How Changing Media Changes Politics, And Just About Everything Else

By Andrew Meyer

When the Democratic National Convention arrived in Charlotte, so did every major and minor outlet, eager to cover it all. Bloomberg, in conjunction with USC-Annenberg, held an event known as “The Bloomberg Link,” which promised to be an analytical look at voting trends and the media’s impact on politics.

The session was a fusion of slide show and group discussion, led by Bloomberg’s executive editor Al Hunt, along with The Washington Post’s Marcus Brauchli, Obama For America’s Ben LeBolt, Olivia Ma from Youtube, and Matt Bai from the New York Times.

What medium do people use to get their primary political information? According to a study by USC-Annenberg, TV accounts for more than half, and the internet — ie: smart phones, computers, tablets —  accounts for another 40%, which leaves radio and print with a measly 10% of the remaining share. Not surprisingly, people under 35 are even less likely to flick on a radio or open a newspaper, and seniors still use print at an above average rate, but what is surprising is the difference between seniors and 18-35 year olds when it comes to the television vs. internet. Over 70% of seniors say they rely on TV, whereas roughly half of 18-35 year-olds rely instead on the internet, specifically social media. Facebook alone was listed as the primary news source for roughly half of the demographic.

However, within the social media demographic, there appears to be a large chunk of regurgitated news. We have all seen the same link shared by 20 people, and according to the poll, more than 58% of  users responded that most of the information they consumed through social media was stale.

What news sources do people most rely on? This question proved divisive depending on political persuasion. Democrats trust the media as a whole more  often and utilize more sources. Republicans tend to believe the media has an agenda and thus trust fewer sources. LeBolt, Press Secretary for Obama For America, took that as an opportunity to add that while the Republican Convention lacked accessibility and diversity, the DNC is all about those things.

The group discussion quickly morphed into a discussion about social media. While many in the group, notably Hunt and Ma, talked mainly about the positives of today’s media, Bai voiced concern. He offered that in a world of omnipresent media access, people might just skim headlines and not seek out new information on their own. According to LeBolt, the Obama campaign Tweeted more this Labor Day weekend than it did between the 2008 convention and election day. If you need more evidence of the expanding reach of social media, just check out the #DNC2012 page Twitter feed or YouTube page.

As the conversation reached its end, a Q&A segment began. Most of the questions elicited personal stories and quick answers from the group, but it gave me several questions of my own:  Does proliferation of social media — a landscape where shock value goes far — mean that writers and media organizations will be compelled to become increasingly  polarized? What media will be king ten years from now? In the age of “following” where fans feel a connection to famous people through snarky Twitter posts and candid photos, will the public expect the same of their presidential candidates? Instead of political conventions, will there be a day when everything happens virtually, and if so is that good? How can radio become relevant again, and should it be?

Even with all of these questions in my head none of them seem to answer what I really want to know. And then it hits me, the one question I would really want to ask. “What’s next?”

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