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The Impact of New Media on the Election (MIT Communication Forum)

11/13/2008 5:00 PM Bartos theater
Marc Ambinder, Associate Editor, The Atlantic ; Ian Rowe, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Public Affairs. MTV; Cyrus Krohn, eCampaign Director,Republican National Committee ; Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California;

Description: New technology may have permanently changed U.S. politics and campaigning. These panelists, who have both observed and driven this change, attest to how truly transformative the 2008 presidential election turned out to be.

Four million more 18"29 year olds voted in 2008 than in 2004, says Ian Rowe, and nearly 70% of these voted for Obama. Rowe's convinced this enormous leap in voters, and their sharp preference for one candidate, "is due to the use of new media." He credits the Obama campaign's extraordinary mastery of both message and delivery, citing a "centralized and decentralized process; the idea that everyone had part"ownership of the brand." The campaign reached young people via cellphone, Twitter, and Facebook. He notes Obama's website,, which battled scurrilous internet rumors. Users "became an ally to preserve and protect his brand," says Rowe. But none of this would have been effective if Obama had not purveyed such a "phenomenal and consistent message," which involved drawing on his audience for ideas and direction. This represents "a new kind of governance about bringing you into the process."

Marc Ambinder believes that the 2004 and 2008 campaigns were successful because "they both managed to use tried and tested old media marketing techniques and merge them with technology." While lagging in resources and technique four years ago, the Democrats this time round were fueled by Obama's massive $630 million war"chest. The end result was an email database of around 10 million people, which they put to use in social networks like Facebook. Ambinder also recalls a fascinating effort using old and new media in South Carolina, where the Obama campaign worried about gaining votes among older African" American women. Campaign staff recorded some of Michelle Obama's speeches on the subject, and sent volunteers with DVDs and VHS tapes of her talks to beauty parlors. "Volunteers spent tens of thousands of hoursloosening resistance." Then when polls opened, data warehouses on some of these voters allowed campaigners to determine who hadn't yet voted, and target them with phone calls and offers of a ride.

GOP technology guru Cyrus Krohn finds the amount of information his party has on voters kind of scary. He describes how third party data mining groups helped the Republican National Committee match information from a voter file with a voter's "public profile on a social network." This proved a "goldmine" for targeting purposes. But "technology is a commodity," says Krohn, and "it's the cachet and persona of a candidate that will drive the use of it." Krohn was "daunted by the amount of user"generated contentin support of Obama." The piece of media that created the most buzz around McCain was the video "McCain Girls," which turned out to be the product of the liberal Huffington Post. Such is the impact of technology that Krohn has found himself helping every RNC division think about how to deploy it. Anyone looking for campaign work should be proficient in C++ and Java, recommends Krohn.

About the Speaker(s): Ian V. Rowe oversees MTV's on"air and off"air "pro"social" campaigns that build awareness of issues of importance to the MTV audience, and that encourage young people to take action to address those issues. This includes Choose or Lose 2004, the campaign designed to engage and inform young people and encourage them to register and vote in the last presidential election.

In May 2005, Rowe's team launched think MTV, a new pro"social initiative that aims to inform and empower young people on the domestic and global issues that matter to them most. The think MTV section of will serve as a comprehensive online resource for young people to get more information about issues of concern and ways to get involved locally and globally.

Prior to MTV, Ian was the Director of Strategy and Performance Measurement for USA Freedom Corps at the White House, the President's initiative on volunteer service. Rowe was also founder and President of Third Millennium Media, a media consulting business. He spent two years at Teach For America and holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a degree in Computer Science Engineering from Cornell University. Marc Ambinder spent a year and a half at the Hotline, where he was the editor of "Hotline On Call," a pathbreaking political news blog. He spent four years in the ABC News Political Unit as a reporter, researcher and a field producer, and was one of the founders of ABC's "The Note." At the Atlantic, Ambinder writes an award"winning daily political blog and contributes to the magazine. He is also a contributing editor to National Journal. In late 2007, he was named chief political consultant to CBS News. He's a 2001 graduate of Harvard and lives in Washington, D.C. Cyrus Krohn previously served as director of Yahoo News. Before that he was publisher of He was also worked as a producer for CNN, and as an intern at the White House.

Krohn graduated from Lynchburg College in 1993.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Communications Forum

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MIT Communications Forum

MIT Communications Forum

Category: Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences | Updated over 2 years ago

December 19, 2011 13:15
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