New media concepts

Introduction

The 2008 presidential election changed the way politics will be played forever, due to mass utilization of new media. The Obama team used new media concepts to target specific demographic groups, fundraise, and fight attacks from opponents. The 2008 race was the third of a new century, the first campaign of a new age, an age in which the transformations brought by globalization and technology have changed America's place in the world, and have changed both the substance and the manner of presidential politics to a degree not seen in more than a century[i]. This new technology is a defining feature in a generation of American citizens just now coming of age, a generation that all the candidates are desperate to reach and persuade, and one that has joined the voting population since the 2000 election[ii]. This generation, the largest since the baby boomers, is more technologically savvy and more civic-minded than the one before it[iii]. In the 2008 election Obama and his campaign team successfully utilized new technologies and found a way to inspire this new generation. This has produced a blueprint of how new media will play a role going forward in American politics. The purpose of this paper is to define new media, differentiate it from traditional media, and the role of social networking, YouTube, cell phones, and online fundraising in the 2008 presidential election.

What is New Media?

New media can be defined as the interactivity that communications technologies facilitate among citizens, public officials, and media personnel[iv]. Rather than merely being the passive recipients of political information, it is now possible for citizens to make their political presence and opinions known, and to play a more visible role in political events via these new media outlets. New media has educated, facilitated public discourse, and enhanced citizen participation. The most significant effect of this movement is how the public can now receive and disseminate political messages with increased ease and speed. There is more political information disseminated today through a vast diversity of sources than at any time in history. The wide range of available formats permits information to be targeted at specific audiences segments, including those who traditionally have been under-represented in the political world[v]. Cable television, call-in radio forums, and Internet platforms, in particular, allow citizens to receive information that is relevant to them personally and to make contact with others who have similar social and political orientations. For example, televised news chat programs regularly feature citizen call-ins, news magazines present instantaneous online polls of citizens' opinions about political events and issues, and average people ask questions of candidates during televised debates[vi].

This has allowed for record numbers of citizens joining political organizations other than parties, especially those associated with particular issues. This involvement has been aided by media publicity and interactive communication forums, which allow people to express their opinions, ask for and obtain information quickly, and receive instructions about how to take action[vii]. Lastly, new media is not only effecting the political world as these new technologies easily bypass national and international boundaries, bringing American citizens into contact with diverse cultures and distant happenings to an extent previously unimaginable[viii]. With new media being defined one must now recognize its differences from traditional media.

Differences from Traditional Media

To understand how new media works one must recognize the differences from traditional media. New media is not television programs, feature films, magazines, books, or paper-based publications[ix]. New media instead produces a community effect, immediate news, a youth influence, and unique political figure associations.

The more personal and populist orientation of new media allows for a community effect. Unlike traditional news media, new media gives common people the chance to "talk back." Blog sites exemplify this since everyone has a voice. Readers can interact with one another and with what they read. When they don't like a story, they can let everyone know why, and then, perhaps, go out and write their own. Or they can post opinionated "diary" entries, and these find a home on the side streets of this online community. Some readers often become full-time writers for the site[x]. In reply, to the growing community effect, mainstream news organizations are trying hard to emulate it. For example, CNN's 2008 presidential YouTube debates let anyone submit a question to the candidates via video. Also, these days it is hard to find a mainstream news site that doesn't let readers post comments on stories just as blogs do. But in most cases an editor or moderator has the last line of editorial control[xi].

Unlike the traditional press, new media relies on a broader, less politically interested audience. Thus, the need to provide more than information alone is greater in new media. Entertainment is critical to the new media's ability to retain and increase their audiences. In addition to entertainment audiences are drawn to new media, as they have not been subject to large bureaucratic organizational structures. The new media have a clear anti-institutional bias. As such, they have been less proximate to politicians than the traditional press. This has allowed for new media journalists to develop close linkages to audiences more so than mainstream press journalists. Like the community effect, the ability to receive instant news has allowed for a differential from traditional media.

People in today's society have the need for information immediately. If this is not provided then a loss of loyalty occurs. This trend is showcased by the decline of traditional media's newspapers. The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe and The Los Angeles Times have lost 20 to 30 percent of their circulation in just a few years[xii]. This has been due to long-term shift of advertising to the Internet, and people being able to retrieve their information needs online for free. The financial harm that new media outlets have made on newspapers are significant as newspaper executives and analysts say that it could take 5 to 10 years for the industry's finances to stabilize and that many of the papers that survive will be smaller and will practice less ambitious journalism[xiii]. This has decline has been caused by the mindset of modern society via new media. People today are more inclined to visit sites, which are updated and break news constantly such as Drudge Report, Huffington Post, or any of cable news networks sites than sit and read a newspaper. The Drudge Report, a site which links to stories from the United States and international mainstream media about politics, entertainment, and current events has had over 7 billion visitors in the last year[xiv]. The site has provided an alternative to newspapers since it is constantly updated and has a wide arrangement of stories. This new media example showcases the ease in which people can retrieve information. However, the newspaper industry has not reacted to this and has put their journalists in a bind. This bind stems from the two pillars of newspaper coverage, enterprise and breaking news have always posed a conflict for journalists, but this conflict has been heightened with political coverage because so much of the competition has moved online. Overall, the key reason behind newspapers failings is that it not established a system that would value reporters who have shifted their commitment and coverage to the online world[xv]. The need for immediate information has driven people online and away from traditional media, and another reason behind this transition is youth influence.

Unlike traditional media, young people have had a say and been a key entity behind new media's direction. The current generation has grown up with new media and benefitted from its convenient nature. The proliferation of the Internet and the rising popularity of digital video recording products like TiVo have created this culture of convenience[xvi]. Therefore, news is no longer bound to the morning paper or the evening news. It's available whenever they want to recognize it. The youth have also been a key factor in the rise of the blog movement. Blog Sites like LiveJournal or Blogger or Xanga, allow users to sign up for a free account, and with little computer knowledge design a site within minutes. According to figures released by Perseus Development Corporation, a company that designs software for online surveys, there were 10 million blogs by the end of 2004. The vast majority of bloggers are teens and young adults. Ninety percent of those with blogs are between 13 and 29 years old; a full 51 percent are between 13 and 19, according to Perseus[xvii]. In addition, blogs have gained credibility and transformed into something resembling an online "newspaper" to today's young generation. In terms of retrieval political news, a Pew Research Center survey indicates 42% of those ages 18 to 29 say they regularly learn about the campaign from all Internet sites including blogs, the highest percentage for any news source[xviii]. The last differential between traditional and new media is the political figure association.

A key distinction between traditional and new media is the association with policymakers and candidates. Traditional media have established normalized relationships with politicians that define the news gathered[xix]. There is constant interaction between journalists on political beats and the institutions and individuals they cover[xx]. Whereas, new media often takes an adversarial position toward politicians, and this is particularly true of incumbent officeholders. This was shown during the Bush presidency, which launched a wave of liberal bloggers. Over time, the liberal blogosphere became a force to be reckoned with, incorporating diverse voices and arguments[xxi]. Furthermore the traditional press interacts with politicians on a regular basis, since they constitute the major sources of news. Politicians then use the media as a means of establishing public recognition and policy support. New media also provides political actors, and candidates the opportunity to speak, and even converse with citizens but at a distant level.

Social Network

Social network sites became a component and venue for candidates to push their agenda starting in the 2008 presidential election. Campaigns are very aware of numbers like the 85 percent of American college students using the online social network Facebook or 86 percent of the 65 million U.S. residents who visit MySpace monthly are at least 18 years old [xxii]. These are crucial data points as these individuals are eligible to vote and often times unaffiliated with a political party. In addition, these sites play a role in how people retrieve their political news. Currently, twenty-two percent of Americans currently use an online social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook. A Pew Research Center survey on the 2008 presidential race reveals substantial numbers of young people say they have gotten information on the campaign or the candidates from social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Overall, more than a quarter of those younger than age 30 (27%) - including 37% of those ages 18-24 have gotten campaign information from social networking sites. This practice is almost exclusively limited to young people; just 4% of Americans in their 30s, and 1% of those ages 40 and older, have gotten news about the campaign in this way[xxiii].

The 2008 campaign marked the first time social networking sites, have established themselves as critical stops on the campaign trail. In recognition of these sites' power, Obama and McCain were present on various social network sites. In September 2007, Obama joined the business oriented network site, LinkedIn. The Obama team recognized that his debut on LinkedIn gives him the chance to connect with over 13 million movers and shakers in the business world. Also, LinkedIn benefited from Obama's decision to partake in the often-lively forums on the site gives it a boost of "street cred" in a new and growing niche for online social networks[xxiv]. Both parties gained from this alliance and it appears politics will continue to gain a presence on social network sites.

YouTube

YouTube didn't even exist until 2005, but it now attracts some 20 million different visitors a month[xxv]. The site has quickly become an important component of politics. Even in public statements the company takes credit for radically altering the "political ecosystem" by opening up elections, and allowing lesser-known candidates to have a platform[xxvi]. In terms of the 2008 presidential contest, YouTube became a powerful tool. YouTube teamed up with CNN to host primary debates for both parties. The debates featured questions posed to the candidates in video clips by ordinary Americans, rather than the usual format of a moderator or news anchor posing the questions[xxvii]. This format was deemed a major success due to the wide range of subjects, and viewer total as the November 2007, CNN's Republican YouTube debate attracted 4.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched debate of the presidential primary season and breaking all records for any primary debate on cable television in cable history[xxviii].

A controversial ad that ran during the democratic primary is an additional instance of how YouTube played a role in the recent presidential election. In March of 2007, a video titled "vote different" was posted anonymously to YouTube. It was a tweaked version of Apple's "1984" commercial and in this version, Hilary Clinton had replaced Big Brother. The video eventually concluded with a link to Obama's web site. At the time the ad debuted, Clinton was a frontrunner, and this video captured some of the incipient dissatisfaction with her campaign. It went viral moving first through the blogs and email, and eventually into the establishment media[xxix]. The Obama campaign denied involvement, but the message was clear and it was successful in derailing Hilary Clinton's nomination hopes. These examples show the importance of YouTube and how it will effect future presidential contests.

Cell Phones

A new media technology that is gaining a presence in politics is cell phones. Campaigns are contacting and attracting voters via text messaging, calls, and applications. Launching a phone campaign is nothing new in politics, as "robo-calling" has been used for years. McCain used these automated phone campaigns to place calls that questioned Obama's alleged ties to terrorists, religious backgrounds, and various other charges. The problem with robo-calling is the lack of prolonged effect and they do not convince voters to go to the polls. The low cost of robo-calling makes it appealing to candidates. Telemarketing firms charge politicians between 2 and 5 cents per completed robo-call; that's as low as $20,000 to reach 1 million voters right in their homes[xxx]. However, the 2008 campaign was first time mobile campaigning played an important role in an election. Both candidates recognized the great opportunity to reach the 250 million mobile users in the United States and the two-thirds of them using SMS on a regular basis[xxxi]. So instead of trying to reach people via automated phone calls, the Obama campaign decided to launch a text based initiative.

Campaign officials wanted text messaging to feel like a dialogue. They were able to produce software that allowed subscribers to reply and ask questions about basic political issues[xxxii]. Once the question was received the software sent an automated answer; or a campaign staff member would answer the question. To gain a database the campaign offered things such as free bumper stickers and ring tones as a method of collecting cell phone numbers. The campaign also chose to break the news of Obama's vice presidential running mate as a text message, giving them the opportunity to collect more mobile numbers[xxxiii]. Once the numbers were compiled, they then incorporated zip code requests in texts, so supporters could receive location specific messages. The Obama campaign used its sizeable database of numbers to target messages to areas with early voting, sending special messages to notify people in those areas and give them information about polling locations, giving users coupons to buy items at the candidate's online store[xxxiv]. These text messages cost about 6 cents per contact and produced a better outcome than robo-calling[xxxv]. Also, studies show that text-based get out the vote appeals win one voter for every 25 people contacted. It's nearly as effective as door canvassing, but much cheaper[xxxvi]. In October of 2008, Obama's presidential campaign launched an iPhone application.

The application organized each persons phone contacts by key battleground states, hoping users would contact and encourage these people to vote and or donate. A "get involved" feature used the phone's GPS-based location sensing to find the nearest Obama campaign headquarters[xxxvii]. This usage of new media certainly benefitted Obama as the McCain campaign also used text messaging, though not to the same extent. According to Andrew Rasiej, a founder of TechPresident.com, within the McCain campaign, "there wasn't a culture of belief in technology"[xxxviii]. The innovative usage of cell phones by the Obama campaign has set a benchmark for future presidential campaigns.

Online Fundraising

The latest trend in politics is to raise money on the Internet. The 2008 Obama campaign exemplified how to use a new media entity to raise money. An initial example of success raising money online was with the group MoveOn.org a, liberal public policy advocacy group and political action committee, which has raised millions of dollars for candidates of the Democratic Party. In the 2005-2006-election cycle, candidates in both parties raised substantial funds through small ($20, $30,or $50) online donations. MoveOn.org, for example, raised $28 million, just $2 million less than it raised during the 2003-2004 presidential election cycle[xxxix]. This group and other online fundraising attempts established the Obama model of online fundraising.

Similar to other new media examples discussed, the online fundraising ability of Barack Obama was a central reason behind his presidential victory. The fundraising ability provided his initial credibility and paid for his notable campaign operation. Obama also found a way to raise money almost effortlessly[xl]. He raised more money than anybody else without risky methods or even spending much of his own time soliciting donations. In February 2008, his campaign raised a record-setting $55 million, with $45 million of it over the Internet, and without the candidate himself hosting a single fund-raiser. This was a large improvement over previous fundraising methods as Mark Goren­berg, a partner in the San Francisco venture-capital firm and Northern California Democratic activist explains, "take a typical Gore event in 2000," "by the time he was the nominee, a fund-raiser might be 20 people in a living room who'd given $100,000 to the party, and 50 to 100 in the backyard at $5,000.[xli]" Unlike previous methods, Obama's campaign decided to welcome donations of all amounts online. In January of 2008, he brought in $28 million online, with 90 percent of transactions coming from people who donated $100 or less, and 40 percent from donors who gave $25 or less[xlii]. This trend would continue a lead to raising half a billion dollars online in his 21-month campaign for the White House, dramatically ushering in a new digital era in presidential fundraising[xliii]. Over the entire campaign Obama had 3 million donors, which made a total of 6.5 million donations online adding up to, more than $500 million. Of those 6.5 million donations, 6 million were in increments of $100 or less. The average online donation was $80, and the average Obama donor gave more than once[xliv]. To get these donors the Obama team utilized new media to it's fullest. To do so the campaign established My.BarackObama.com, a social-networking site centered on the candidate and designed to give users various ways to participate in the campaign. The minds behind this site proved to be the crucial entity for such massive donation totals. Joe Rospars, a veteran of Dean's campaign who had gone on to found an Internet fund-raising company, signed on as Obama's new-media director[xlv]. During his time with Dean, the campaign brought in 27 million through the Internet and the amount of donations money online was unparalleled[xlvi]. The other mind behind the website was Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, took a time off from the company and moved to Chicago to work on the campaign full-time[xlvii]. By establishing the site and utilizing an e-mail list that numbers in the millions for outreach, these two men established the online model of fundraising that will be mimicked for decades to come.


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[xlv] Green, Josh. "The Amazing Money Machine - The Atlantic(June 2008) ." The Atlantic: Breaking News, Analysis and Opinion on politics, business, culture, international, science, technology, food and society. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2009.

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