Campus & Community

Panel discusses role of new media in campaign politics

David Weigel, a political reporter for Slate magazine and MSNBC, was part of a panel discussion on new media and campaign politics. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Can a presidential candidate tweet his way to victory?

Not yet, maybe, but it’s undeniable that social media and social networking have altered the way political campaigns are conducted and covered by the press. “New Media Influence on Campaign Politics,” a May 11 panel discussion at the University of Denver, brought together media and political experts to debate the effects of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other new media on presidential and other campaigns.

“The way Twitter and social networks influence the news cycle is absolutely positive,” said David Weigel, a political reporter for Slate magazine and MSNBC. “There is more coverage of politics and presidential campaigns than there ever was, and there are little tidbits that would have been lost or not mentioned that are shared in real time—anecdotes, a quote somebody said on the trail or in a hearing. Because people don’t have infinite time to read this, there’s something they can immediately see.”

Another panelist, political consultant Brent Blackaby, discussed life “on the other side of the wall,” using social media within political campaigns to raise funds and awareness about candidates and their positions. He stressed that social media is but one tool in a campaign’s toolbox, and that email and other methods of communication are equally important.

“One thing campaigns wrestle with,” he said, “is the real tension between the need for message discipline—top-down message of the day: ‘What is it we want people to know about Mitt Romney today?’— and the chaotic, grassroots-drive nature of the social-media process, which they cannot control.”

Other panelists included Jay Newton-Small, a congressional correspondent for Time magazine, and Dorian Warren, an assistant professor of political science at Columbia University. Warren pointed to the role of social media in the Occupy Wall Street movement and in the case of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Both stories, he said, were being talked about on blogs and social media long before they hit the mainstream press.

Another advantage to social media, Warren said, is the access and interactivity it offers among reporters and readers.

“There’s the ability to actually have a conversation about what you’re reading on Twitter,” he said. “People who are authoring things often respond to folks that have read it. You can’t imagine that kind of interaction vis-a-vis TV or even radio. There’s an interesting conversation that can unfold on social media that could not have happened otherwise.”

The panel was moderated by Seth Masket and Peter Hanson, both assistant professors in DU’s political science department.

This event was part of the Presidential Debate Event Series leading up to the presidential debate at DU on Oct. 3. Visit the debate website for a full lineup of events and more information about the debate.





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