On Putting a President's Democratic Address on Youtube

by: Matt Stoller

Sun Nov 16, 2008 at 11:44

Obama is now putting his weekly Democratic address on youtube.  That is pretty neat, but I want to inject a slight note of skepticism as to how important it really is.

What's innovative and interesting about political technology is not that the President-elect can use it, but that it allows for different social arrangements and ways of using power.  What's interesting about youtube is that it lets anyone have access to a TV channel.  The President-elect already has access to a real TV channel.  The essence of a social change via technology is that it will allow citizens to group with each other to speak to elected leadership in interesting ways, not that it allows yet another mechanism for a powerful President to address citizens.  I mean, many of Bush's addresses were put on youtube without him having an account, but that's not innovative, it's just what happens when the internet is mainstream.

What Obama is doing by putting various speeches on youtube has been done before with more interesting twists.  Foreign leaders put their addresses on youtube; Tony Blair congratulated his French colleague Nicolas Sarkozy upon his election over youtube, in both French an English.  It would be interesting if other foreign leaders responded to Obama on youtube, and that could potentially be exciting depending on what results.  

If you want to see innovative approaches to politics and government, check out Number 10 Petitions or Fix My Street.  These are tools that let citizens group and speak to the government in interesting ways, and allow the government to react effectively or face political pressure if it does not.  That's a shift in power, not just form.  

The reason I point this out is because it's important to understand that it isn't the mere use of technology that creates innovation, it's the detailed understanding of how that technology intersects with political power and public pressure to create a different type of political order.  I hope Obama has his cabinet officials put out content on youtube, but I hope he goes far beyond that and lets the formerly powerless speak back as well in ways that actually force needed changes to happen.

... This is kind of sad.  Obama probably can't use email anymore.

Matt Stoller :: On Putting a President's Democratic Address on Youtube

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Convenience and Accessibility (0.00 / 0)
True - putting a speech on YouTube is nothing new/special.  The gain in President-elect Obama (I can't tell you how much I looooove writing that) putting his addresses on YouTube is accessibility and convenience.

Presidential (and other) addresses have for decades been available on the major networks, and more recently cable.  However, the viewer was at the command of the network/cable channel on when he/she could watch the address, what part of it could be watched, and which parts (if any) were replayed.  With YouTube and other such services, the viewer has those controls.  He/she can parse the address as they see fit, replaying to better understand the speaker.

It is a plus putting these addresses on YouTube.  It might not be cold fusion, but it's certainly a good thing.

disagree (0.00 / 0)
I think this is an oversimplification:

What's interesting about youtube is that it lets anyone have access to a TV channel.  The President-elect already has access to a real TV channel.

Online video is more than just a big giant public access TV station, its a unique medium in its own right. People who are merely viewers rather than content providers certainly approach it that way. It may not be an earth-shattering step, but I think its more significant that you suggest because of a really fundamental media distinction in play, subtle as it may be.


Different than TV (4.00 / 1)
I already noticed several blogs embedded Obama's address and commented on it.  So far the comments have been along the lines of "hey, this is cool", but going forward they can be more substantial.  The internet is more interactive that TV even if the White House itself does little more than enable its use.

I expect it to be quite normal at Open Left (and TPM, and dKos, conservative site, etc.) to embed Obama's addresses with critique, complaints, praise and analysis.  I think that is a big deal.


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