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Blog Post for Feb. 27th

If you google “New Media” a small display pops up with a simple definition for the term. The definition comes from the newmedia.org, and goes as follows, “New media is a 21st Century catchall term used to define all that is related to the internet.” That sounds so… so straightforward, except for that part about it being anything related to the internet.

In 2008, Barack Obama created a New Media Division as part of his presidential campaign. This division was largely made up of knowledgeable individuals from the technology industry, employees from Silicon Valley firms like Google and Facebook, as well as software engineers and digital strategists. Part of the job detail for this division included crafting a plan to shape and affect the media coverage of the Obama campaign. The division sought to do this in part by cultivating ties with and to the netroots movement.

Daniel Kreiss, associate professor in the School of Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, writes about the netroots movement and the Obama campaign in “Acting in the Public Sphere: The 2008 Obama Campaign’s Strategic Use of New Media to Shape Narratives of the Presidential Race. Kreiss defines netroots as a, “heterogeneous group of activists gathering online who see themselves involved in a common political enterprise to reshape the Democratic Party.” They are political activists who decided to take back their voice within the party, an intra-party social movement. Kreiss explains that the netroots movement came about to push Democratic politicians to be more confrontational of Republicans, critique the party’s platform, and have tangible influence in the Democratic Party.

Political parties exist to win elections. They are collective action organizations. The United States political process has fostered the existence of two major political parties since nearly its beginning. In modern American politics, a growing number of new actors, institutions and organizations play both inner and outer roles in shaping political parties. Since 2001, a one of the growing actors in the Democratic Party has been political bloggers. These blogs are loosely combined under the umbrella of the loosely coordinated netroots movement, and include sites like the DailyKos, Talking Points Memo, and Think Progress.

Kreiss’ case study is not on the effectiveness of netroots, but the increasingly central role they play in party politics, and how the 2008 Obama campaign was able to strategically handle and work with leading political blogs and their communities for political gains. The campaign skillfully used of both new and old communication strategies to build a symbiotic relationship with influential activists.

Perhaps because I am also a political science major, and many political science classes focus on evaluating strategies, movements and candidates, I am interested in the tangible success of netroots to impact both campaigns and media coverage.

To evaluate a company, a fundraiser, and election- anything- there are two important factors. To evaluate, it is imperative to know the goal(s) of an organization, and their level of success. Again, political parties exist to win elections. In theory, those in charge are the ones who make policy in our political system (unless you are a member of the current or previous sessions of Congress.) It is easy to evaluate the Obama campaign as a whole. The goal of their campaign was to win office and Obama did so. Evaluating the netroots movement is more difficult.

The goals of netroots movement are not congruent among each activist and blog, and their success is difficult to measure because Kreiss’ case study is not an effort to quantitatively or qualitatively prove the success of netroots. His study is about the interaction of campaigns, movements, and media (both new and old) to produce political discourse.

For their efforts, Kreiss does argue that netroots were able to shake the Democratic Party. Netroots helped place Howard Dean in place as the chair of the Democratic National Committee, crucial to the direction of the party. Netroots in 2008, often in alliance with the Obama campaign, also helped shape traditional media’s narrative surrounding Barack Obama and the 2008 Presidential election. Further, the political activists and their blogs associated with the netroots movement did push the party to reevaluate its national strategy concerning districts previously forgotten.

Looking beyond the 2008 Presidential election to the long-term effects of the netroots movement, I wonder if the political blogs of the netroots movement are now (in 2015) better or worse at driving media coverage on the national scale. The Obama campaign notes that coverage by the Associated Press and on the nightly news programs of ABC, CBS, and NBC were the holy grail of message dissemination. A quantitative study of leading news stories from DailyKos and others and coverage from the AP and nightly news programs would be help assess their success.

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