New media tactics alter face of election

Mid-term elections are often a media snoozefest. Local races taking place in states that most Americans don't care about are usually lucky to garner even 30 seconds of airtime on the major cable networks.

Mid-term elections are often a media snoozefest. Local races taking place in states that most Americans don't care about are usually lucky to garner even 30 seconds of airtime on the major cable networks.

But as the media has told us time and time again, these mid-term election races are different. They have the power to change the makeup of the House and Senate and with some very controversial subjects - stem-cell research and the war in Iraq - being used as wedge issues, coverage of the elections has been more prevalent and widespread than others in recent memory.

One likely reason for that is the increasing presence and importance of new media in this year's elections, which have forced mainstream media to often play a game of catch-up.

"The discussions and disputes that are being covered by the mainstream press are sometimes about what's being disputed within the Internet," says Stan Collender, MD at Qorvis. "The speed with which that happens is just astounding."

And it seems that mainstream media is carrying the "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality over to its mid-term election coverage. CNN is planning to incorporate bloggers into its election- night coverage, inviting a dozen bloggers from different sides of the political spectrum - blogs include Daily Kos, Captain's Quarter, Red State, and Crooks and Liars - to blog about the election returns and even other networks' coverage. CNN reporters Jacki Schechner, Abbi Tatton, and Alex Wellon will cover which issues are drawing the most chatter in the blogosphere on air.

David Bohrman, CNN's Washington bureau chief and head of the network's election coverage this year, says the network has experimented with including bloggers in broadcast content for a few years with political shows like The Situation Room.

CNN's move is not surprising, considering that bloggers and new media in general have not only been increasingly used as a medium for reporting the news, but as a political tactic as well.

"The Internet is a critical part of all political tactics," says Bohrman. "Blogs are the most aggressive part of that opinion-shaping. We're trying to report on a really interesting editorial component. The conversations are such that it would be wrong to ignore them."

But Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, thinks blogs may actually have lost cachet during this election cycle.

"Campaigns have taken over the blogs as part of the political operation and that's undermined the notion that blogs are citizen media," he says.

And certainly campaigns' use of not only blogs, but new media in general, has been rampant. Sen. George Allen's (R-VA) now infamous "macaca" remark at a political rally in Virginia only hit mainstream news after being posted on YouTube by someone in his opponent's camp.

Aside from the usual mudslinging and scandals that have taken place in an online setting, another reason why this election cycle has drawn so much attention is because of how the mainstream media has positioned it. A competitive race is one that makes a good story, and the fact that many of the races have the power to change the makeup of the House and Senate is a point that has been hammered home.

It is hard to open a newspaper  today or watch one of the cable news stations without seeing stories of how this election may cost Republicans political control and how the party is in a state of panic. Rosenstiel says such stories may be indicative more of the media's hunger for stories that reflect change, rather than a partisan stance on the election's outcome.

"Change is exciting for journalists," he says. "I also think that for some journalists, but not all of them, a change from Republican to Democratic leadership is especially exciting."

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