Categories: Political spin

16 November 2008

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Calibrated fireside chats for a wi-fi world

Today’s Observer reports that president-elect Obama is about to appoint a technology Tsar. It says that the new President will be updating Americans weekly on Youtube, a development as revolutionary as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s introduction of regular folksy radio broadcasts. This is to be welcomed. But we should not get carried away. This is not quite what the advocates of public engagement had in mind. Indeed, Andrew Keen gets it about right in the Great Seduction in a piece entitled “Did the Internet elect Barack Obama?” when he comments:

“But Americans are still relying on the core authoritative content of mainstream media to make sense of the election. And this, I think, is the most interesting impact of new media’s impact on politics. The Internet has made the 2008 election more personalized and democratic – but has still maintained the central role of mainstream media as the chronicler of the key events and central personalities shaping this election.”

In another piece entitled America in 2010 Keen remarks on how Jonathan Alter is planning to write a book that treats Obama’s early days in office like an “internet start-up company”. And responds:

“Yes and no. Obama isn’t like a new media company — he is one.”

In the same piece, Keen predicts:

“…this connection between Obama and Americans will be a one-way process. The medium might be interactive, but Obama’s message will be expertly calibrated to build his brand and pursue his own political agenda (one, incidently, that I generally admire and support). The decimation of mainstream media means that he and his direct-communications team will be able to work around the wreckage of the news business and the death of objective journalism. This dramatic disintermediation of all the old media institutions — all those professional journalists, editors and publishers now being laid off in their droves (here, here and here) — offers Obama the opportunity not only to avoid the scrutiny of traditional media but to actually become that media himself.”

I think Keen overstates the decline of mainstream media. I rather like to think it is in a period of transition. Surely, professionalism will win out over amateurism? But Keen gets Web 2.0 better than most, and he is worth listening to. The future of communication is going to be exciting, but not as different as some imagine.

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