posts about or somewhat related to ‘politico’

Politico: Obama’s a Media Puppet Master

Politico’s Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen came out with a longread yesterday about a rift between the Obama administration and the Washington press corp. Specifically, the issue is about access to Obama. More specifically, about how the White House has conducted few interviews with establishment media.

In Vandehei’s and Allen’s eyes, Obama is a media “puppet master” who, along with his staff, “has taken old tricks for shaping coverage (staged leaks, friendly interviews) and put them on steroids using new ones (social media, content creation, precision targeting).”

The results are transformational. With more technology, and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly. And future presidents from both parties will undoubtedly copy and expand on this approach.

The story is one of disruption. That is, disruption of an establishment press corp that feels slighted that the White House can — and does — go around them with its messaging by using social media and content marketing strategies. But there’s also a sense of entitlement permeating the piece.

For example, for all their handwringing that the president hasn’t given “an interview to print reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, POLITICO and others in years,” Vandehei and Allen point out the Obama does give frequent interviews. Matter of fact, 674 in his first term, over 500 more than George W Bush gave in his first term.

But these interviews aren’t with the right people. Instead, “they are often with network anchors or local TV stations, and rarely with the reporters who cover the White House day to day.” Reporters who, in their estimation, would ask the tough and unpredictable questions. (See Allen’s  tough and unpredictable questions for George W Bush above from his 2008 one on one interview with the president.) 

And then there’s the complaint that the administration is creating content and taking that directly to the public rather than going through press intermediaries:

Still, the most unique twist by this White House has been the government’s generating and distributing of content.

A number of these techniques were on vivid display two weekends ago, when the White House released a six-month-old photo of the president shooting skeet, buttressing his claim in a New Republic interview that he fires at clay pigeons “all the time” at Camp David…

…The government created the content (the photo), released it on its terms (Twitter) and then used Twitter again to stoke stories about conservatives who didn’t believe Obama ever shot a gun in the first place.

All of which is to say, And?

In an age where everyone’s a publisher and everyone’s a brand, it would be surprising for a presidency not to employ these tools. In fact, they follow a long, if frustrating, history of political stagecraft and media manipulation.

In “Stagecraft and Statecraft: Advance and Media Events in Political Communication”, Dan Schill writes:

There is a complicated relationship between newsmakers and the journalists that cover their activities. [Philip] Seib reviews this relationship: “The journalists try to gather information, the politicians try to shape the news. This process tends to become a struggle for control over the information. Reporters can gather plenty of newsworthy material on their own, but they also need some cooperation from the candidates and staff members. Any major campaign will offer a rich diet of media events, but real news is often in short supply.” While the relationship can be adversarial, it is largely symbiotic — what is good for the candidate is usually also what is good for the reporter. Both campaigns and the news media want a compelling narrative, compelling pictures, and large audiences… Reporters rarely deviate from the news narrative that has been established. Especially at the presidential level, politicians can control the rules of engagement and “freeze out” reporters who do not follow those rules. According to [Tim] Cook, “Reporters, dependent on presidents’ cooperation, end up prisoners in the all but hermetically sealed pressroom, reluctant to roam far from their connection to fame and fortune in the news business. Instead of encouraging innovation and enterprise, the White House breeds concern among reporters about missing out on the story that everyone else is chasing.” Members of the news media should recognize this relationship and understand the factors that allow newsmakers to exploit this relationship, control the news agenda, and receive favorable coverage.

Go back to Timothy Crouse’s 1972 book, “Boys on the Bus,” about that year’s presidential campaign and reporters are complaining about “media events” and message control.

Or fast forward to the Reagan years and press complaints about Reagan’s mastery of political television and the importance of image over substance and you have, largely, the same phenomenon. It’s just different technology these days.

This isn’t to suggest that sit downs with the president aren’t important. They most certainly are. But the tug and pull between administrations and journalists is well known and well understood. It’s the journalist’s job to inform the public and if the only way they can do that is to get the coveted presidential interview they’re not doing that job well.  

To blame techniques such as social outreach and content creation by non-media actors is to cling to a traditional information flow that media modernity has long eclipsed.

We’re well into a new day and a new age. Instead of griping about it, change your tactics. There’s a whole lot of important reporting to do. — Michael

Related, Part 01: The Seven Secrets of Political Theater.

Related, Part 02The Staging of a Photo-Op.

Images: Selected questions by Politico’s Mike Allen during his 2008 interview with George W. Bush, as posted to Twitter by Gawker’s John Cook. Complete interview transcript via Politico. Select to embiggen.

This 2,990-word story, titled “The New ‘No Comment’: F—- Off,” is the definitive investigation into why, when, how, and with what frequency everyone tells Politico reporters to “fuck off.” Of the many, many preexisting questions we had about this topic—Does “the rise of social media like Twitter and Facebook” enhance the ways people tell Politico reporters to “fuck off”? Is this new, fast-paced Washington culture to blame for the rise in people telling Politico reporters to “fuck off”? Is it essentially Obama’s fault that people are telling Politico reporters to “fuck off”?—this piece answered all of them.

BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith on Cats and Scoops

Digiday interviews Ben Smith, former Politico star and newly appointed Buzzfeed editor-in-chief. Read the entire interview at Digiday.

What is a social news organization, and how does it differ from how other news organizations function? You can’t assume that people are going to come to your site and explore all of your verticals. You need to be comprehensive. We are trying to create things that will be new to people. We don’t need to do other versions of other stories that are out there. We try to keep it original. We’re not going to waste our time rewriting or reporting big stuff that is covered everywhere else. I think those are the waters that most reporters are swimming in now — everyone wants to be writing original content. It’s hard to get the new reporters to adjust to putting out 10 original cat photos everyday though. You know I’m joking, right?

What does it mean to write for the social Web, and how can publishers compete when there is so much noise on social channels like Twitter? It’s a couple of different things. All of the parts of the social Web are very different. For Twitter you want scoops and new stuff. But in general it’s about producing stuff that people want to share. And really there is no secret formula to that. Jonah has been experimenting and playing around with this for years, so he knows better than anyone. Then there are certain things that are search-driven, too, like something like a “Britney Spears Naked” story that someone might search but wouldn’t want to post to their Facebook. It’s not a zero-sum game. Publishers can do well by producing great stuff. But that doesn’t mean you are going to dominate everyone.

Can Facebook Tell Us Anything About Voter Sentiment?
Politico and Facebook are teaming to analyze users’ views of candidates in the Republican primaries. Sounds interesting, but is what’s being measured — sentiment — a useful indicator of voter intent without follow-up questions?
First, via Facebook: 

Facebook will compile mentions of the candidates in U.S. users’ posts and comments as well as assess positive and negative sentiments expressed about them. Facebook’s data team will use automated software tools frequently used by researchers to infer sentiment from text.

But measuring sentiment might not tell political junkies much. TechPresident’s Micah Sifry thinks it a neat parlor trick but largely bogus as a valuable indicator.
Via TechPresident:

Here’s the issue: Counting the number of times a candidate’s name is mentioned on social media and noting what words appear alongside those mentions can illuminate broad trends. You can report that “more people talked about Candidate X today” and “Y percent of that group used word ZZZZ in their comment.” But you can’t make any kind of meaningful judgment about what those people intended by that usage without asking them.
Someone who writes “I’m so happy that Newt Gingrich is staying in the race” might be a genuine Gingrich fan, or they might be someone who hates him, but likes that he’s staying in the race because he’s entertaining, or because they think he’s hurting the Republican field. But “sentiment analysis” is still such an embryonic field that serious researchers tend to avoid any hard claims about whether such a statement is positive, negative or neither.

TechPresident’s critique runs much more sophisticated than what we post here so give it a read before following every rise and fall of voter sentiment.
Image: Negative Facebook Mentions by Candidate, December 13 to January 10, via Facebook.
H/T: @lorakolodny.

Can Facebook Tell Us Anything About Voter Sentiment?

Politico and Facebook are teaming to analyze users’ views of candidates in the Republican primaries. Sounds interesting, but is what’s being measured — sentiment — a useful indicator of voter intent without follow-up questions?

First, via Facebook

Facebook will compile mentions of the candidates in U.S. users’ posts and comments as well as assess positive and negative sentiments expressed about them. Facebook’s data team will use automated software tools frequently used by researchers to infer sentiment from text.

But measuring sentiment might not tell political junkies much. TechPresident’s Micah Sifry thinks it a neat parlor trick but largely bogus as a valuable indicator.

Via TechPresident:

Here’s the issue: Counting the number of times a candidate’s name is mentioned on social media and noting what words appear alongside those mentions can illuminate broad trends. You can report that “more people talked about Candidate X today” and “Y percent of that group used word ZZZZ in their comment.” But you can’t make any kind of meaningful judgment about what those people intended by that usage without asking them.

Someone who writes “I’m so happy that Newt Gingrich is staying in the race” might be a genuine Gingrich fan, or they might be someone who hates him, but likes that he’s staying in the race because he’s entertaining, or because they think he’s hurting the Republican field. But “sentiment analysis” is still such an embryonic field that serious researchers tend to avoid any hard claims about whether such a statement is positive, negative or neither.

TechPresident’s critique runs much more sophisticated than what we post here so give it a read before following every rise and fall of voter sentiment.

Image: Negative Facebook Mentions by Candidate, December 13 to January 10, via Facebook.

H/T: @lorakolodny.