So­cial me­di­a­tion: Politi­cians avoid press, con­trol mes­sage

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SPRING­FIELD: To de­liver his first ex­ten­sive re­marks on the con­tentious Dakota Ac­cess oil pipeline, all the new North Dakota gover­nor needed was a cam­era and a Face­book ac­count. The sim­plic­ity of the setup spared Repub­li­can Gov Doug Bur­gum from hav­ing to an­swer ques­tions from re­porters on Thurs­day and al­lowed him to con­vey his thoughts un­fil­tered and un­chal­lenged by the press.

It’s a strat­egy that’s been used for a while by gov­er­nors, state law­mak­ers and other elected of­fi­cials in more tech-savvy states and be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar among new-to-pol­i­tics of­fice­hold­ers, such as Bur­gum, Illi­nois Repub­li­can Gov. Bruce Rauner and, of course, Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump, who heav­ily re­lies on Twit­ter to share his thoughts.

By mak­ing so­cial me­dia plat­forms the first stop to an­nounce or re­act to events in a con­trolled set­ting, the politi­cians are by­pass­ing the press - who would call into ques­tion as­ser­tions made at news con­fer­ences - and tak­ing their mes­sage to where their au­di­ence is most likely to be en­gaged. “Politi­cians are al­ways try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate with po­ten­tial vot­ers. They want to get a mes­sage out and they want to tell the story the way they want to tell it,” said Christopher Mooney, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Govern­ment and Pub­lic Af­fairs at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois.

This week, Demo­cratic US Rep. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham an­nounced her run for New Mex­ico gover­nor in a YouTube video. In Utah, Repub­li­can Gov. Gary Her­bert de­clared on Twit­ter he was pulling his sup­port for Trump af­ter a video sur­faced in October of the busi­ness­man mak­ing lewd re­marks about women. Some House Repub­li­cans in Colorado film a YouTube mes­sage ev­ery week dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­cause “we can’t be sure how it will be cov­ered,” House GOP spokesman Joel Malecka said.

Rauner, a former ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist who hadn’t served in an elected po­si­tion be­fore Jan­uary 2015, usu­ally takes ques­tions from re­porters af­ter news con­fer­ences. Recently, he be­gan host­ing Face­book Live events, typ­i­cally draw­ing about 500 view­ers who lis­ten to his an­swers to screened ques­tions about poli­cies he’s ad­vo­cat­ing for dur­ing his 18months-and-run­ning bud­get strug­gle with Democrats.

Weak­en­ing tra­di­tional me­dia

“As the world con­tin­ues to en­gage and con­nect on so­cial me­dia, it’s im­por­tant to the gover­nor to in­ter­act di­rectly with peo­ple in Illi­nois to ex­plain how he is work­ing to cre­ate jobs, lower prop­erty taxes, im­prove schools and en­act term lim­its,” spokes­woman Cather­ine Kelly said in a state­ment. A July re­port from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter on Jour­nal­ism and Me­dia found that 44 per­cent of US adults said so­cial me­dia was the plat­form that in­formed them of events in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion dur­ing a week in Jan­uary. About 29 per­cent said they re­lied on a lo­cal print news­pa­per.

“(So­cial me­dia has) weak­ened the hand of tra­di­tional me­dia in many senses. ... Can­di­dates had to give ac­cess, they had to give in­ter­views, they had to be hos­pitable to re­porters,” said Tom Hol­li­han, pro­fes­sor of me­dia and pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s An­nen­berg School for Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Jour­nal­ism. “Nowa­days,” he added, “the Trump cam­paign has chal­lenged very pow­er­ful news or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Wash­ing­ton Post.”

For decades, most pres­i­dents-elect have held a news con­fer­ence within days of the elec­tion, which dif­fer from one-onone in­ter­views, be­cause the pres­i­den­t­elect must field ques­tions from a broader range of jour­nal­ists. Trump has not held a news con­fer­ence for more than 140 days the long­est stretch by a pres­i­dent-elect in re­cent mem­ory, ac­cord­ing to a run­ning tally from Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio. Dur­ing that time, he’s sent nearly 1,500 tweets by NPR’s count, and care­fully grants one-onone in­ter­views. And it’s not un­usual for pres­i­dents to cham­pion a di­rect-to-vot­ers ap­proach: Pres­i­dent Franklin D Roo­sevelt gave in­ti­mate ra­dio ad­dresses called “Fire­side Chats,” and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama posts weekly video ad­dresses on the White House web­site.

Bur­gum also is new to the po­lit­i­cal arena, hav­ing spent most of his life as a com­puter soft­ware ex­ec­u­tive turned phi­lan­thropist. His “first-day mes­sage” Face­book video, which had 13,000 views by Fri­day af­ter­noon, came hours af­ter he had thrown open his first Cabi­net meet­ing to re­porters for 15 min­utes - and then ush­ered them out with­out tak­ing ques­tions. The “me­dia have been the in­ter­preters” of politi­cians’ sto­ries, Mooney said, but now, “There’s no chal­lenge to their story. The story is straight out of their mouths.”

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