Politics, journalism and Web 2.0 in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections

Politics, journalism and Web 2.0 in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections

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Politics, journalism and Web 2.0 in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections
Garcia, Wayne Scott
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[Tampa, Fla]
University of South Florida
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Subjects / Keywords:
New media
Fact checking
Campaign news reporting
Dissertations, Academic -- Mass Communications -- Masters -- USF ( lcsh )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


ABSTRACT: The explosion of new political speech in digital formats in the 2008 elections, especially those involving social networking, offered new opportunities and challenges for political journalists, campaign participants and voters alike. This review of new political media in 2008 examines how these new methods of political organizing and communications work and provides insights to further understand how media can best cover and participate in them. The thesis details how 2008 was the first fully Web 2.0 election, exhibiting its characteristics of interactivity, use of databases and the "long tail" of microniche Internet websites. Three new media uses - online, database-driven political speech fact checking as exemplified by PolitiFact; the social networking site Facebook; and interactive, no-cost video streaming on YouTube - illustrate where the changes from traditional political communications to new media are most dramatic. A heightened awareness of emerging political communications forms and a new model for political journalists' interaction with news consumers and vastly different skills sets for reporters will be needed for news media to cover and participate in the new digital electorate.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Mode of access: World Wide Web.
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System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
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Title from PDF of title page.
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Document formatted into pages; contains 62 pages.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Wayne Scott Garcia.

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E14-SFE0002905 ( USFLDC DOI )
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Politics, journalism and Web 2.0 in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections
h [electronic resource] /
by Wayne Scott Garcia.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 62 pages.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
3 520
ABSTRACT: The explosion of new political speech in digital formats in the 2008 elections, especially those involving social networking, offered new opportunities and challenges for political journalists, campaign participants and voters alike. This review of new political media in 2008 examines how these new methods of political organizing and communications work and provides insights to further understand how media can best cover and participate in them. The thesis details how 2008 was the first fully Web 2.0 election, exhibiting its characteristics of interactivity, use of databases and the "long tail" of microniche Internet websites. Three new media uses online, database-driven political speech fact checking as exemplified by PolitiFact; the social networking site Facebook; and interactive, no-cost video streaming on YouTube illustrate where the changes from traditional political communications to new media are most dramatic. A heightened awareness of emerging political communications forms and a new model for political journalists' interaction with news consumers and vastly different skills sets for reporters will be needed for news media to cover and participate in the new digital electorate.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Advisor: Robert W. Dardenne, Ph.D.
New media
Fact checking
Campaign news reporting
Dissertations, Academic
x Mass Communications
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856
u http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?e14.2905


Politics, Journalism and Web 2.0 in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections by Wayne Scott Garcia A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Journalism and Media Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida – St. Petersburg Major Professor: Robert W. Dardenne, Ph.D. Tony Silvia, Ph.D. Ray Arsenault, Ph.D. Date of approval: March 25, 2009 Keywords: new media, Internet newspapers, fact checking, campaign news reporting, social networks Copyright 2009, Wayne S. Garcia


i Table of Contents List of Tables ii Abstract iii Chapter One 1 Introduction — The New Digital Electorate 1 Research Questions 3 Theoretical Framework 4 Methodology 6 A Review of the Literature 8 Social Networking and Social-Related Theories 10 Video Images and Viral Distribution 13 The Art and Science of Verification 16 Chapter Two 19 Overview 19 Findings and Analysis: YouTube 26 Findings and Analysis: Facebook 33 Findings and Analysis: PolitiFact 36 Chapter Three 42 Conclusions 42 For Future Study 48 References 53 Bibliography 59


i i List of Tables Table 1. The use of YouTube as a campai gn video distribution channel by leading presidential campaigns, 2007-2008 32 Table 2. PolitiFact Findings in the 2008 Presidential Race 40


ii i Politics, Journalism and Web 2.0 in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections Wayne Scott Garcia ABSTRACT The explosion of new political speech in digital formats in the 2008 elections, especially those involving social networ king, offered new opport unities and challenges for political journalists, campaign participan ts and voters alike. This review of new political media in 2008 examines how these new methods of polit ical organizing and communications work and provides insights to further understand how media can best cover and participate in them. The thesis details how 2008 was the first fully Web 2.0 election, exhibiting its characteri stics of interactiv ity, use of databases and the “long tail” of microniche Internet websites. Three ne w media uses — online, database-driven political speech fact checking as exemplif ied by PolitiFact; the social networking site Facebook; and interactive, nocost video streaming on YouTube — illustrate where the changes from traditional poli tical communications to new media are most dramatic. A heightened awareness of emerging political communications forms and a new model for political journalists’ interaction with news c onsumers and vastly different skills sets for reporters will be needed for news media to cover and participate in the new digital electorate.


1 Chapter One Introduction — The New Digital Electorate We are in a period of fundamental change in press coverage of (and participation in) politics, one that is s eeing an unprecedented pace in adopting new media technologies and uses; blurred lines between professional journalists, citizen j ournalists, bloggers and activist communicators; and th e delivery of political a udio and video on demand and virally distributed vi a the Internet. Examining new di gital political communications is theoretically relevant as it mirrors the larger societal move toward technology, new communications forms and social networking on the Internet. “Old Media” theories, constructed to explain and predict phenomena observed in traditional print and broadcast mass media forms, have proven inadequate to the task of understanding how digital media work and how consumers want/need info rmation in forms and formats far different than those present before 1995. How journalism both covers and immerses itself in this new digital paradigm is one key to th e survival of news media in the 21st Century, at a time when traditional media forms and bus iness models are crumbling or undergoing transformation. This thesis looks at one of th e most vital functions of a free press in a democracy: the journalistic coverage of politics and campaigns. It examines the rise of four important phenomena in a 2008 presidential electi ons that saw not only the first U.S. African-American president elected but also that candidate’s campaign successfully use these new political communications tools. It looks at how the political press covered


2 those new communications forms and, in some cases, used those new forms themselves to reach new audiences and attempt to keep or bolster older ones. Internet use by voters to obt ain political information nearly doubled from the 2004 election to 2008, with one-quart er of all voters reporting they use digital media for making their balloting decisions. For young voters, ages 18-29, th e Internet is the primary source of information for political news (Pew Research Center for The People & The Press, 2008). Just how prevalent have digital media beco me in the reporting lives of political journalists? In a survey of political reporters conducted in 2008, more than 70 percent acknowledged reading political blogs for more than one hour a day (Lidman, 2008). And traditional journalists are not only reading mo re blogs; they are blogging, as well, and finding their story subjects increasingly in social media networks. One study conducted in 2008 showed 60 percent of the public interacts with compan ies on social media sites at least once a week, 93 percent said they expect companies to have a presence in social media and 85 percent said they expect compan ies they do business with to interact with them in social media networks (“Cone Finds That Americans Expect,” 2008). The Top 5 political blogs in 2004 attracted more than a half-million readers a day and were such a potent force in politics that the White House created a position with the title “Internet director” (Drezner, 2004, p. 33) By 2006, political blog readership rose to 9 percent of the total blog readers, whic h by extrapolation would put political blog readership in the millions of consumers (Graf, 2006). What’s more, the 2008 elections had at its full disposal the increasingly sophisticated digital tools of Web 2.0, descri bed as the second phase of the Internet


3 revolution. Web 2.0 digital media are characte rized by: providing more interactivity, increased use of the world wide web as an ope n-platform instead of merely as a set of proprietary software applications; increased us e of collective intelligence (“the wisdom of the crowd”); a richer user experience via multimedia tools such as Flash; and cooperating data sources instead of data sources that control (O’Reilly, 2005). To compare the old and the new: Mp3.com was Web 1.0, a sole pr ovider selling and/or distributing music files online; Napster, where users share mu sic files with each ot her without direction from a central controlling co mpany, is Web 2.0. Personal website s that forced readers to seek them out and enter to gain inform ation were 1.0; blogs that send their information out to other digital media via automated RSS syndication are 2.0. Web 2.0 companies (or campaigns) look to take advantage not of the bi ggest collections of us ers at the top of the Internet hierarchy (the “head” of the web) but from its “long tail,” the “the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream” (Anderson, 2004). Research Questions The embrace of new Web 2.0 media by po litical campaigns and a growing percentage of the electorate, combined with traditional news media’s lack of embrace and understanding of the new technologies has cr eated opportunity and concerns, confusion and more information than ever seen (qua ntitatively, not necessarily qualitatively). This thesis seeks to answer the following questions: Q1: What made the 2008 presid ential elections different from those before it, and are those differences significant and longlasting? Q2: What do new media technologies mean to the future of political journalism?


4 Q3: How does social networking online equa te to previous notions about society and the formation of social capital? How can /should journalists engage this alternate world? Q4: Do any examples exist that could be cited as “best practices” for political journalists using new media technologies? Theoretical Framework To understand the growing dominance of ne w media and its pervasive presence in modern lives, we must first accept some outlines of applicable theories that will help make sense out of what was observed in the 2008 presiden tial elections. First, I turn to a theory developed for organizational communications and business management purposes by, among others, Da ft and Lengel (1986): Media Richness Theory. Also called rich media, it is a fr amework that delineates and ranks media by looking at its ability to reproduce information. Media “vary in the capacity to process rich information,” or information that accurately reproduces the sender’s intent (p. 560). The “richest” medium was described as face-toface discussions, with all their visual and audio cues and nuances reproduced perfectly from the sender to the receiver. In descending order, the other media were tele phone, personal letters or memos, impersonal written documents (work memos and notes), and numeric documents. They defined the differences in ranking as follows: “The reason for richness differences include the medium's capacity for immediate feedback, the number of cues and channels utilized, personalization, and language variety (Daft and Wigint on 1979). Face-to-face is the richest


5 medium because it provides immediate f eedback so that interpretation can be checked. Face-to-face also provides multiple cues via body language and tone of voice, and message content is expressed in natural language. Rich media facilitate equivocality reduction by enabling managers to overcome different frames of reference and by providing the capacity to process complex, subjective messages (Lengel and Daft 1984). Media of low ric hness process fewer cues and restrict feedback, and are less appropriate for re solving equivocal issues. However, an important point is that me dia of low richness are effective for processing well understood messages and standard data.” … “Rich information transactions allowed for rapid feedback and multiple cu es so that managers can converge on a common interpretation.” (P. 560) Later, Sitkin, Sutcliffe and Barrios-Choplin (1992) identified tw o more aspects of richness: a medium’s ability to carry data and its ability to c onvey symbols. (We can think of this as literal and symbolic -communications carrying capacity.) Though the theory is aimed at organiza tional needs and not mass media and predates the widespread influence of the Internet, it still is a valuable evaluative framework for this thesis, and later resear chers in education, among other fi elds, have also used it to help determine the best medium to us e in a given communications situation. A second theoretical framework for this th esis is Discourse Analysis Theory. The study of discursive limits and definitions wa s first outlined by Foucault, who said there were social boundaries to communications, as well as a specialized knowledge that framed or outlined what could be understood or discussed in society (Rabinow and Rose, 2003). Discursive analysis looke d at the relationship betwee n language used and the roles


6 of agency and structure. In news media studi es, Altheide (1996) sugge sts the theory as a means of “tracking discourse” across time a nd different issues, news stories and media: “What we call things, the themes a nd discourse we employ, and how we frame and allude to experience is crucial for what we take for granted and assume to be true. Simultaneously, we experience, reflect on that experience, and direct future experience. When language change s and new or revised frameworks of meaning become part of the public domain and are routinely used, then social life has been changed, even in a small way.” (p. 69) It is possible that new media both must hew to discursive boundaries and also smash some of those same limits because of their different abilities to communicate faster, with greater feedback, with larger num bers of people, even if that communication is more prone to interpretation and less “ric h.” New media presents us with a dichotomy in terms of richness theory: It is both highly impersonal (at least, in the traditional sense of person or being) and yet also rich in interactivity that could allow the impersonal nature of the media to be overcome. Discour se analysis provides a framework of looking at how issues or stories are handled in ne w media, and how new media influences or places those same news story frames into society and other, traditional media. Methodology To understand better the trends that deve loped in new political media in 2008, I reviewed and analyzed the contents of ke y technological media developments (online fact-checking, both independent and partisan; text messaging; micro-blogging tools such


7 as Twitter; social networks such as My Space and Facebook; streaming video delivery sites such as YouTube and political blogs, among others) to examine the breadth and quantity of their content and any new form s of political communi cation or political journalism arising from that communication. My content review specifically measur es some key indicators, analyzes the content and defines the charac teristics of three leading pol itical new media technologies: the newspaper and nonprofit fact-check ing sites (as typified by the St. Petersburg TimesÂ’ PolitiFact); social networking sites (as typified by FacebookÂ’s political groups and fan pages); and political actorsÂ’ ab ility to bring an unmediated message directly to voters, outside of the traditi onal mass media (as demonstrated by YouTubeÂ’s delivery of official campaign videos and advertisements, as well as viral, non-campaignproduced political speech, news and commentary). Their technology and contents were reviewed for six criteria: ri chness of media; scope of use by campaign participants; level of exposure to the elec torate (measured in terms of page views by users); in teractivity, or the ability for the electorate to talk back through the medium; news coverage of the ne w medium by traditional journalism outlets; and adoption/co-option by traditional news media. They were also reviewed for their relationships to news media coverage and political communications forms that were present in the 2004 election. I make no claim that this content review is comprehensive or empirical; rather, this thesis is designed to outline a new resear ch agenda into the effects of new media on political coverage in some very specific and influential areas where traditional journalism values seem to be eroding or where traditional media ar e missing important political


8 communications. It also highlights the need for traditional media companies to better understand these new media tools and the e ffects they are having on political news coverage and, by extension, the healthy functioning of democrac y. This thesis addresses a basic question: Have new media improve d or injured political journalism? A Review of the Literature The new digital media have proven to be a conundrum to mass media researchers. They have picked away at the edges of “cybe rspace” but have failed to find a theory to unify its many elements or explain and predict its effects on society and how it is affected by society’s use of its digital world. The defi nitions and even the existence of cyberspace (a separate, parallel reality created and sustained by comput ers all over the globe, often thought of as another dimension) and its resu lting cyberculture (w hich Benedikt called the “common mental geography, built, in tu rn, by consensus and revolution, canon and experiment” [as cited in Bell, 2001, p. 7]) are hotly debated. Some even see the emergence of new media, its global sp read and ability to communicate almost instantaneous with news events as a challe nge to traditional mass media theories, that traditional mass media theories aren’t up to the task of making sense of these new phenomena (Williams, 2003). Some theorists ha ve attempted to define new media in terms of its global reach and impact, with Mc Luhan’s “global village” theory of a world connected by electronics and involved with each other on a caring, village level despite long distances (McLuhan Fiore and Agel, 1968) reaching pop culture recognition in the 1960s but since proving either to be inaccurate or inadequate. Surveys done in advance of the 2008 presid ential primary elec tions found a strong


9 shift to digital media for gathering politic al news and information. Traditional media sources (nightly TV news, daily newspa pers and local TV newscasts) all dropped significantly in use by voters from 2000 to 2008, while Internet use rose from 9 percent to 24 percent of those surveyed. More than half (54 percent) of voters said they used one of three online news resources: MSNBC, CNN or Yahoo News. Even in online new consumption, however, there was evidence of the Web 2.0 “long tail:” the Pew survey found hundreds of political news resources us ed by less than 1 pe rcent of the voting public, and nearly 30 percent of those surveyed got their political news from one of those long-tail websites (Pew, 2008). The topic of social interaction and the Internet has produced the largest body of research in social sciences, focusing on its implications for un derstanding digital interaction and how me diating communications affect th e concept of personal identity and impact close relationships: Communication on the Internet erases physical and voice cues, allowing users to remain anonymous and to mainta in a high degree of control over their side of the communication, all the while in teracting with people across the globe. These features allow people to create new id entities and roles, and interact in the context of these roles, more so than any other mode of communication. Bargh, McKenna, and Fitzsimons (2002) even suggest ed that people use the Internet as a laboratory to test new identities before embracing them in everyday life. Thus, one question driving many of these empirica l investigations is, Do online effects on a person’s identity or personal relationshi ps transfer or gene ralize to offline understandings of self and face-to-face re lationships? (Borgida and Stark, 2004, p.


1 0 468) Social Networking and Related Social Theories Online social networking has long been one of the InternetÂ’s most interesting possibilities, but advancements in databasing and website design in the past five years have made a handful websites devoted stri ctly to social networking (most notably Facebook, MySpace and ning) enormously popular Those sites and others like them approximate real-world social relations by allowing users to share information about themselves, select their correspondents and widen their network of social links by receiving information from their corresponde ntsÂ’ online social networks. This is accomplished through the power of databases and the automated delivery of shared information in the online social circles. The searchable database allows users to find friends, colleagues, and family by name, or even to search for other long-lost acquaintances that have worked at the same company, attended the same schools or lived in the same neighborhood. Social networks may be new online, but th ey are a longtime source of interest for academic researchers in the physical, or nondigital, world. Social networks are the relationships (friendship, esteem collegiality, etc.) between di fferent actors, either people or companies or other types of socially ba sed groups (Snijders, 2001). Researchers have looked at how the links between the actors in a social network create or dictate behavior, and how those links can create a kind of tangible or intangi ble social capital between the actors. Social Networking Theory examines nodes (individuals) and the relationships, or ties, between to determine an individualÂ’s social capital and was first identified by Barnes


11 in 1954. SNT has been used to map the nodes and ties of a group to determine the richness of social interaction and social capital for its individuals. Many factors in modernity have contribut ed to a decrease in physical social interaction in civil society, resu lting in what some researcher s believe are losses in social capital, decreasing trust among people a nd fewer community bonds. Those factors include the impact of mass media and technol ogy that allowed peopl e to consume only the information and entertainment they want and to consume it at home, alone (Putnam, 2000). Putnam observed that more people were “bowling alone,” but his hypothesis about the resulting loss of social capital could simply be a shift from one social activity (families bowling together) to another (youth athletic league s that gave rise to the political term “soccer moms,” for one example). The rise in popularity of social networki ng sites on the Internet has been one of the most dramatic phenomena of the digital age. To use Boyd and Ellison’s definition (2007), social networking sites are: …[W]eb-based services that allow indivi duals to (1) construct a public or semipublic profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the sy stem. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site. (para. 4) These sites not only allow people who directly know each other to share information, views and commentary but connects people who don’t even know each other in the non-digital world, their only connection to each ot her being a third-party, via


1 2 various “degrees of separation,” i.e. friends of friends of friends. Social networking blurs the lines between a true friend (someone you know and like have an affinity for) and these distantly connected indi viduals. The ability to ne twork and communicate with people who are not in your immediate circ le of family, friends and colleagues is magnified by digital communications, which ca n marry databases to connect these friends of friends, delivering information about thei r lives and views to a person’s social networking page automatically and without discrimination between real friends and online “friends.” These digital acquaintances are even termed “friends” on Facebook, the most visited commercial soci al networking site in the world. The verb “to friend” someone in this social networking world doe sn’t mean to gain the familiarity and closeness of a real-world fr iend: it simply means to add a stranger to your list of “friends,” giving them access to your pers onal information and communications, and you to theirs. The first online social network is cred ited to a 1997 launch of a site called sixdegrees.com. Today, the dominant player s are the News Corp.’s MySpace and the privately held Facebook. Commercially owned so cial networking websites are so new to the digital landscape th at little scholarly research a bout them exists. (Facebook, which recently surpassed MySpace in page views, onl y opened its site to the public — vs. the high school and college students to which it was initially li mited — in 2006. It now has 30 million U.S. users.) “Vast, uncharted waters still remain to be explored. Methodologically, SNS [social networking sites] researchers' ability to make causal claims is limited by a lack of experimental or longitudinal studies” (Boyd and Ellison, 2007, para. 76).


13 Facebook and MySpace both are populated by campaigns and campaigners. It is Facebook, however, that is the political social network of choice for those inside the Beltway. Facebook became so politics-friendly by the 2008 campaign season that one technology news blog that focuses on how hightech was used in presidential campaigns wrote, “Facebook has become the tool of choi ce for political and non-profit organizations to identify and energi ze supporters” (Bassik, 2007). There is some preliminary research showing a relationship between a candidate ’s use of Facebook and success on Election Day. One study of congressional races in the 2006 midterm elections found that the level of support on Facebook for candidates “ had a significant effect on their final vote shares,” particularly where there wa s no incumbent running. Because Facebook’s dominate demographic (18-24 y ears old) would represent an oversampling in the real world of voters (where 18-24’s vote least ofte n), the researchers concluded that Facebook support is "an indicator of a campaign resour ce that does matter:” a campaign’s intensity and its ability to motivate its supporters (Williams and Gulati, 2007, p.2). It may not represent a causal relationshi p but instead reflect well-organized, well-funded campaigns using all the political communica tions tools available to them. Video Images and Viral Distribution In theoretical terms, the viral distribu tion-interactive natu re of YouTube and similar on-demand streaming video websites (including commercially oriented TV.com, Joost, Sling.com, Veoh, Fancast and Hulu) serves two audience needs in politics: cognitive and evaluative. Psychology resear chers define cognition as stemming from a "need to structure relevant situations in meaningful, integrated ways … a need to


1 4 understand and make reasonable the experienti al world" (Cohen, St otland, and Wolfe, 1955) and "an individual's tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive endeavors" (Cacioppo and Petty, 1984). Research in mass communications, psychology and political science show that such high-cognition consumer s seek out information to evaluate their world and “genuinely enjoy th e process” (Holbrook, 2006, p. 344). Another important component of Y ouTube is its viral nature. Viral communications are akin to a digital word-ofmouth but operate in a much more complex atmosphere. They are largely without central control, with great determination by the end user of the media. Lippmann and Reed (2003) describe the attributes of a viral medium: In its most general form, the implications of a viral system are (1) that it is relatively infrastructure-free and thus can gain grassroots adoption, (2) that it is inherently flexible and open to innovati on in that there need be no large-scale deployed core system on which it is based, and (3) it mimics the end-to-end design principle of the Internet that places the intelligence at the user nodes rather than in the network core itself. (p. 2) Online video such as YouTube would seem to meet both theoretical needs and provide users the ability to self-select: to find and choose their own political information, rather than rely on media gatekeepers or paid political advertising. For the electorate, it is a more efficient and active means of in formation acquisition, when compared to traditional methods of news consumption that would be better char acterized as passive (TV producers select only the handful of polit ical stories that can fit into a 30-minute nightly news network or the hourly news cycl e of the 24-hour cable news networks; print


15 newspaper editors make the same space-constrained decisions daily as well). The value of an on-demand video political information system was recognized more than a decade ago: The new media have freed users from the tyranny of the time clock. Twenty-four-hour news channels and co mputer news sources now make news available around the clock, rather than at times dictated by media delivery schedules. The rapid spread of home computers has increased the size of audiences who can reach computerized data at times of their choice. (Graber, 1996, p. 33) But a decade ago, the content lagged the infrastructure; while more people had access to political information, there was not much new information outside of the traditional media sources. “Despite an explos ion of politically oriented Home Pages on the World Wide Web, surprisingly little has be en added that is genuinely new or that enriches the information supply beyond the offe rings of the far smaller circle of 'old' media” (Graber, 1996, p. 33). Today, that breadth of information sources is wider and extends beyond traditional media, because of sites such as YouTube. In the 1990s, researchers such as Graber discussed homes owning “video recorder s” and having the ability to buy political information on “videotapes and CD ROMs” (1996, p. 34). Today’s communications channels have made manufacturing and distri bution of information cheaper and quicker, from iPhones that incorporate web browsers to telephones that text-message or Twitter. That has allowed political communicators w ho are not well capitalized to produce low-


1 6 cost messages and distribute them to a poten tially large audience in a way that was previously only available to media compan ies or political communications consultants equipped with cameras, gear, studios and an ability to manufacture video tapes, audio tapes and computer discs or possessing enough money to purchase expensive broadcast or cable television advertising time. The eff ectiveness of this new media pipeline in delivering messages and winning elections remain a subject of much popular debate but little empirical study. YouTube also provides “an automatic focu s group for news content” with its interactivity (Grove, 2008, p. 29) Consumers of the informati on record their interest in numbers of “views counted” and leave comm ents that can help guide whether that political message is distributed more widel y, refined further or abandoned all together. The Art and Science of Verification There has been a rise of systematic political journalism fact checking even as there appears, at times, to be a decline in ove rall fact checking that may be attributed to the general economic decline of the print ne ws industry, which has left fewer newsroom budget dollars for fact-checking personnel or has left newsroom s so thin of reporters and editors that double-checking f acts is sometimes overlooked. Systematic fact checking has never been a strong suit for traditional newspapers, unlike the function at many magazines. The New Yorker ’s fact checkers, for example, are legendary for their thoroughness, working on an author’s manuscript to verify every single fact before publication. At traditional da ily newspapers, such an independent fact checker does not exist. Verifying facts is the job of reporters, s upervising editors and


1 7 copy editors but is not d one in a systematic way. Yet verification and the act of presenting “the truth” is at the heart of the public’s expectation of the role and re sponsibility of journalism, es pecially as it relates to journalism’s unique responsibility to providi ng the important information that citizens need to make good decisions in a democracy. But what is “true?” Does fact checking make something truer than something not fact checked? What role do voters’ perceptions and ideologies play in whether they accept fact checking as a tool to determine the truth? Of the challenges that verification and truth faces in a post-modern Internet society, journalist and scholar Bill Kovach (2006) wrote: As Walter Lippmann said more than 80 years ago: Citizens in a democracy do not act on reality but on the pi cture of reality that is in their minds. Most of the guiding principles of journalism are shaped by this concept. As an organizing principle for newsroom values it has served democracy well. But the world has slipped beyond the reach of the light Walter Lippmann once cast. Today we live in a media world in which competing interests are creating realities designed to encourage communities of c onsumers, communities of belief, and communities of allegiance. It is in th is environment that a journalism of verification must find its place by usi ng these new technologies to support communities of independent thought. Journali sts must find tools that will enlist a methodology of verification in a more ci tizen-oriented way and help the public weigh this against what they are told daily by the popular cu lture and political spin. (p. 40)


1 8 Academics have started to try to codify an ethos of fact checking. Jackson and Jamieson (2004) offering se ven guiding principles: Reporters would serve their read ers and viewers well by moving beyond he-said-she-said reporting to embrace their primary role as custodians of fact. In this thesis, we have outlined some princi ples they might apply in performing this task: Examine the way terms are defined, explore assumptions underlying calculations and projections, do not hear average as typical or as a measure of the effect on an individual, find out who is in the denominator, create context that makes sense of omissions, remember that a vote is not always what it appears to be, and apply the same standards to all sides of an argument. (p. 236) Finally, a word about the con cept that is at the heart of verification: Trust. The concept is much studied in social sciences, especially in political sciences and social psychology and is “a central elem ent in the professional ideol ogy of journalism” (Tsfati, 2004, p. 275). Trust is a form of social capita l, and in the study of news media; it represents a perception on the part of the audience and the journalist that trusting each other is mutually beneficial. The news cons umer benefits from trusting the journalist by saving time and effort it would take to seek out competing sources of information; the journalist benefits by ha ving a steady, reliable (a nd paying) audience. For something to be true, then, it must be demonstrably accurate and recognizable as such to reasonable people (in the aggregat e). It must be arrived at through an open process of testing and verification of information.


1 9 Chapter Two Overview Innovation is always a part of political campaigning; stump speeches gave way to radio addresses, which gave way to televi sed interviews, which gave way to Madison Avenue-inspired (if not direct ed) advertising spots on television, which gave way to (by 2004) sophisticated demographic database ta rgeting and automated and annoying “robo-” telephone calls, to name a few. But 2008 was different in two major ways : First, the level of technological involvement and digital campaigning was unpr ecedented. Many of the innovations would come from political outsiders or campaign gras s-roots activists or simply take on lives of their own as memes (a self-s ustaining, viral idea spread on the Internet). They allowed interactivity between candidate and voter, or news media and consumer. They often included a component of social networking, with database searching allowing a person to greatly expand their network of close friends to include distant acquaintances and friends of friends. They were often li nked to portable electronics de vices, smart phones, iPhones or PDA’s. The second phenomenon, however, repres ented a paradigm shift (Kuhn, 1996) from the linear progression of political communication science in the United States: the news media began mimicking the very t ypes of communications being utilized by campaigners and activists, creating journalist -written blogs, using SMS text messaging to


2 0 deliver news, “tweeting” short news bites or headlines on Twitter and producing news video for consumption on YouTube or on thei r own websites. Traditional media did not start delivering news via direct mail or robotic telephone calls when those campaign innovations were introduced by pol iticians over the past decades ; but in 2008, all sides of the political-news equation ran w ith equal speed to use (or attempt to use) new media to deliver their information, whether it was news coverage, political speech or third-party political messages. By the time the election was over, in November 2008, both the political campaign and political journalism worlds were faced with new technologies that (sometimes) neither understood fully. Some candidates and campaigns, just as some news media, embraced these new technologies, giving them prominent places in their communications activities and altering (to whatev er degree, big or small, hi story proves) the future of political campaigns. Others di d not. Activists and identity -shielded third-party special interest groups, however, had greater ability to organize a nd spread pro and con messages to the public over such vehicles as social networking sites (MySpace and Facebook); cell phone SMS text messaging; blogs, or web logs a diary-like media us ed by journalists, citizen journalists and party/candidate activis ts alike; Twitter, a 140-character type of instant message sent over a social netw ork on computers and smart phones that was quickly embraced by Democratic challenger John Edwards to send messages to supporters; online streaming video (such as YouTube); and even more sophisticated email and online fund raising methods, includi ng gaming strategies, giving away dinners or appearances with a candidate or soliciti ng the recipients’ participation in campaign websites’ social networks.


21 By the time the campaign ended, candida tes were making major announcements via either YouTube videos or text messa ges to supporters. Obama named his vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden, in a text message to as many as 10 million supporters of his campaign who had registered their mobile telephone numbers with the Obama campaign. (Only Democratic Party leaks spoiled the surprise, as news stories of Biden’s selection beat the text message to the st reet.) The announcement a month earlier by the Obama campaign that it would reveal its selection this wa y sent innumerable voters (and journalists) to the campaign’s website to re gister for notifications, adding to Obama’s database and allowing him to send other camp aign messages to those new texting recruits (Butterworth, 2008). As presiden t-elect and president, Obama continued his use of new media, giving the traditional weekend radi o message on YouTube videos and revamping the White House website on his first day in office. The Obama campaign also ran a sophisticated text messaging system, crossreferencing its various votercontact databases to target young and persuadable voters. It collected these cell phone numbers in a va riety of ways: in neighborhood canvassing, online in social networks and at Obama po litical rallies, where supporters were often encouraged to text in a message to Obama that would appear on a digital “news crawl” sign somewhere above the stage, to be r ead by everyone in atte ndance (by sending the text message, the cell phone user’s number was then captured and put into the Obama database.) In a nod to McLuhan, the use of the SMS text messaging technology alone delivered the message to young voters that Obama was one of them, the medium itself providing a much stronger conne ction to this historically under-voting age group of than any message it delivered in text (McConnell, 2008). Journalism’s adap tation was that two


2 2 could play at that game. Onlin e newspapers, television and radi o stations and other digital news outlets began offering text message news updates, either as news broke or in daily digests. Newspapers started their own blogs: The New York Times in 2009 boasted more than 60 blogs on its website, including blogs on breaking political news (“The Caucus”), opinion and lifestyle topics. All news media blogs have several key aspects in common: They are branded with a name outside of the normal news s ection names in a print newspaper; they emphasize personality, either of the individual journalist or the group of journalists who contribute to them; they use language and story forms that are much less formal than traditional print media; and they syndicate their blog news stories, called “posts,” automatically to consumers via a technology called RSS, or Really Simple Syndication. RSS allows those posts to be automatically received and read by consumers using either RSS reader software or a free online RSS reader, such as Google Reader. There is no reliable, scientific data on the number of journalists who are blogging, how their posts differ from traditional news stories or the depth and breadth of their consumption by the voting public. Some bloggers, in fact, don’t even consider journalists capable of being bloggers, reserving the titl e for digital authors who work outside the traditional constraints of journalism and traditional news media. While the phenomenon of newspaper blogging has had an especially strong connection to political campaigning, it is not a focus of this thesis because poli tical blogging is largely unchanged (except in scope, or the number of political blogs being published) from its use in the 2004 presidential elections. Other digital information di stribution technologies, howev er, saw an explosion in


23 users and consumers in 2008 or have emer ged only since the 2004 elections were concluded. Twitter is one of those new media to be introduced since the 2004 elections. It saw enormous growth as a means of distribut ing everything from personal information to breaking news. It is especially popular am ong 25to 34-year-olds. In January 2008, 12 percent of Twitter’s users fell into that de mographic; for the week ending Jan. 17, 2009, that percentage had risen to 45, according to web metrics company Hitwise. Of the website links embedded into Twitter messages ( called “tweets”), 10 percent went to news media online sites (Dougherty, 2009). And news media were not simply the recipient of Twitter-directed traffic; by May 2008, at leas t 173 U.S. newspapers had Twitter accounts, with an average 171 “followers ” (other Twitter members who subscribe to those Twitter accounts and automatically receive the newspa pers’ tweet messages). That included two well-known newspaper fact-checking sites, the St. Petersburg Times (expressed on Twitter as @politifact) and Washington Post (@thefactchecker). One graphic designer blogger who tracks newspapers that Twitter measured tripleand quadruple-digit monthly increases in followers for those newspapers in 2008, although that data could not be independently or scientifically verified (Smith, 2008). By Feb. 2009, the number of newspaper-related Twitter accounts had grow n so large (1,360) that the blogger who tracked them all announced to her readers that she was “g iving up” because the task proved too time-consuming. The result of this new medium in terms of news delivery is unknown. The medium is too new to measure its impact. Anecdotally, many cable news shows and an increasing number of local broadcast news operations are using Twitter to send and receive messages from viewers as they air news programs, mostly using tweeted


2 4 comments as a punctuation or comme ntary on reported news stories. A third force emerged to challenge bot h the news media’s and candidates’ dominant positions on agenda-setting: activis t or grassroots media. These groups and individuals have long worked through traditional methods (fundraising, networking, influencing traditional media, door-to-door canvassing, etc.) to attempt to influence the course of presidential camp aigns. New media technologies, however, have leveled the playing field more, to the a dvantage of lesser-funded grassr oots activists. Using the same low-cost technologies as the mainstream media and well-financed candidates, these activists in 2008 could reach wi der audiences and drive their agenda into the public arena with greater effect. One example is the digi tal movement that arose to lift Republican candidate Dr. Ron Paul, a little-known one-time Libertarian candidate for president and a constitutionalist conservative member of Congress. Supporters of the Ron Paul “Revolution,” as they dubbed themselves, took actions independent of any central direction from the Paul Campaign, produci ng and distributing amateurish videos extolling his candidacy and a re turn to Constitutional basics in the nation. Paul supporters purchased Paul yard signs at their own costs and distributed them on their own timetables, again independent of the campaign’ s strategists. Paul supporters used social media and new technologies to c oordinate their activ ities both interna lly (within groups of Paul supporters who shared a common ge ographic location) and externally (among other Paul groups across th e nation). Such low-cost alternative methods of communication proved an ability to be popular (in terms of the number of people it was exposed to) if not able to sw ay the result of an election (P aul lagged near the bottom of the crowded Republican presidential field fo r most of his campaign). For example, a


25 YouTube-distributed video of a Paul supporting singing “The Ron Paul Song” accompanied only by an acoustic guitar received more than 472,000 viewings after it was posted in Sept. 2007. The Ron Paul Revolution didn’t win the election for Paul. But did it alter mainstream news media coverage of the congr essman and his ideas, providing traditional political journalists news hooks to write about Paul and his digitally organized army? It is unlikely that Paul would have finished highe r in the balloting than Rudy Giuliani in the Iowa primary and Fred Thompson in New Hampshire without such a technologically manufactured “buzz” that spread his me ssage well beyond his campaign’s financial ability to purchase traditional media advert ising or other campai gn resources. Paul had neither the traditional campaign infrastructure nor the campaign financing to mobilize his grassroots support. Instead, the digital R on Paul army led itself without a central command, passing messages, strategy and getout-the-vote ta ctics via the new media channels. One obvious sign of the impact of th e Paul campaign’s benefit from new media is the fact that he finished fourth in a crowded field of GOP heavyweights, his 1.1 million total primary votes ahead of former New Yo rk Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Sen. and well-known Hollywood actor Fred Thomps on. Paul even finished second in four primaries where more than just he and John McCain were on the ballot: in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Montana and Nevada. In many instances throughout the 2008 pres idential elections, candidates, media and grassroots activists used new media forms to spread messages and alter the mass media agenda on issues. It is instructive to examine and analyze in a more in-depth fashion three specific technologies and uses th at came to the fore in 2008: Viral videos on


2 6 YouTube, social networking sites such as Facebook; and digitally cataloged and searchable fact checking of candidates’ statements and campaign advertising, as demonstrated by PolitiFact. Findings and Analysis: YouTube YouTube is part-broadcasting medium, part -social network that allows users to upload and share videos at no cost. It is ow ned by Google, the Internet’s most popular set of websites and services driven by its market-leading search engine. YouTube’s reach into the total Internet a udience is impressive. With 42 percent of the total 190 million-person digital audience viewing a YouTube page at least once a month, it ranks higher than social netw orks MySpace and Facebook; news site MSN.com; and online retailers eBay and Amaz on. More significantly for the purposes of comparing its audience to traditional print ne ws media, YouTube has a greater reach for advertisers than the NNN, or Newspaper Na tional Network LP, a print-and-digital marketing partnership between the top 25 news paper companies in the United States and the Newspaper Association of America. NNN ha s a 38 percent reach, 4 percentage points lower than YouTube’s (comScore, 2008). The top U.S. newspaper website, that of The New York Times, has nearly 13 million unique visitors a month; YouTube has 81 million. (NNN, 2008) Ten hours of video are uploaded to YouT ube every minute, with a sizable portion of that being related to news and poli tics. Its use exploded from 2004 to the 2008 campaigns: A search of YouTube for “2004 pr esidential campaign” videos yielded 1,070 returns, many of them merely copies of advertisements that ran on broadcast television or


2 7 snippets of politically oriented mainstr eam media news coverage or entertainment parody. That same search for “2008 presidential campaign” produced 18,600 returns, many of them featuring conten t produced solely for Internet distribution, by campaigns, activists, commentators, citizens, activists, pundits and a vari ety of other players in the political process. That is an 18-fold incr ease from one campaign cycle to the next. All 16 of the major 2008 pres idential candidates had their own “channel” on YouTube during the primaries, using them to upload and share both standard broadcast television advertisements and longer, web-only videos that were then shared and spread virally. The Barack Obama campaign uploade d an average 2-3 new videos a day during the general election. YouTube’s political dire ctor Steve Grove (2008) said such activity fundamentally changed the election process; seven candidates, in fact, announced their candidacy on YouTube, and YouTube was a co -sponsor of a Republican primary debate in St. Petersburg, Fla., and a Democratic prim ary debate broadcast from The Citadel in South Carolina, at which candidates were quizzed via short videos submitted by YouTube users. In Grove’s assessment: What this means is that average citizens are able to fuel a new meritocracy for political coverage on unburdened by the gatekeeping ‘middleman.’ Another way of putting it is that YouTube is now the world’s largest town hall for political discussion, where voters connect with candidates — and the news media — in ways that were never before possible. (p. 28) YouTube lists 35,000 videos that were ta gged “political” in 2007 or 2008. The most-viewed videos fell into several broad categories: adoration (“I’ve got a crush on


2 8 Obama” with 13 millions views); parody (“Barack Rolled” with nearly 6 millions views); and traditional news coverage (“Obama Speech: 'A More Perfect Union'” from CNN, with 5.8 million views). Viral videos — spread via blogs, e-mails, text messages, Twitter and other digital media until they were picked up as “newsworthy” by traditional mass media outlets — became crucial tools, by campaigns, activists, social commentators and pop culture artists. The Pew Research Center for The People & The Press documented the flow from digital to mainstream news in 2007 polling: Short videos produced for the Inte rnet are becoming an important component of campaign news. In some cases, candidates themselves are producing videos and releasing them on th eir campaign websites. Candidates also are seeing their own gaffes or embarrassi ng moments packaged in a brief video and put up on the web for all to see. And while these videos originate on the Internet, more people are viewing th em on TV than online. (Pew, 2007) Take the example of the top-viewed “‘I Got a Crush...On Obama’ By Obama Girl” video, a production of a website cal led BarelyPolitical.com, whose slogan is “Making politics sexy again.” It was seen more than 13.2 million times by YouTube users since it was posted to the site in June 2007 (BarelyPolitical.com, 2007). The 3minute, 19-second video was a song parody, with an R&B-style singer intoning that she has a crush on Barack Obama. “So I put down my Kerry sign / I knew I had to make you mine” mirrored the lyric construction of popul ar love songs, provi ding an entertaining venue for the subliminal message that Obama was different than other, older candidates:


2 9 He was hipper. It was a message written by marketers and artists, not political consultants; BarelyPolitical’s founder was a young college graduate with an MBA and a background in advertising, and others on its cr eative team included two comedians, two theater directors and a web tech nician (BarelyPolitical.com, 2009). The Obama Girl video, and its sequels with the same character, had a profound impact on mainstream media messages about Ob ama at a time when the eventual winner trailed Democrat Hillary Clinton in polls and in “conventional wisdom” in traditional press coverage. In terms of “earned media” (the campaign term for free news coverage, versus paid advertisements), Obama Girl was featured in more than 460 mainstream news stories in print and online and numerous 24-hour cable televisi on news appearances news. (A viral video of one appearance on MSNBC cable television, made two days before a critical New Hampshire presidential primary, itself garnered more than 1 million YouTube views.) It helped frame news covera ge, as well. Within a month of the video’s release, for instance, The New York Times featured a prominent op-ed column mentioning the viral video, titled “Can he crush Hillary ?”, its headline a play on words from the Obama Girl crush video (Dowd, 2007). The vi ral spread online was aided by traditional news coverage, in fact. In July 2007, a poll found that three times more people had seen Obama Girl on television than had seen it online. Even more importantly, twice as many people said they had heard of the video than had actually seen it, 16 percent having some awareness of the video versus 8 percent actu ally saying they had viewed it (Pew, 2007). Its grassroots impact was strong, as we ll. More than 70,000 people left comments on the song’s YouTube page. “Obama Girl” wa s mentioned 402 times in the major blogs tracked by Lexis-Nexis during the campaign period. Facebook had 176 user-created


3 0 “Obama Girl” groups that other users joined and networked, some pro-Obama Girl and some anti (“Forget Obama girl, I'd rather be a Palin Boy”). One last important point on Obama Girl: The video showed the power to reach younger voters, a group with a mixed track reco rd on voting participation and one that turned out in stronger-than-usual numbers for Obama. In its polling, Pew tested three other viral videos along with Obama Girl: a Clinton-produced Sopranos parody, a video of John Edwards brushing his hair set to “I Feel Pretty,” and footage of John McCain joking about bombing Iran (almost half of th e respondents were aware of at least one of the four videos): Although the campaign websites and inte rnet videos are often geared toward younger voters, older people are mo re likely to have h eard about three of the four videos – the Clin ton video, the McCain video and the Edwards video. In all three cases, people ages 50 and older are more aware of the video than are those under age 50. The Obama video is th e only one that all age groups have heard about in roughly e qual numbers. (Pew, 2007) Obama Girl is an example of a purely vi ral political video that was unconnected to any official campaign activity, i.e. th e Obama campaign did not write, script, encourage or spread the video. While it gene rally appears to have endeared Obama to younger voters, it also could be viewed as demeaning and as making him appear lessthan-presidential. Political videos also we re generated from two other distinct camps: viral videos that were designed to benefit a candidate (some of which were eventually adopted as nearly official by a campaign) and those produced directly by the campaigns


31 themselves. In examining the use of YouTube by the ma jor presidential campaigns, it is clear that the medium came into its own in the 2008 campaigns. Almost every major presidential campaign uploaded campaign vi deos to YouTube, with both the most successful (Barack Obama) and among the least successful (Ron Paul) garnering millions of viewings by YouTube users. Obama’s use of the Internet, and pa rticularly his highprofile use of YouTube to deliver breaking ne ws outside of the tr aditional mainstream press, has been singled out as the bigg est political innovation of the 2008 campaigns. Arianna Huffington, the editor-in-chief of th e online news blogging site The Huffington Post, told The New York Times that “were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president. Were it not for the Intern et, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee” (Miller, 2008). Is this hyperbole? After all, Ron Paul’s supporters used the In ternet well, and he finished a distant fourth. In analyzing the im portance of the Internet, we must take into account causality and the partic ular details of Obama’s path to the presidency. The Internet alone cannot cause anyone to be elec ted president; it is also likely true that someone can be elected president without effectively using the Internet. Obama’s campaign, however, used the Internet for ke y strategic purposes (to overcome Hillary Clinton’s huge financial adva ntage in fundraising; to punch away at Clinton’s aura of inevitability; and to reinforce his message of change and that he was a “new” type of candidate) in cost-effective ways that w ill undoubtedly provide models for future candidates who will attempt to duplicate the success, as well other candidates who will further innovate with newer new media, us ing Obama’s campaign as inspiration if not


3 2 necessarily a blueprint. Table 1 The use of YouTube as a campaign video distribu tion channel by leading presidential campaigns, 20072008 Note. YouTube viewership data gathered Feb. 1-9, 2009, from each candidates’ YouTube channel. Joe Trippi, an online political innovator who guided the first digital campaign for Howard Dean in 2004, likewise lauded Obama’s use of YouTube videos: “The campaign’s official stuff they created fo r YouTube was watched for 14.5 million hours. To buy 14.5 million hours on broadcast TV is $47 million” (Miller, 2008). Obama’s


33 campaign videos on YouTube received more than 26 million views (Table 1), with the most popular, a clip of him appearing on The Ellen Degeneres Show, receiving 6.2 million views, four to five times the number of viewers who watch a typical Degeneres broadcast. Findings and Analysis: Facebook In October 2007, 200 young, tech-savvy peopl e sat in a room in Washington, D.C., to hear a lecture from Facebook’s seni or products developer, Ezra Callahan. The 200 were campaign workers attending the first Facebook Political Summit. On the agenda: how to use the social networ king website for raising campaign money, organizing volunteers and “connecting with your supporters on a deeper and more personal level.” Facebook’s director of sales, Josh Rahn, told the gathering, “Our goal is to make you win” (Freire, 2007). Facebook has 175 million users who spend a total of 3 billion minutes on the website every day, according to the website ’s self-reported statistics (Facebook, 2009). That translates to more than 17 minutes on average each day for every user on the social networking site. Facebook began allowing politicians to create Facebook pages during the 2006 midterm election cycle. By early 2009, the numbe r of political pages in the site topped 500. Barack Obama’s Facebook page has more than 5.7 million supporters signed up; Republican presidential challenger John Mc Cain has more than 584,000, and his running mate, Sarah Palin, had more than 518,000. Facebook fills both an organizational a nd a message delivery category for a


3 4 political campaign. Users who sign up as “s upporters” of a politician’s Facebook page can volunteer to help the campaign, leave me ssages or questions on a bulletin board-like Wall, or see listings of campaign events in their areas. The politic al messages delivered include biographical information about the candidates, e-mails and uploaded campaign videos. A Facebook policy change in 2008 also helped large-scale political campaigns by lifting a 1,000-supporter e-mail limit that was in place for groups formed on the social networking site, allowing presidential cam paigns to send unlimited e-mails to their supporters. Even better for political campaigns, however, is Facebook’s open-platform architecture, another Web 2.0 precept. The webs ite’s software source code and details of its computer platform, servers, etc. is open fo r anyone to design app lications that will run within the Facebook site, providing the opportunity fo r politicians to expand exponentially their message delivery. Obama’s Facebook page shows an example of such leverage: Obama’s campaign developed an appl ication that supporters could (with just a click of a checkbox when they signed up as supporters) have displayed on their own Facebook page. Every visitor to the supporter’s page, in turn, saw messages from the Obama campaign that changed often, growing the number of people who were exposed to Obama campaign messaging. Even better for th e politician, the messa ge came with the imprimatur of a trusted friend whose page was hosting a political pitch — and hosting what amounts to a political advertisement for free. In comparison, traditional news media attempts to tap into social networking sites for 2008 presidential coverage met with mi xed or uncertain results. Where political campaigns garnered millions of supporters, newspapers that dabbled on Facebook had


35 thousands, if that ( The New York Times had 362,000 “fans” linke d to its Facebook page in March 2009; the St. Petersburg Times just 278). The New York Times in fact, developed one of the more interesting attempts to adapt old-fashioned news writing with the possi bilities inherent in new media. It created an application on Facebook called The New York Times News Quiz, five current events questions updated daily. Users took the quiz each morning and found their score posted on their own Facebook page, compared with any friends they have who likewise took the quiz. Interesting, yes, but eff ective? It is clearly not a ma ss media news delivery vehicle yet, as the application shows onl y about 3,200 monthly active users. In another attempt at news media social networking innovation, Facebook and ABC News were partners in 2007 on a section of the social networking site called “U.S. Politics,” allowing Facebook members to receiv e information about chosen presidential primary candidates that did not run on ABC’s nightly ne wscast, as well as the opportunity to align themselves with a candi date. As Facebook executives explained in a news released in 2007: “This first-ever part nership seeks to empower voters with more information, both by bringing issues from the campaign trail to their lives in real-time and by surfacing the ideas and opinions of th e people that matter to them the most. Together, ABC News and Facebook aim to mobilize active political engagement” (Facebook, 2007). Facebook users could subscribe to the profiles of ABC News reporters embedded with presidential campaigns and were promised “up-to-the-minute news stories, blogs and photographs documenting th e behind-the-scenes action from the road directly onto Facebook” (“ABC News joins forces,” 2007). The ABC News-U.S. Politics site also contained an application that Facebook users could add to their own personal


3 6 web pages that allowed them to track their fr iends’ political prefer ences, share political information with them and “Take a position” on various issues in unscientific polling, the results of which were instantly availabl e to the Facebook user in easy-to-consume graphics. The ABC News-U.S. Politics section on Facebook was quietly retired in mid2008, after the primaries were decided, howev er, with ABC News explaining that its primary coverage infrastructure wasn’t appli cable to the general election and declining to discuss any user statistics (Weprin, 2008). Facebook likewise provided no statistics or analysis of how popular the ABC News-U.S. Po litics page was. Its U.S. Politics section became a simple set of links to existing Facebook political pages/groups. If traditional news media companies have struggled in trying to figure out how social networking could be harnessed to report or distribute news, i ndividual journalists seem to understand Facebook better. It has be come a world of virtual schmoozing and information horse-trading: …For an increasing number of people in politics it’s turned into a sort of “shadow” Washington. It’s now a place where hundreds of journalists, politicians, political operatives, think tank people, lobbyists and advocates create pages — and spend parts of their days “friending” one another, trading messages, alerting their friends to favorites news stor ies and sharing photos and even video. (Wasserman, 2008) Findings and Analysis: PolitiFact PolitiFact was founded in 2007 as a partnership of the St. Petersburg Times and


3 7 Congressional Quarterly both owned by the privately held Times Publishing Co. It uses newsroom resources (reporters, editors a nd researchers) from both publications. PolitiFact distinguishes itself as the most strident of fact -checking operations (“bolder,” in its own terms), willing to “make a call, decl aring whether a claim is True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True or False. We even ha ve a special category fo r the most ridiculous claims that we call ‘Pants on Fi re’” (“About PolitiFact,” 2008). PolitiFact stories run in both the print da ily newspaper and on the PolitiFact.com website, accompanied by a VU meter-like “Truth -O-Meter.” PolitiFact tells its readers “the Truth-O-Meter is based on th e concept that – especially in politics truth is not black and white. Depending on how much information a candidate provides, a statement can be half true or barely true without being false” (PolitiFact, 2008). It also gives a detailed de scription of its six gradie nts of truthfulness-falsity. PolitFact checks only claims that can be verified, in other words, questions of fact and not of opinion. Its editor also says that it selects its fact ch ecking subjects if the claims pique reporters’ curiosities or if the claim seems questionable. PolitiFact continued its fact checki ng beyond the 2008 elec tions, announcing on Nov. 12, 2008, that “The Truth-O-Meter is out of commission for routine maintenance, but we'll bring it back in January to fact-c heck the White House and other players in Washington.” Upon PolitiFact’s re-launch, the Truth-O-Meter had been renamed the “Obameter,” measuring the progress of 512 campaign promises that Barack Obama made. The difference between past fact-checki ng efforts at newspapers (normally done by individual reporters on their own stories, but not done in a systematic way on entire


3 8 subjects such as a political campaign) and Po litiFact was its Web 2.0 use of databases and its design in a rapid-to-develop software platform called Django. The Times’ investigative reporter/compute r-assisted journalist who designed the site, Matt Waite, wrote of PolitiFact on his own personal blog: The site is a simple, old newspaper concept that’s been fundamentally redesigned for the web. We’ve taken the political “truth squa d” story, where a reporter takes a campaign commercial or a stump speech, fact checks it and writes a story. We’ve taken that concept, blown it apart into it’s fundamental pieces, and reassembled it into a data-driven website covering the 2008 pres idential election. The whole site is inspired by Adri an Holovaty’s manifesto on the fundamental way newspaper websites need to change. Adrian’s main theme was that certain kinds of newspaper content have consistent pieces that could be better served to the reader from a database instead of a newspaper story. I built PolitiFact with that in mind. (Waite, 2007) The use of a database-driven platform allo ws the journalists to quickly and easily include several key pieces of information w ith each fact check “statement” online, including: all of the sources cited with hyperl inks to those sources for readers who want to see the primary research resources; the reporte rs, researchers and editors who produced each fact check, with each named linked to mo re information about the journalist, other fact checks he/she has done and an e-mail a ddress for contacting them; and the exact date the fact check was posted. Such linking (providi ng a de facto publishing of the original data source) is not possible in print but is an integral part of Web 2.0’s depth and


3 9 richness. The PolitiFact finding is then linked to any traditional print news stories that were based on that fact chec k, directly illustrating the fundamental difference between the print “story” and the digi tal fact check “statement.” PolitiFact’s use of a database platform also allows reader s to sort fact checks in many ways: by candidate, by i ssue or by truthfulness. PolitiFact benefits from the Web 2.0 “l ong tail,” linked to from more than 650 other websites, according to web metrics company Alexa. This is evidence that PolitiFact was spread virally (the site did little to no traditional marketing, only handing out PolitiFact T-shirts at a few political events as well as web banner ads on tampabay.com and print “house ads” in the St. Petersburg Times none of which would demonstrate enough exposure to earn that number of site links). In another nod to its Web 2.0 orientation, PolitiFact also produced a music video of its promotional rock song, “Gimme the Truth (The PolitiFact Song),” and it ga rnered more than 229,000 views on YouTube. Powered by only its viral spread through ne ws websites, political blogs, campaign websites and other digital media, PolitiFact gr ew a respectable audience. In October 2008 — at the height of political interest just before the presidential balloting — PolitiFact averaged more than 666,000 page views per week, with more than 800,000 unique visitors to its website in that month. During the 2008 pr esidential campaign, PolitiFact posted more than 750 “Truth-O-Meter” statem ents that checked on a political claim or statement. Its editor, Bill Adair, said of that number, “That is, I be lieve, the most fact checking ever done by a news organizati on in a campaign” (B. Adair, personal communication, March 4, 2009). Finally, there is the possibility of a multip lier effect from the prominent type of


4 0 fact checking that PolitiFact did. Adair (who has covered numerous presidential campaigns as a journalist) believes, anecdota lly, that more newspapers did online fact checking in some form or a nother during the 2008 election than ever before. (Adair, personal communication, 2009) The New York Times was among those news media that introduced a fact-checking elemen t. It is this collective fact checking, and not the work of any one organization, that may have impact ed public opinion about the candidates and their claims. There is (at l east) a superficial relationship between exit polling about whether the two major presidential candida tes unfairly attacked each other and the candidatesÂ’ actual truthfulness, as determined by PolitiFactÂ’s fact ch ecks (Table 2): 49 Table 2 PolitiFact Findings in the 2008 Presidential Race. John McCain Statements examined % True 31 20% Mostly true 29 18% Half true 28 18% Barely True 27 17% 62% False 35 22% Pants on fire 7 4% Total 157 Barack Obama Statements examined % True 51 31% Mostly true 33 20% Half true 35 21% Barely True 19 11% 49% False 26 16% Pants on fire 2 1% Total 166 Note. Data gathered March 2008 from www.politifact.com


41 percent of those surveyed in a CNN exit po ll said Obama unfairly attacked McCain, while PolitiFact found 49 percent of its Obama statements were rated half true or lower. For McCain, exit polling showed 64 percen t of voters thought he attacked Obama unfairly, and PolitiFact found that 62 percent of McCainÂ’s statements were half true or less (CNN, 2008). Even Adair doesnÂ’t claim cause-and-effect from PolitiFactÂ’s work alone but wonders if the spread of fact ch ecking through more and more news media is responsible for voter perceptions of political truthfulness in 2 008. It will take a great deal more scientific inquiry of vot er perceptions and the impact of fact checking upon them to declare the two linked or to establish causa lity, but the seeming relationship (or even coincidence) points the way to future research.


4 2 Chapter Three Conclusions If 2004 was dubbed “The Internet Election” (Williams and Tedesco, 2006), then 2008 surely must have been “The Web 2.0 Election.” Each of the three new media examined in this thesis showed strong characte ristics of a highly interactive, user-friendly means of delivering political messages and/or political journalism outside of traditional channels and on a very differe nt paradigm than the tradit ional “objective gatekeeper” model. So what makes these technological advances so different from past advances in political communications and political journa lism? Their relative low cost for publishing or broadcasting information, for one. Just about anybody can distribut e their version of the news or political messages all over the wo rld, at instant speed and with very little training or special abil ity. Another difference is their abil ity to recreate social networks over long distances, a vast peer-to-peer conne ction where someone’s mood and the day’s breaking news compete for th e consumer’s attention. These are not just the latest fads or a si mple evolution in political communications or political journalism. Th ey represent a fundamental shift in both politicking and covering campaigns. Old models of communica tion were one-way streets: information went from campaigns or newspapers to voters or readers. The information wasn’t open to change or addition or subtraction based on th e perceptions or information of the people


43 consuming it; letters to the editor, for exampl e, were not interactivity but a method of maintaining what was deemed as inclusivity. Old Journalism was d eclared as straightforward, objective, gatekeeping news cove rage; New Media Journalism is more subjective, more opinionated, more social, in teractive and more egalitarian in who is allowed to report “news” or give viewpoint s. It is crowd-sourced, like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. It is less about narrative and more about linkages: connecting numbers in databases with user-friendly in terfaces; linking people with common interests in social networking sites; hooking up friends of friends of friends to spread videos virally or short messages on Twitter. For traditional journalists, the attributes of New Media Journalism can be foreign or even scary. Take this example from January 2009 on Twitter, when someone sent a message to the Miami Herald’s Twitter account, “@miamiheral d your tweets are depressing.” The Herald’s non-traditional res ponse: “Some days are happier than others Tweet at 17:47 has word happy in the headline … it’s a start” (Hol y Moly, 2009). It is hard to imagine seeing that verbiage in th e newspaper’s print ed itions 10 years ago. Underlying these changes appears to be an unquenchable thirst to recreate traditional social capital that has been lost (or perceived by the public, via nostalgia, to be lost) in the postmodern, globalized world. Daily newspapers used to be part of that social capital, a one-stop source for all the news that was needed, its columnists trusted friends and valued voices. The three nightly netw ork news shows made icons out of their anchors: Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Ch et Huntley, Dan Rather, to name a few. New media news expands the village to ta ke in more voices a nd has fewer single authorities. The current and emerging new medi a technologies are enab ling the shift to an


4 4 online social networking world, but they are not driving demand for it. Consumer desire is the cause; new technologies fill that social void. We don’t have time any more to share news or a story over the back fence with the neighbor as we work longer hours or take second jobs. It is easier to check the nei ghbors’ status updates on Facebook while at work, even if that is a less authentic experience than a face-to-face conversation. So, these are important and unique developm ents in media. But while politicians, grassroots organizers and special interests were quick to embrace these technologies, the structure and mores of tradi tional news media made journa lism move slower to the growing communications opti ons. Writing a blog, for instance, calls for putting the writer’s personality front and center along w ith the information. That means a change from the faceless objectivity model that has ruled journalism for a century. Putting a reporter’s personality (and possibly even personal life) into a news blog takes a significant change in the standard op erating procedures for journalists. Journalism is falling behind in adapting to new media, especially in the area of political news coverage (it seems, in contrast to have the celebrity news aspect of new media covered much better, with untold hundred s of celeb-news sites and sources of new media information about Lindsay Lohan or Br itney Spears). While tens of millions have embraced social networking online in site s such as Facebook, it is campaigns that understand the dynamics of these networks, not political news media. Campaign pages on Facebook draw millions of supporters; political journalism (in the guise of traditional print newspapers with a Facebook page) draw at best, one-tenth that number. While some individual political journalists have made Facebook a virtual back hallways of political power — using it to stay in contac t with sources, trade knowledge with other


45 reporters and market their news stories to people who become th eir Facebook friends — news organizations have yet to tap the ability of social networking software to actually deliver the news. Social netw orking sites could provide an ideal platform and model for the next generation of general-interest da ily newspapers, which could exist in online social networking communities as the “friends” that delive r news and information from “trusted sources” in much the same way that daily print newspapers once were viewed in the mainstream United States. Social networking has provided a po werful new outlet for political communications, but it is a tough “beat” to c over, a difficult phenomenon to make sense of and too new to be ubiquitous in the vo ting-age population. As my review has shown, mainstream news media have struggled to fi nd a foothold in social networks online even as campaigns garner millions of “frie nds” who are digitall y hooked up to their information streams. News stories about poli tics in social networki ng sites tend to skew either to the novelty or likely overstate the impact. Few, if any, look at how online social connections translate to real-w orld actions, i.e. voting, or volunteering for campaigns, or undertaking political activities. In those areas where political news media are experimenting with the new technologies, it is not clear that the expe rience is enhancing j ournalism or giving consumers better, quicker information. In 2008, for instance, the traditional news media began to mimic digital political communication forms such as blogs, Twitter messages and cell-phone text messages containing news updates, among other new media. Almost by definition, some of these new forms are harming the depth of news coverage; Twitter limits its “micro-blog” message s that are sent via SMS technology to cell phones to just


4 6 140 characters per message. Not much depth there. But that new media is not about depth; it is about immediacy. In that context, Twitter could prove a viable news platform for breaking political news, leaving depth re porting as a followup matter on a different medium. But this thesis’ preliminary review of these “news tweets” finds most giving minimal, headline-like news bites with links to fuller, traditional news stories instead of using the advantages of the t echnology to, perhaps, give th e news serially, in several messages quickly as stories develop. But are Web 2.0’s new media degrading the credibility of political news and political journalists? This is a larger question than can be answered in this thesis’ content review. Certainly traditi onalists bemoan the use of new me dia at the expense of in-depth narrative or investigative journalism. Certai nly the speed of public ation required by some new media technologies has led to glaring mistakes or missing context. But there is evidence that some political journalism is adapting well to Web 2.0 capabilities. PolitiFact’s history shows that a database-driven website used to test political speech for accuracy and veracity can draw a significant reading audience and could correlate to public perceptions about candidate truthfulne ss. By using new me dia technologies and platforms, PolitiFact is filling an importan t void. Brooks Jackson, a former Associated Press, CNN and Wall Street Journal reporter who serves as the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Po litical Fact Check, said: “"The press ought to be much more a ggressive than it is. For a very long time, the press had been doing a lousy j ob of covering this main avenue of communication between a candidate and the voters. … When I first started [fact checking] ads, I was very surprised at how little pushback I was getting from


4 7 campaigns. I came to the conclusion that they were almost relieved that someone was keeping an eye on them. They'd b een rugby-without-a-referee for so long they needed somebody to step in and make them play by the rules. It's just not good when Americans go to vote that th ey do so with their heads full of disinformation that has gone unchecked by the only entity that has a special protection under the Constitution of the United States to investigate it." (Chamberlain, 2008) Even in its seeming success, PolitiFact remains susceptible to spin, both from within its own newsroom and from political operatives without. Its choices of what to fact check and what not to ar e likely more influenced than its final decisions, but if its agenda is chosen by outside fo rces (the prominence of a story or fact in mainstream media coverage, or pressure from one campai gn to check a disputed fact from another) it is still falling short of measuring candidates’ overall truthfulness accurately. Even with that limitation, PolitiFact (and some other journalistic fact -checking operations) would appear to be the closest the profession has come to a best-practices use in new media. Other Web 2.0 new media have also filled a po litical void, even if they carry lots of meaningless chatter that tend s to make serious journalists tu rn up their noses. It is hard to imagine a young, attractive woman intoning he r desire for, say, Grover Cleveland or even, more recently, George W. Bush. But in 2008 on YouTube, it made sense in terms of Barack Obama and delivered the sublimin al message to young voters that Obama “is one of us.” By the end of the campaign and into early 2009, news media such as the Associated Press began dist ributing both packaged video news stories and raw video


4 8 feeds on YouTube, clips that could be embe dded via software code into blogs and websites to extend their reach in a viral distribution. The question for political news media is: Ca n we have it all in this new era? Can we merge the ideals and mission of j ournalism in a democracy from its 20th Century zenith into a fragmented 21st Century new media, while letting go of the limitations of the previous traditional media? The changing dynami cs of politics would seem to call for a hybrid model, one that leverages all the speed, interactivity, reach and databasecapabilities of Web 2.0 while still maintaining the depth, objectivity, storytelling and professionalism of traditiona l journalism. While that seem s an unimaginable goal in the current collapse of the print journalism bus iness model and an economic recession that has seen a 20 percent drop in the journalism wo rk force in the United States, it is a hurdle that news media must clear if it wants to be relevant in the 2012 presidential elections. For Future Study This thesis is an overview of new me dia innovations in politics and political journalism and is limited in terms of its dept h as it aspires to bri ng the breadth of the topic to readers. This thesis is also lim ited in terms of theory by the lack of solid scholarly research into new digital media and social networking online. I propose a new line of research in news media, one that marries the cyberworld of Web 2.0 with the needs of democracy filled by political journalism. First and foremost, people and companies in the business of doing journalism must understand the online social networki ng model better. Websites such as Facebook and MySpace are not simply becoming digital town squares; they are becoming part of


4 9 people’s lives, a digital annex to the way they live, the pe ople they socia lize with and old friends they keep in touch with. The line between the real world and the online social network world are blurred. Media researchers need to continue to examine how social networking impacts voters’ lives, and news media researcher s must start to drill down into how social networking “news” — the pe er-to-peer information sharing that goes on in social networking websites a bout anything from politics to sex to trivial daily personal events— relates to journalistic news and, to whatever degree, is replacing the need for mainstream journalism for some people. A nd journalism researchers need to learn empirically if digital social network members want the sites only for social recreation, as some have insisted, or if they see it as a legitimate means of gathering political news and information. As for systematic political fact checking, it is still in its infancy and questions remain about its efficacy. Is fact checking “cleaning up” political speech? Do candidates who are caught lying suffer at the ballot box? What level of awareness do voters have of fact-checking efforts? Likewise, research needs to be done to examine how non-aligned media political fact checking differs from partisan fact checking that was aggressively pursued by presidential candidates’ campaigns and how the public views each in relation to the other. Only once we fully understand how lying is perceive d by the public in political terms can we best construct the id eal fact-checking operation and fully protect the public from being unfairly swayed in an election. A new political news media research agenda must reconcile cybertheories with traditional news theories that seem to best describe political media, including agendasetting and cultivation. This research agenda is crucial if we are to shrink the transition


5 0 time (which could stretch decades) from traditio nal, trusted sources of political news to the emerging new media sources so that consumers can measure and gauge for accuracy in some way. Those intervening decades of transition could prove harmful to democracy and perhaps fatal to political journalism if voters no longer tr ust or need its information. It is especially important because mainstream political media has been overwhelmingly focused for at least the past four decades on “inside baseball” and socalled horse race journalism (who’s ahead a nd who’s gaining). These are matters more important to the parties and campaigns/campaigne rs than to voters; they are stories about the mechanics of running and not the issu es important for de cision-making in a democracy. A 2000 study showed that 80 percen t of early campaign coverage discussed “tactics of the candidates a nd parties, fund raising by th e campaigns, and internal organizational problems. Only 13% of the stor ies were about the candi dates’ ideas, their honesty, or what they had done for their consti tuents while in public office” (Skewes and Plaisance, 2005, p. 142). In a Web 2.0 world, with the Internet’s “long tails” and increased interactivity, mainstream political news organizations find themselves without a monopoly on their previous roles, as do candidates’ campaigns. The lines are blurred; activists can act like campaigns and journalists; journalists can wr ite in blogs like activists or distribute political videos like campaigns; and campai gns can benefit from non-centrally directed grassroots activists’ messages — but can also be hurt by them. New media in its Web 2.0 incarnation has allowed political campaigns and voters to move seamlessly and effortlessly outside the spectrum of political journalism to receive information and messages they need or want. Political bloggers filled an


51 information void; social netw orking tools allowed campaign supporters to spread those alternative news and opinion sources to each other with ease and at practically no cost; and political journalists were left chasing those new campaign resources in an attempt to understand their meaning, role and impact, as well as mimicking the new digital media forms to try to retain (or regain) their audi ence. In the process, traditional political journalists have shown they are will to blur the standards of journalism (in blogging and tweeting) and invent new, important tools for democracy that le verage the database abilities of the Internet such as PolitiFact. In comparison with a growing swath of the public and the most sophisticated campaigns, traditional political journalists a nd news media have almost no awareness of the changes that Web 2.0 has wrought and c ould be woefully unprepared for the 2012 presidential campaigns. That election will undoubtedly see all major presidential campaigns attempt to duplicate the Obama fo rmula of online organizing and fundraising, viral distribution of messages and poweri ng connections between campaign and voters with heavy use of databases. But new innova tions are also likely. Super-fast messaging with social networks via Tw itter will spread political news and campaign organizational details. Special interests, political parties and campaigns will be more aggressive about using PolitiFact-like, databa se-driven fact-check ing operations to provide supporters and detractors their own “spin” on what is factua l and what is not. Inde pendent political news operations such as the online-only Politico will provide rival coverage to the mainstream news organizations, which due to changes in the public’s taste for printed daily newspapers and network newscasts will be forc ed to cut back further on staffing devoted to covering politics.


5 2 In this environment, political journalis ts on the campaign trail in 2012 must be well versed in not only gathering information from new media but participating on it, as well. They must be quicker, better able to multitask and more at home with new technologies than their colleagues who covered previous elections. They also must make distinctions between the kind of information they are reporting and which media is best for it: print, video, online text, interactive databases for campaign contributions, short news blasts on Twitter or putting the news into a social setting on Facebook or MySpace for some crowd-sourcing. Editors and produ cers must not only guide and edit the news but must also create new avenues for that in formation to reach consumers. Increasingly by 2012, news stories will automatically aggregat e other pertinent stories, either those running in other news media or older storie s on the same subject. The consumer will find a sort of “mini-wiki” at the bottom (or end, if video) of news coverage giving a broad supply of alternative or complementary news accounts that give context to the one they are reading or viewing. The 2012 political jour nalist must consider not only that day’s news but also the news that stretches out in to Web 2.0’s long tail, but into the past and out onto thousands of other newsgathering websites.


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