By SAIRA SUMBAL
So you’re an undecided voter for the presidential 2012 election. And as this election year has progressed, you have been exposed to a plethora of advertisements. You know, the advertisements that usually end with “I’m X candidate, and I approve this message.”
Whether it is advertisements on websites, through an e-mail, or via your Facebook news feed, the fact of the matter is that political candidates now have various avenues to reach you — thanks to the digital revolution, of course. In fact, I would argue that having an effective digital strategy within your political campaign is central to successfully winning an election.
So what does the increased use of new media by political candidates mean for a journalist? Some might not make the connection immediately, but there are some ways that journalists can leverage social media as a means to effectively do what we do: report the news.
If we’re all striving, in some very specific or abstract manner to provide the public with information that is pertinent to their interests (while also trying to make a living), than the more forms of messaging that we have, helps us to better critique political campaigns. Even if you’re not an avid news consumer, you can probably recall times when you have heard news programs or newspapers (more in news programs), refer to a political candidate “tweet” or Facebook activity.
Whether the political candidate does their own personal “tweets,” or “posts,” new media shows a different side of politicians and can create a direct interaction with the public official and the constituent. The Romney campaign exemplified this when they made the decision to announce Paul Ryan as a vice presidential pick via a smartphone application early August.
During the time of our nation’s founding, the political culture was such that politicians knew their constituencies on a personal level – literally. Politicians would go door to door during an election, and it was not unusual for a constituent to have met that politician personally. Today, new media could be the new platform to which constituencies can interact with candidates. In fact, President Obama is taking it to another level with Reddit. And today, new media can be a more personal way journalists can conduct their information gathering – allowing for another platform to ensure that we keep politicians accountable.
Public officials have to make sure to be careful about what they say, because upon a post being published, it will exist forever (even if they do try to delete it). Constituencies on the other hand, get to learn more about a prospective candidate in an interactive way, and thus are better educated about their platforms.
And as for us journalists, we gain another opportunity to uphold transparency and keep political candidates accountable. We have to be aware of the activity of political candidates because that’s a part of how our largest constituency, our readers consume information. And at best, it can promote a stronger democratic society.