The Multi-Media Election

One of the things that’s striking about this election is the multitude of ways different media platforms — new and old — have been employed by the candidates, media outlets, and citizens. Of course, much of this has been expected: Web 2.0 technologies have already made their mark on our politics, from TPM’s role in the U.S. Attorneys General scandal to George Allen’s “macaca” moment to the impact from the political blogosphere.

This is “the people formerly known as the audience” at work.

And in the 2008 presidential campaign, social technologies have been front and center. Facebook’s Chris Hughes signed up with the Obama campaign, and helped build into an organizing and fund-raising behemoth, although one that wasn’t completely impervious to an activist uprising

Citizens have played a major role, especially around ensuring the integrity of the vote, through things like the voter suppression wiki, and Twitter Vote Report‘s tools for real-time voting problem tracking.

But it’s not only new media — the television network Current is planning a hybrid approach to election night coverage:

Cross-platform and international media outlet Current is no longer happy with leaving traditional and social media to play in their respective corners…Current will fuse traditional and social media even further by incorporating real-time content from Digg, Twitter, and even video commentary from users.

Starting at 7pm EST/4pm PST on November 4, Current will launch its “Current Diggs the Election” coverage with streaming headlines, facts, information, and commentary from Digg and Twitter. It will be the first time that Digg will leap from from the PC to the television, and this massive mashup of old and new media will be available to Current’s 58-million-plus worldwide household cable and Internet viewership.

Current did this during the last primary; they’ve really innovated a way to leverage and fuse new technology with the old, and I expect more traditional media outlets at some point to follow this model.

Despite the importance, though, of new social media, what has perhaps been most significant, and certainly most surprising, and perhaps even has had the most impact, is old media. Specifically, Barack Obama’s 30 minute infomerical, which aired this week on all the major television networks and cost a reported four million dollars, was seen by over 33 million households, beating the ratings for the “final game of the World Series — and last season’s finale of “American Idol.”

To compare, the YouTube version of this same ad currently has 1,295,383 views (although that number is likely lower because so many people saw the ad on TV).

Of course, this is not really a fair comparison, as each platform, each form of media has different purposes, and, generally, different audiences. A TV network news broadcast, for example, on a bad night gets over 5 million viewers, and any blog would love to see that for a day’s page views. Yet television has a different logic than the blogosphere, and creates a different kind of engagement, and works differently in terms of politics.

But what’s of interest here is not how one media form compares to another — it’s how new media and old media are pushing and pulling both ways, vying for audience (power), learning from and reacting to the other. There’s a convergence of media at work (borrowing the phrase from Henry Jenkins), an intersection of media forms that is playing out in front of us in this political campaign.

And we can only expect this to continue, moving along at the kind of hyperspeed to which we’re increasingly growing accustomed.


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