Rem Rieder from American Journalism Review penned a viewpoint in USA Today last week that criticized President Obama for cutting down access to journalists.
The supporting proof points highlighted by Rieder:
- Short Q&A sessions have always served as a forum for the President to weigh in on timely issues. George W. Bush, who wasn’t exactly hitting the karaoke bars with journalists, had 354 of these sessions during his first term compared to President Obama at 107.
- President Obama “held fewer press conferences in his first term than his three immediate predecessors.”
- The President tends to dodge journalists with the chops to challenge him, preferring to “do business” with gentler TV media.
The punch line arrives at the mid-way point:
The Obama administration is deep-freezing the news media because it can. It’s nothing new for administrations to try to control the narrative. But Obama is the first president to serve in the Age of Twitter. With extensive use of its Whitehouse.gov website and its fluency on social media, the administration can get its message out on its own terms, bypassing the middlemen and women.
Is this a bad thing?
A few years ago I moderated a panel at the Stanford Innovation Journalism Conference with a mix of journalists, suits, techies and students in attendance. The overriding theme from the audience during the Q&A: If the information meets a need – informs, teaches, entertains, etc. – people don’t care about the source.
Is it possible that people view the White House communications as a counter balance to journalism? Now there’s a thought that must go down like cod liver oil with the Fourth Estate.
If the public shared Mr. Rieder’s outrage, they would express their displeasure through the very same digital channels leveraged by the White House. That’s not happening, which in turn empowers Team Obama to keep pushing the boundaries of owned and social media starting with WhiteHouse.gov.
Spend five minutes on the site and you find a blending of news, viewpoints and humanity, the latter often accentuated by visual storytelling. And the White House is on every social platform with a pulse, building out assets like interactive infographics that augment the President’s State of the Union addresses.
It comes back to the White House delivering information that people find useful; otherwise, it would go ignored. People won’t read drivel (you can quote me on this). No doubt, the White House with its army of analytic quants hired out of Google and the like know precisely who’s clicking on what.
And here’s a final sobering thought for Mr. Rieder. The White House is in the early days of honing its owned media game.
It’s only a matter of time before we read that the White House has poached a brainiac out of BuzzFeed.
Will the White House eventually push things too far?
And the public will call them on it with journalists piling on (likely in that order).