Obamanet’s a model for journalism


News organizations can learn a thing or two from the Obama campaign’s Web strategy — about community-building and creating a place for members of a community to meet, organize and take action. That’s not the role of journalism, you say? Bear with me.

First a few intriguing facts about Obamanet. In the Washington Post, Shailagh Murray and Matthew Mosk pointed out that the campaign:

–has an email list of 10 million people who gave money, who were part of or connected to the millions more volunteers who organized rallies and registered voters.

— employed 95 people in its Internet operation. [rejurno: That could drive a healthy mid-size news organization.]

In the NYTimes, Claire Cain Miller attended Web 2.0 Summit 2008 last week where Joe Trippi mention that the YouTube videos created by the Obama campaign were watched for 14.5 million hours. Trippi is a political consultant who ran Howard Dean’s political campaign in 2004.

From Sarah Lai Stirland in Wired.com:

Volunteers used Obama’s website to organize a thousand phone-banking events in the last week of the race — and 150,000 other campaign-related events over the course of the campaign. Supporters created more than 35,000 groups clumped by affinities like geographical proximity and shared pop-cultural interests.

The social networking part of the site — myBarackObama.com — was organized by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

As the presidential race heated up, the internet grew from being the medium of a core group of political junkies to a gateway for millions of ordinary Americans to participate in the political process, donating odd amounts of their spare time to their candidate through online campaign tools. Obama’s campaign carefully designed its web site to maximize group collaboration, while at the same time giving individual volunteers tasks they could follow on their own schedules.

Obama supporters didn’t wait for campaign headquarters to tell them what to do. They created Web sites, videos for YouTube, and even an iPhone and iTouch app. The Obama sites themselves were always morphing, growing, splitting off, adapting as the campaign evolved and grew.

So, what does all this have to do with journalism? As we move away from we-talk-you-listen into Webworld, news organizations must adapt to the characteristics, to the nature of this medium, or die. The Web’s more complex that print, TV or radio, but it’s not that difficult to understand.

The Web is solution-oriented, interactive, participatory, contextual, immediate, mostly visual, nonlinear, continuous and very personal. The Obama campaign got ALL of that, mainly because it had Joe Rospars and Hughes, and a room full of others who understand the medium. They created a social/news/information network that they fed with information and stories, but the engine that drove it was those millions of people who were working toward their solution: electing Obama.

Newspapers of olde did the same, in their own way. A person who started a newspaper in a community actually created a place for all the community’s news, not just for news gathered by reporters. That community news and information included the news in ads from businesses and services; turning-point news submitted by members of the community– deaths, marriages, graduations, births; legal notices; shipping news; police logs; court calendars; entertainment, humor, etc. The stories that reporters wrote were a small part of a greater whole. And, on many days, many people thought the news from the grocery store (half-off coupon for milk) was of greater value than what was on the front page. The engine that drove a newspaper was its community.

Today’s journalists — for decades separated from their advertising, marketing, circulation, classifieds and subscription departments — have been lulled into thinking that their stories are enough. They aren’t, and they never were.

On the Web, smart journalists create a place for their community:

  • where its members can collaborate to solve a problem (reduce local violence, increase local breast cancer survival, make the streets safer for bicyclists, etc.),
  • where its members can buy and sell relevant services and goods (bicycles, health clinics, etc.),
  • that’s connected to the rest of the Social Network Universe (YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, etc.),
  • where journalists carry out their traditional role of serving their communities as fact-checkers, watchdogs and trusted sources.

Some journalists already have (more about them in a later post). It just ain’t rocket science.


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