White House's social media push still leaves room for traditional media

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration has made it clear that it enjoys taking its message straight to consumers via social media - early and often. Yet that attention to new media isn't necessarily occurring at the expense of the traditional press.

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration has made it clear that it enjoys taking its message straight to consumers via social media - early and often. President Obama himself famously refused to kowtow to the traditional media pecking order, calling on a reporter from The Huffington Post while ignoring journalists from major newspapers at a March press conference.

Yet that attention to new media isn't necessarily occurring at the expense of the traditional press. Obama has still found time for numerous press conferences - so many, in fact, that network executives are reportedly less than thrilled with interrupting regular programming so often.

"This White House has had more press conferences than any other presidency at this point. Traditional media has had their shots at him, more than typically happens, plus he's done many one-on-one interviews," says Stan Collender, partner at Qorvis. "Obama wouldn't be the first president to try to communicate directly with the public outside of the mainstream media filter."

The approach also means that the Obama administration must strike a balance between the use of direct-to-citizen efforts and outreach to the mainstream press, which is still the main news source for millions of Americans. The distinct outreach initiatives help to reach both younger and older audiences effectively, says Jim Lake, president of Gibraltar Associates and a former staffer in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

"There is an overlap, but there are two separate audiences when you reach out, and you have the younger generations that are really into [new media] that he addresses very effectively, and the older that is still looking at traditional media," he says. "So a combination of both is working out for him."

Bypassing the White House press corps to directly reach a specific audience is nothing new for an administration. Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, famously met privately with conservative radio talk show hosts prior to the 2006 midterm elections, for instance. Yet a distinction between the two techniques is that Obama's social media efforts are largely public, meaning the press benefits from them as well, says Alex Slater, MD of the public affairs division at the Glover Park Group.

"Stories are emerging from the stimulus site, and [reporters] are looking at the different ways where the money is being spent, and it's giving them stories and story ideas and generating news that way," he says, mentioning the coverage of local "shovel-ready" projects as an example. "But from the members of the press corps that I talk to, there isn't any sense that they're less important because of this; there is a sense that it is helping them get ahead."

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