Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Why newspapers are in trouble: the news cycle.

This pretty much sums up the problem for Newspaper 1.0.
Time for a major re-think.

U.S. candidates struggle with a proliferation of news sources
By Adam Nagourney

Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Senator Barack Obama went to Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia, last week to talk about education. But first, he said, "I've got to spend just a brief moment talking about politics."
For the next few minutes, Obama offered one of his most scathing attacks on his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, accusing him of "lies and Swift boat politics" and denouncing his campaign tactics as insulting to the American public.
Yet that attack barely broke through the day's crush of blog postings, cable television headlines, television advertisements, speeches by other candidates and surrogates, video press releases, e-mailed charges and countercharges - not to mention the old-fashioned newspaper article or broadcast report on the evening news.
So on Friday, Obama tried again, this time with the release at 6 a.m. of two new attack advertisements, followed by a memorandum from David Plouffe, his campaign manager, telling the world exactly what Obama was doing and why attention should be paid.
That episode reflected one of the most frustrating challenges the two candidates face going into the final weeks of this campaign: the ways in which the proliferation of communication channels, the fracturing of mass media and the relentless competition in each news cycle are combining to reorder the way voters follow campaigns and decide how to vote.
Senior campaign aides say they are no longer sure what works, as they stumble through what has become a daily campaign fog, struggling to figure out what voters are paying attention to and, not incidentally, what they are believing.
Matthew Dowd, who was the chief strategist for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign in 2004, said that given the proliferation of news sources - and the fact that so many once-trusted news organizations are under attack - campaigns would be wise to discard the standard playbook. Dowd went so far as to suggest that McCain and Obama were wasting their money on television advertisements, and that they would be better off preparing for the debates.
"At this point, the ability to create and drive a message narrative is all but impossible," he said. "There's just so much stuff."
Beyond that, he suggested, in this increasingly partisan atmosphere - one in which the dueling campaigns are accusing each other of lying, and in which McCain has made an orchestrated effort to discredit news organizations - voters are no longer as apt to accept what they hear as truth. "They distrust, more and more, the marketplace of the campaign," Dowd said.
Obama and McCain have responded to this challenge in vastly different ways. The McCain campaign, reflecting the influence of Steve Schmidt, his day-to-day campaign chief, sees opportunities in this chaos. The McCain campaign is the more aggressive of the two, throwing out information, often frivolous and often stretching the bounds of truth, to try to keep things churning (and to draw attention away from the kind of attacks Obama made in Norfolk).
For example, the McCain campaign resurgence has come over a summer in which he has regularly released what are presented as hard-edged, provocative - even entertaining - advertisements attacking Obama.
In truth, McCain's campaign often does not buy the television time to actually run the advertisements. It knows that cable news and Web sites will replay them, possibly drawing even more attention than McCain could hope to get from a speech, and all of it nearly free.
Still, aides to Obama and McCain said they were not certain how much these kinds of attacks are noticed beyond the audience that spends its time watching CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, or clicking on the latest post on any of numerous political blogs.
In this Wild West atmosphere, the McCain campaign was able to get attention by leaping on a colloquial remark that Obama made about "putting lipstick on a pig." Obama was referring to McCain trying to present himself as an agent of change, but the McCain campaign portrayed it as an attack on Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Republican vice-presidential nominee. McCain's associates said that, at the very least, they were able to divert attention from Obama. Yet at the end of the day, no one was really sure how much those charges mattered to voters.
Obama's efforts to break through are comparatively routine, although they reflect the fact that a simple speech or angry statement will no longer do. Thus, along with the speech in Norfolk, he rolled out two television advertisements, alerts to various political Web sites and a series of satellite interviews with television news stations in battleground states. Advisers to Obama said the outcome was the best they could hope for.
Which might not be much. If Dowd is right, this glut of information has created, at least for now, a level playing field where voters are taking in all this information, but ultimately will believe only what they see with their own eyes.
"The only things that are going to change the equation of the election are the four debates," Dowd said, referring to the three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. "That's it."


International Herald Tribune
New York Times

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