This panel represented some distinct breaks from the general philosophy of the keynote address. Certain panelists, like David Mark of The Politico, countered the prevailing focus on the positive elements of the rise of the internet for the sake of politics, noting the “narrowing of the electorate” and the flood of negative campaigning that it has released. I’m certainly more inclined to agree with him about the latter point, because I’m not sure how the electorate has narrowed. The electorate may be fractured, seeing as how in the age of bloggers, political representation and advocacy has become much more focused, but I fail to see how the electorate in general has become more narrow.
Another panelist who broke from the script heard thus far almost totally denounced YouTube as a way to promote candidates, because there is no way to track it as far as who and how many people are watching it and listening to it. In light of that, Robert Boorstin, the Director of Corporate & Policy Communications at Google, emphasized the heightened importance of authenticity and consistency for a political candidate that wants to have the best exposure on the net—or perhaps, the least worst exposure. I would agree that most YouTube sensations that involve a political candidate tend to treat that candidate negatively, and frequently it is indeed because of a lack of authenticity or consistency on his or her part (the power of editing allows one to paint a candidate who has had even the slightest ideological inconsistency as a total flip-flopper). However, if I am interested in but not committed to John Edwards, and I want to hear his speech in New York on Martin Luther King Day, a few clicks on YouTube can get me there; then I listen and I become enraptured with him as a candidate. And thanks to YouTube, John Edwards has one more dedicated supporter.
Though his fellow panelist was weary of YouTube, Boorstin opined that internet technology has made it easier to control what information about a candidate is released and what isn’t; here I would readily yield that YouTube has made that fundamentally not true (just ask George Allen).
There were also some implicit disagreements about basic campaign tactics. Mark asserted that in 2006 the Republican National Committee had “nothing to talk about,” and that even in this day and age there’s something old-fashioned called a “message” that is worth sticking to. But Boorstin, of Google, posited that in the age of the internet, the candidate that makes the fewest mistakes would be the one to emerge victorious. And of course there’s the mandate to be consistent. What is more important then—framing your talking points around a very powerful ideological message, or being honest, authentic, and consistent? If I am a candidate and frame my campaign around traditional family values but voted against measures to make it harder to get an abortion in my state, do I abandon my values message and stay consistent by softening my pro-life rhetoric, or do I stick to message and ignore the flip-flop allegations?
Much of the rest of the panel was spent promoting text messaging as “THE breakout technological device of 2008” for political campaigns, but I had my doubts about this much faith in what is basically a staggered chatting technology. Then there was a call to break down the barriers that keep spam-like text messages out of our phone’s inboxes, and I recoiled in horror. I would concede to one panelist’s belief that phone applications are a relevant growth market, but I think we are far away from a time when we abandon our nice big computer screens for a 2 inch by 2 inch field of vision for all our online needs.
The Q & A did highlight some interesting new tactics being used by candidates; for example, one panelist pushed candidates interested in mining a certain region to meet with the most important local bloggers. Meanwhile, as far as the traditional media, one speaker advised candidates merely to meet with the two most read political reporters in a region as well as the local newspaper’s editorial board. The panel closed on a most interesting note, as the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza pointed out the fusing of traditional and alternative media (or perhaps the alternative media’s influence on traditional media). Traditional media may be fractured, but it’s not dead, he assured. In news, “we used to say ‘Hey, here’s stuff we think is interesting,’ and now, with [internet capabilities like podcasts and blogs and videos], we ask ‘Hey, do you think this is interesting?’”
Which is why YOU are Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.