Running for President? No Press Conference Necessary

Forget press conferences. For the 2008 presidential race, several of the big announcements are bypassing news organizations and going direct to the public, via the Web.

For instance: As anticipated, today Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her presidential candidacy — on her Web site, via video.

Similarly, Senator Barack Obama (who has been podcasting for several months) announced his candidacy by video on his site. And earlier, Tidbits’ Peter Zollman reported that John Edwards announced his presidential bid on YouTube.

In Clinton’s folksy video announcement, she said: “Let’s talk, let’s chat, let’s start a dialogue about your ideas and mine. Because the conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don’t you think? And we can all see how well that works. While I can’t visit everyone’s living room, I can try. And with a little help from modern technology, I’ll be holding live online video chats this week, starting Monday. So let the conversation begin. I have a feeling it’s going to be very interesting.”

Clinton’s candidacy site also will launch a blog. Interestingly, right now anyone can submit a “guest post” — although the site doesn’t say how postings will be selected and used, and how or whether Clinton will respond. I submitted a question for Clinton just to see how this process works. It’ll be interesting to watch.

Like several politicians, Clinton has latched onto a key concept, I think: conversational media. While political races will undoubtedly remain heavily focused on “messaging,” today’s engaged citizens expect to be part of a genuine conversation — not only among themselves, but with candidates, pundits, and the mainstream media.

Similarly, I expect that news organizations which learn how to support and engage in constructive, direct public conversation about the upcoming presidential race will benefit from increased audience numbers, loyalty, and influence.

As I see it, the upcoming presidential race represents a huge opportunity for news organizations to break away from the tired model of horserace-style, numbers-focused, press-event-driven coverage. Only rabid political junkies enjoy that approach anyway; most of the rest of us find it sorely lacking, and even detrimental.

Now is the time to start experimenting with public discussion strategies that matter. It takes time and practice to foster organic, constructive discussion. You can’t just whip it together. Think beyond town hall meetings and man-in-the-street interviews. Consider leveraging existing discussions and forums online. Find the high-quality conversations, and highlight and contribute to them — whether in blogs, discussion groups, wikis, social media, or elsewhere.

Loosen the reins of control a bit. Try letting your community drive this discussion and guide your coverage efforts. Use your journalistic expertise to highlight quality discussions and keep the content meaningful and constructive. This approach might ultimately prove more engaging and effective (and perhaps easier and less costly) for news organizations and their communities alike.

…OK, if that sounds too radical, then my next Tidbit offers another option.

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