Democracy Downloaded

McCain is off and running (again)

Posted by joevoeller on April 26, 2007

After teasing his announcement several weeks ago on David Letterman, John McCain formally announced his candidacy for president today. More precisely, he announced the beginning of his five-state “announcement tour.” Did anyone not know this man was running?

What’s interesting is that the “tour” is less of an announcement than a chance to kick-start his campaign, which has suffered in recent weeks. (Remember the Baghdad market fiasco?)

So here we are, months and months before the New Hampshire primary, and a major campaign is already re-tooling its strategy and attempting to regain (or perhaps just gain) its momentum and message.

In a somewhat strained attempt to connect all this to McCain’s website, I wanted to point out the emergence of the familiar red,white and blue color scheme that has been happening on his site. In a previous post, I noted that the McCain site was unusally black and grey. Today it is still dominated by those colors, but you can’t deny the new splashes of blue and red and the color photos of Old Glory.

Looks like this might be a new John McCain after all, even on the Web.


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Politics, Blogs and France

Posted by joevoeller on April 22, 2007

Today the first round of France’s presidential elections were held, with Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal emerging as the winners, and its clear that political blogging is certainly not limited to the USA. 

Anne Cantener has this interesting post on the Guardian’s website about the role of blogs in the French election.

Interestingly, some French bloggers have used popular anti-Bush web videos as inspiration for new videos that take on Sarkozy, the conservative candidate.  Sarkozy’s team, however, has acted quickly to balance things out, posting “clever” videos that paint their candidate in a more flattering light.    

Cantener ends her post by observing that most of the bloggers and Internet users in France are elite white males – the same class that has dominated politics there for centuries.

But I’m not willing to dismiss the significance of this trend quite so easily. While blogs may or may not retain their influence, the internet and digital media are here to stay. And with each election they play a greater and greater role. I would argue that this gives more people more access more often, resulting in a net gain in “participation” (broadly defined) in the political system.

All of this could hold special promise and potential for the future of France, which has struggled lately with minority populations who feel out of touch with mainstream France. Perhaps digital media can act as a mechanism to give these groups greater voice in French society.  

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Imus’s loss is Hillary’s Gain?

Posted by joevoeller on April 13, 2007

I checked in on Hillary’s campaign Web site today and found a huge picture of the Rutger’s women’s basketball team.

It turns out Hillary is personally inviting all of us to send a message of support to the team. Users are asked to fill out a form and send a “message of respect to the Scarlet Nights.”

Importantly, they are also invited to check a box to receive regular updates on Hillary’s campaign. Ah, so now it’s clear why the campaign is so concerned. Turns out this is a great way to tap into the anger over Imus to build support for the campaign.

But it’s hard to argue with the strategy, especially since she is only using the contact information if people volunteer to receive additional updates.

This is different from a recent flap with the Edwards campaign, in which people who sent well wishes to Elizabeth Edwards were promptly sent a fund-raising solicitation. Talk about poor taste.  

Still, I can’t help but be a little turned off by this latest Hillary tactic. Where do the messages actually end up? It just seems too obvious that this simply a blatant way to take advantage of the incident. Are they really concerned about the Rutgers women? And is sending a note via Hillary Clinton’s campaign site the best way to express outrage over Imus’s remarks? 


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Bloggers’ Code of Ethics

Posted by joevoeller on April 11, 2007

I can’t ignore this front-page story from yesterday’s New York Times about efforts to create guidelines and seals of approval to help govern the blog world. The goal, according to the article, is to “clean up the quality of online discourse.”

All of this just seems to show that the blogosphere is growing up. I am sure that talk of “seals of approval” would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. But with millions of blogs and an influx of nasty comments by anonymous posters, something had to give.

Interestingly, some of the old-fashioned rules of journalism might also be emerging victoriously from underneath the blog buzz. (For example, the article states that some are now asking bloggers to pledge to get a minimum of two sources to verify a story.)

But my biggest question is one of enforcement. It makes sense to ensure that any new certification system is based on an “opt-in” format. But what happens if a blogger does opt in and gets a seal of approval, but then violates the code?  Can they be held accountable? If so, how?

Or what if some bloggers challenge a blog’s ceritfication simply because they don’t agree with the content? Its not clear to me who the ultimate “decider” would be in these disputes, to borrow a word from our president.

All of these questions will be answered over time. Ironically, the history of “old-fashioned” journalism might hold some interesting clues for the future of blogs. 

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“Wisdom of Crowds Hits the Campaign Trail”

Posted by joevoeller on March 27, 2007

Ariana Huffington and NYU professor Jay Rosen announced today that they are teaming up on an interesting new project that will assign upwards of 50 volunteer bloggers to cover each of the major presidential candidates.

See this link.

Huntington and Rosen believe that this “bottom up” approach will serve as a “counter-narrative to the lockstep consensus we often get from the mainstream media.” The Huffington Post is currently taking applications for interested volunteers, though the selection criteria are not exactly clear. (Will they try to weed out conservative volunteers? How?)

The announcement also cites author James Surowiecki, whose recent book The Wisdom of Crowds argued that “given the right circumstances, large groups of people are smarter than the elite few.”  

I continue to be impressed with Ariana Huffington. After flailing around for several years as a desperate-for-attention television pundit, she has consistently scored with her blog The Huffington Post. This is the just the latest in a series of interesting projects and provacative approaches that makes The Huffington Post a leader in the blogosphere.

And I can only imagine how the candidates are receiving this news. Presidential candidates have always had to be extremely careful, but imagine how much more careful they will need to be now that a ravenous herd of bloggers will be following their every move, desperate for an interesting story and less inhibited by traditional journalistic rules.

Look for these bloggers to bring some interesting new stories to the attention of the national media over the course of the campaign.  

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“Just don’t get too full of yourselves.”

Posted by joevoeller on March 25, 2007

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page responds to the rise of bloggers and new media in his latest syndicated column.

Not a whole not new here, but a worthwhile read considering Page’s perch as a respected left-of-center media figure. While I agree with many of his points, I am struck at how reactionary and conservativesome journalist sound when they are addressing the blogosphere.  

Of the recent Hillary attack ad sensation, Page asks “was anyone’s mind changed by it?” and compares it to “an electronic version of an editorial cartoon.” Sure, but aren’t all good political messages like a version of an editorial cartoon? Isn’t that the point — summarizing your argument in a pithy and entertaining way that gets attention? And the fact that millions chose to view this particular “ad”and to send a link to friends is certainly a new development for presidential political campaigns. To pretend that it isn’t seems akin to keeping your head in the sand.  Page sounds threatened.

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Fred Thompson as GOP Alternative

Posted by joevoeller on March 21, 2007


One popular theme in the news recently is the sense of angst among a significant number of conservatives over the 2008 presidential campaign. It seems that none of the front-runners has captured the excitement of Republicans. And some have proven especially hard to swallow for social conservatives (read John McCain and Rudy Giuliani).

Enter Fred Thompson. A strange buzz has been palpable over the last few weeks for the former Senator and ‘Law and Order’ actor. With help from the media, who are apparently bored with the candidates of an election still twenty months off, Thompson has suddenly emerged as the Republican alternative. Thompson is depicted as a man with solid government credentials who attracts both conservative and moderate Republicans.

But of course Thompson is merely hinting that he might be interested in a possible candidacy. So any formal presence on the blogs or Internet is out of the question. Still, I wondered how this buzz might be surfacing on the Internet.

It didn’t take long to find  And it’s pretty impressive. The site, which seems to have been launched about two months ago, is a one-stop-shop for all news related to Thompson. It is not fancy and has an appropriately grass-roots feel. Visitors will find biographical information, voting records, and messages of support from prominent political types.

Importantly, it also encourages messages from regular folks. As of today, over 1,300 messages have been posted to the site, many of which read like this one:

 “I am one American who sincerely hopes you accept this calling.  It won’t be easy.  It won’t be nice.  But your character will be acknowledged and we all know that character really does count.
Best wishes and Good luck…”

Like any political site, this one is a little bit hokey. But all in all, it seems like a good way to take immediate advantage of political buzz, and to extend that excitement to the conservative netroots.

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58% have never visited a political blog

Posted by joevoeller on March 20, 2007

Buried in the results of last week’s New York Times/CBS News poll were some interesting findings about political blogs. A full 58% percent of adults surveyed said they “never” visited political blogs. 24% visit them rarely and 14% percent drop by occasionally. A paltry 4% visit political blogs frequently.

The poll also found that men are more interested in political blogs than women. (50% of men said they visit political blogs, compared to 34% of women.) I thought this was a bit surprising, especially because there are so many talented female political bloggers. 

I found these statistics to be somewhat sobering. Next time I talk about all the political blog hype, I will try to remember that over half of U.S. adults have never even visited a single political blog.

Campaigns obviously know this too. Even in 2008, it appears that there is no substitute for some good old fashioned door-to-door canvassing.

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The ‘Most Stunning Attack Ad’ Ever

Posted by joevoeller on March 19, 2007


I can’t get over this new anti-Hillary attack ad. Borrowing heavily from the famous “1984” Apple computer ad, this anonymously-posted video takes a strikingly creative swing against the Senator and her campaign.

Whatever you think of Hillary, it’s hard not to notice the ad’s effectiveness. It brilliantly removes the all the color and warmth that her campaign has been trying so hard to illuminate. 

And it provokes a visceral reaction among viewers. To some progressives, her campaign — and its achingly choreographed “chats” — have sometimes projected a sense of crushing inevitability. I bet those progressives are sending this ad around to their friends today, marveling at the creativity and gossiping about its creator.  

To some conservatives, Hillary has always been the Great Threat – a power-hungry woman with a liberal ax to grind.  You better believe they are sending it around today too. 

All of which makes the appearance of this ad the latest Digital Media Moment of the young 2008 campaign. Its worth remembering that, without the Internet, this ad and all it’s surrounding hoopla wouldn’t have even been possible. The Internet allows for anonymous posting, it increases the speed and depth of the ad’s impact, and it provides an easy platform for others to try their luck at creating similar videos. It will be interesting to see how Hillary’s campaign reacts to all of this (behind the scenes, of course).  


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Boston’s Blog Commentator

Posted by joevoeller on March 8, 2007

In yet another sign of our “new digital age,” a popular Boston media critic has announced that he will produce two weekly commentaries devoted solely to “new media.”

The Boston Globe’s Clea Simon reports that commentary from John Carroll, an assistant professor of mass communications at Boston University, will now be aired twice a week on WGBH-FM (89.7).

Of course many different media critics and columnists are already talking about new media. But this announcement seems significant in that Carroll will only be talking about new media.

And he’s careful to point out that new media is not limited to blogs. Per Simon, Caroll “lists vlogs (video blogs), mobisodes (videos distributed directly to cellphones), and video-sharing sites as examples of the way people are getting their news, entertainment, and political commentary these days.”

Carroll’s first commentary sounds interesting: he’ll take a critical look at the Save Darfur campaign, which combined print ads and a strong Web presence. His initial conclusion is that the campaign was good at organizing a bunch of disparate groups around a single cause, but bad at influencing legislators. 

Anyway, I wonder if Carroll’s new commentary is less a sign of the future than a sign of the “middle road” we find ourselves in today. One day we won’t need “new media” and “old media” critics. Aren’t we moving toward a world where all media are delivered via a single platform?    

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