

mevanoff said...

I believe the use of technology will do nothing but help obama's plan. His strengths appeal to talking with a script in front of him so this technology will help obama get accross to our "all knowing" youth. The quality of that informattion is still yet to be known.

kylem27 said...

Just something fun I found:
Here is Obama's Chrysler 300C on Ebay. He does have a great taste in cars. Unfortunantly he traded it in for a Ferd Escape Hybrid.|65%3A12|39%3A1|240%3A1318

mlowe1191 said...

I think this is amazing, Obama is connecting with everyone this way, the young people who love the internet, and the older people with the tv and raido. He loves talking to the country and its a good way for EVERYone to stay informed. It is great and i hope it stays good and consitend all 4 years.

Jessie R said...

I agree that this tech-savvy president will make it easier for Americans to stay intune with what the government does. There are many ways to see what he is doing through facebook, myspace, texts, emails, youtube, his website,podcasts, etc. I think this will cause more younger people to actually follow politics, because they can acess it when ever it is convient for them.

Alex H said...

It seemed a bit cheap to me. After all, YouTube is full of people who post pointless vidoes of themselves doing stupid things, but once I started to think about it, I realized that using the more modern means to communicate with the American public is a great idea.

Yes, people listen to their radios, but usually they only listen in their car or when they aren't near a computer or TV, which is increasingly rare. Newer methods are so much more effective.

Tyler L said...

I feel this is an excellent use of a technological advantage others have not had the privilege of using in the past. With President Elect Obama broadcasting himself on the internet, people can view his messages, speeches, ect... when ever they want pretty much where ever they want. Gone are the days where you have to "tune in" at a specific time to watch a speech or significant happening when you can use your cell phone to see it anytime or anywhere you want.

JakeK said...

Well, from that address, I really didn't come away with him as being a technologically literate person, but a politician looking to fight the housing crisis. I don't think that Obama's "tech-savvy" skills will make any real impact on his policy or presidency, but rather it will give him a better means of relating his ideas on issues of technology to the American people.

Sergeant K. said...

I agree with Kyle K. We have too much technology at our disposal to rely on just radio for our president to adress us. Yes, the idea of a "fireside chat" is cool but with youtube and everything nowdays, id rather see my president speaking, like a fireside chat with a visual. Also, look how easy it is for us to make a video and put it on the internet. If our president can do the same (hopefully minus ideas like the 'star wars kid'), it will only take him 5 minutes to adress the country about things, rather than having to wait for the press(mind you dont take long but still) or getting clearance to say something of national importance. Personally, if they could add a bit at the beginning adressing the person at each specific computer(log in, obama says your name :D) that would be pretty neat to reach out to all the nation.

mlowe1191 said...,0,6784488.story

Check out this crazyness.

Alex D said...

apparently Mr. Obama isn't the only guy that knows how to have someone push record on a camcorder and post it on youtube...


nathanl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nathanl said...

I really don't understand why the fact that his video is on Youtube is such a big deal. It's just a video hosting and sharing service. Sure, there's a lot of silly things on Youtube, but State of the Union addresses have been broadcast on all the major TV networks, which also host such unintelligent gems as American Idol, for years.