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The question:  “could a frontrunner candidate successfully use the internet or is it inherently a tool of insurgent candidates?”

The answer: YES he/she CAN.  I think all future campaigns must use the internet to build a cadre of online activists for fundraising and grassroots organizing. The internet is no longer a tool for the outside candidate.

 The 2008 Presidential campaign of Barack Obama crossed a threshhold that empowered millions of ordinary people to take back democracy. The traditional top-down campaign model has been turned upside down.

And it all began with the 2004 longshot campaign of Howard Dean. 

Campaign reformer and internet guru  Joe Trippi was the main man behind the Vermont governor’s presidential bid. The title of his book, The Revolution Will Not be Televised – Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything sums up the state of presidential politics.

 Trippi said he advised Hillary Clinton’s campaign people that she should run as a “change” candidate. She should not take PAC or lobbyist money and say she believes “there are five million women out there who are willing to contribute $100 to change this country and our politics.”

That would have been half a billion dollars if she’d been able to pull it off. According to Trippi, Clinton’s chief strategist thought that was impossible. I wonder if the outcome would have been different if the Clinton campaign had run more of a grassroots campaign.  

Of course, it’s not enough for a candidate to have the technological tools and people who know how to use them. A winning campaign requires a candidate who can connect and inspire. With a bottom-up campaign, the BS factor is minimized. You’re tapping into the instincts of the average voter not slick political operatives.

Joe Trippi and his gang got the digital ball rolling by taking an unknown governor from a small northeastern state and making him a contender in the presidential sweepstakes. He is rightfully credited as “the man who reinvented campaigning.”

   The terrorist attacks in Mumbai unleashed unprecedented, real time unfiltered raw data on the web. 

   Within seconds of shots being fired, Twitter users in India  provided compelling eyewitness accounts and updates on the unfolding drama. According to some estimates, 70 to 80 tweets were being posted every five seconds.

   On Wikipedia, a new page was set up within minutes of the news breaking.

   YouTube featured frequent updates with the latest video — both from mainstream media and individuals. 

 

   Facebook sites provided a forum for online communities to share stories, express their anger and reach out. 

   “The Hindu” news service featured a story on how “internet blogs united horrified people across India. While some used them to vent their anguish and pray for the victims, others provided minute-by-minute updates of the tragedy.” Read the complete story here.

   Mumbai resident Vinukumar Ranganathan took dramatic photos of “mangled cars, bloodstained roads and fleeing crowds”. He uploaded more than a hundred photos to Flickr.

  The images on television showed us dramatic unedited pictures of fires, menacing gunmen, blood in the streets, faces of fear. Reporters on scene and commentators worked hard to keep up with the events as they unfolded, to provide context and interpretation.

   Frequently, this is done in the line of fire.

 

   New media analyst Cherian George told Reuters the Mumbai attacks “highlighted the emergence of citizen journalism and user-generated content.”

“If the event is highly dispersed and affects very large numbers of people, it would be physically impossible for a very large news organization to keep track of every development. Those kinds of events show the great potential for these user accounts to be valuable to the mainstream media.”

   Here are the problems: the internet has become an information dumping ground. Unfettered access is heady stuff.  But with no filter, no interpretation, no authority, information consumers have to become information editors to distinguish facts from first impressions. 

    Here is an excerpt of a Times of London article last Thursday:

   “People using Twitter reported that bombings and attacks were continuing but none of these could be confirmed. Others gave details on different locations in which hostages were being held. And this morning, Twitter users said that Indian authorities were asking users to stop updating for security reasons.”

   British columnist Alexander Wolfe wrote a thought-provoking piece — “Twitter in Controversial Spotlight Amid Mumbai Attacks”. 

   Wolfe said Mumbai would be viewed as an example of a major shift in crisis coverage. 

   “Journalists will henceforth no longer be the first to bring us information. Rather, they will be a conduit for the stream of images and video shot by a mix of amateurs and professionals on scene.”

   I think a melding of digital technology with the experience and training of mainstream journalists will serve to make sense of the information deluge that will become commonplace in the opening stages of any international crisis. 

(#4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Some pundits talked about an Obama honeymoon even BEFORE the President-elect had announced his plans to run. Check out this article speculating that Obama’s media honeymoon would end once he threw his hat into the ring.

   It’s almost two years later. Obama won in a landslide. His popularity has gone through the roof. A recent  Gallup poll indicates Americans were overwhelmingly confident in Obama’s presidential ability.

   Here’s what he faces: The country’s economy is sliding dangerously close to a depression. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan march on. The terrorist threat looms like a storm cloud overhead. 

  Expectations for President-elect Barack Obama to lead the U.S. out of its economic doldrums and extricate it from Iraq are sky high.

   Is too much hope riding on the Obama presidency? 

   Obama himself is trying to dampen expectations once he takes office on January 20.

   In his first interview as president-elect, Obama told CBS 60 Minutes the American people aren’t expecting their president to be a miracle-worker.

     “But what we do expect is that the guy’s going to be straight with us,” Obama said. “We do expect that he’s going to be working really hard for us. We do expect that he’s going to be thinking about ordinary Americans and not just the wealthy and the powerful. And we do expect that if something doesn’t work that they’re going to try something else until they find something that does.”

   He told Barbara Walters on ABC, “I am not a miracle worker.” 

   Some critics say the so-called Obama worship is media-driven hype. 

   Time Magazine’s Mark Halperin accused the media of more intense bias in the 2008 campaign than “any other national campaign in recent history.  It’s the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war,” Halperin said at a panel of media analysts. “It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.” 

   Conservative media critic Brent Bozell said November 19 on “Fox & Friends”, “It’s one thing to cover the honeymoon and it’s another to be in bed with the honeymooners.” 

   In an astonishing admission, Washington Post  Ombudsman Deborah Howell examined the Post’s coverage and acknowledged there was a “an Obama tilt in campaign coverage.”

    The stinging bipartisan criticism should shake journalists who count objectivity and fairness among their ethical responsibilities. Now is the time to ask the tough questions. Now is the time to demand transparency in government. For example, will Obama direct his Attorney General to reverse an early Bush policy that instructed officials when handling Freedom of Information requests to err on the side of nondisclosure. 

   If the Obama administration tries to bypass mainstream media through its continued use of text messages and e-mails directly to citizens, who will hold the government accountable? The blogosphere? 

   How long will the honeymoon last? 

   There already are rumblings among some  supporters questioning some of his early decisions. Check out this Salon.com feature — Barack Obama, honeymoon killer? 

   Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright predicted Barack Obama’s honeymoon will be short. Click here to hear her recent comments at Georgetown University. 

(#3)

The Obama Economic Boomlet

The nation is holding out hope for Obama the President. 

D.C. area businesses are banking on the Obama phenomenon to produce its own economic stimulus package. 

Entrepreneurs and local businesses are hoping Obama — “The Product” — will help their bottom line — Yes We Can — cash in!

With almost two months to go before Inauguration, the Obama-mania has become the Obama obsession.

 Entrepreneurs are one-upping each other. According to the Washington Post, “At CafePress.com there are 96,000 different Obama-related designs for sale.”

Times are tough. We’re in a falling economy that hasn’t hit bottom yet and desperate times call for creative huckstering — wrapped in the red, white and blue of a historic inaugural celebration.

We can expect more than a million people to attend the inauguration — with many of those coming from out-of-town. Twenty thousand national and international media outlets will swoop in. 

In the D.C. area, some residents see an opportunity to make quick cash by renting their homes to out-of-towners for inflated prices. Craigslist features many of the potential rentals. You can get a 3- bedroom, 2-bath home within 8 miles of the Capitol for 4 days starting at $10,000. 

Actor Will Smith and basketball star Shaquille O’Neal got into a bidding war for a palatial residence on the water in Annapolis, Maryland. The actor outbid the athlete. My source says the going price was quarter of a million dollars. 

Hotels within a hundred mile radius quickly sold out — except for the priciest packages. The Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill has a deal to accommodate eight people. They’re offering their Presidential Suite and three Capitol Suites for four nights, including limo pick-up; spa treatments; a couple of free meals and perhaps eight inaugural ball tickets (they’re still working on that) — for only $75,000! Hyatt spokeswoman Tammy Hagin told me the hotel has had a couple of serious inquiries — so, if you’re interested you’d better move fast. 

Scalpers were salivating at the prospect for making big bucks selling tickets on line. Senator Dianne Feinstein rained on that parade by introducing legislation to make it illegal.

In a statement, Feinstein said:

         “The Inauguration of the President is one of the most important rituals of our democracy. The                chance to witness this event should not be bought and sold like tickets to a football game. This              legislation is meant to immediately stop the unscrupulous behavior of those who obtain these                tickets for free and then seek to profit by selling them, often at dramatically inflated prices. This            bill also would target those duping the public with fraudulent tickets or promises of tickets they            don’t actually have.”

 

Let the games begin — but “CAVEAT EMPTOR”.

Campaign Reflections

The 2008 Presidential campaign wasn’t just historic. It was revolutionary.

On the Democratic side, the choice was between a former first lady and a young African American man.

On the Republican side, the choice was between a war hero and a conservative, guitar-playing, slimmed-down former Arkansas governor. 

There were too many memorable moments and game changing events to list them all.

I’ve selected a few highlights. 

 

FUNDRAISING

Driven by the internet, an insurgent candidate was able to surge to the front. Barack Obama’s fundraising was unprecedented and could be the death knell for public financing. His ability to raise HALF A BILLION dollars mostly through the internet sets the standard for future campaigns. 

YOUTUBE 

…didn’t even exist in 2004.  It played a huge role in the 2008 campaign. 

…Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am’s music video that he said was inspired by Barack Obama’s message of hope.

 

HUMOR 

Who can ever forget Tina Fey’s uncanny portrayal of GOP Veep Candidate Sarah Palin? 

SARAH PALIN 

John McCain’s VP pick was one of the biggest surprises of the campaign. The Alaska Governor gave the stalled McCain campaign a brief boost. 

EARLY VOTING

Larger than expected turnout for early voting helped turn the tide for Obama in some of the battleground states. Early voting was credited with delivering Florida. 

DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

I was in Denver covering the Democratic National Convention. The anticipation and the enthusiasm were palpable. Many people we talked to said they never expected to see an African American elected President in their lifetime. They sensed they were part of history. 

Michelle Obama’s moving keynote speech set the tone.

Barack Obama’s inspiring address at Invesco Field put the maxed out crowd over the top — just like the faux Roman columns! 

 

I’ve covered several Presidential conventions. This one exceeded the rest.  

CHICAGO  

Election night in Grant Park: The weather was uncharacteristically mild, Chicago’s famous “hawk”, aka the wind, slept. People poured into the park all day. Tuesday night, as battleground states were called for Obama — Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Indiana — the crowd went wild. The night was magical and 100 thousand-plus supporters celebrated. They were gone by midnight. I was there until 3am producing live shots for NBC networks in Europe and Asia. 

Watch video highlights of the campaign in a minute here — courtesy of the 23/6 comedy website.

The Storm is Here

 

   I’m not really a luddite but I sometimes play one (as a devil’s advocate — an age-old journalist’s role!).

   I’m not anti-technology. I’m just skeptical. As a matter of fact, technology and I go way back. 

   I was an audiophile. I read the specs … the reviews … and compared before I bought my sound system. I had to have the right mixer, the biggest speakers. I’d crank it up and say — ahhhh…no distortion… behold the separation of instruments.

    I was a tape snob. I didn’t think cassettes could cut it. Okay, you get the idea. I’m a Boomer with an attitude.  

   More than three decades later, I’m trying to survive .. make that THRIVE … in the digital revolution. I have a few of the gizmos. I even work on a Mac computer. But I don’t have a smart phone. They’re expensive and daunting.

   Do I really need to carry with me a device that is a phone, a computer, a camera, and a GPS? Well, maybe if it made coffee…

   This leads me to Blackberry’s newest rage … the Blackberry Storm … the brainy all-in-one device that some say could put a big hurt on Apple’s IPhone. The Storm swept in Friday and buyers flooded the stores.

   WNBC-TV reported  the Verizon Store on 42nd and 6th in New York, sold out before 9am — less than an hour after the store opened. Folks waited in line to order one. They were told it will take five to six days for delivery. 

   At a Verizon Wireless store in Natick, Massachusetts “the line started forming around 5:30am, a full 2 1/2 hours before the store opened its doors.”

   Demand for the Blackberry Storm even crashed its online ordering portal.

   Now let me get this straight — we’re in a recession. The auto industry has tanked. The Big Three CEO’s came to Capitol Hill this week hats in hand BEGGING for a bailout. GM stock has fallen so low, it’s practically a penny stock.  Citigroup is the next big bank about to go under. Home foreclosures are at an all time high. The jobless numbers are dismal. The retail outlook for the holiday season is gloomy. But the new Blackberry Storm is blowing off the shelves.

   I guess people gotta have their gadgets.   

   I’m still shopping. Maybe by the time I’m ready to take the smartphone plunge, some new innovation will be the next rage in the digital revolution. A micro chip for the brain perhaps? You’d always be connected and  it’s hands free. Just a thought.

   Technology was one of the stars of the 2008 Presidential election – especially with the PEOTUS (President-elect of the United States). When it came to delivering his message, raising money, and just plain connecting, President-elect Barack Obama left no gizmo untried.

   So, how will our first tech savvy President use 21st century technology when he takes office?  Will an Obama administration use the power of the web to make government more transparent?  The Obama CAMPAIGN was a grassroots, bottom-up affair. Will that direct approach continue during the Obama PRESIDENCY?

   What will the Obama people do with those millions of cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses they collected during the campaign? Obama and his aides successfully cut out the middleman in their appeal to potential voters. They effectively engaged millions of people who now feel they have a personal stake. Can they continue that bottom-up style of communicating the next four years? 

   Change is coming. The digital revolution has willing warriors in this new administration.  Obama and his people wasted no time getting an online team on board. According to Washingtonpost.com, “an unprecedented online outreach is expected” and “Obama aides and allies are preparing a major expansion of the White House communications operation.

   We can expect web videos to play an important communication role.  

   Last Saturday, President-elect Obama gave the weekly Democratic radio address via YouTube.

…and the weekly PRESIDENTIAL radio addresses will be carried via YouTube after Obama takes office in January. 

   The greatest potential achievement of a digital democracy is transparency in government. Secrecy breeds distrust, ignorance and weakness.  Democracy cannot flourish in an atmosphere of darkness and confinement. If used properly, the internet can be a tool for making government more accessible to all — not just the anointed few. 

   Here’s Barack Obama talking about role of the internet and transparency in government:

 

   But not all people are computer literate or Web savvy. Many of those who do not use the Web for communication are older or lower-income people. How will the Obama administration reach out to them and make sure their voices are heard, too?