What Newsrooms Can Learn from Obama Campaign

    by Chris O'Brien
    October 20, 2008

    This thought occurred to me over the weekend when I heard that Barack Obama’s campaign had purchased advertising space in videogames. According this Associated Press Article:

    “Nine video games from Electronic Arts Inc., ranging from the extremely popular ‘Madden 09’ football game to the street racing ‘Burnout: Paradise,’ feature in-game ads from the Obama campaign. The ads—they appear on billboards and other signage—remind players that early voting has begun and plug a campaign Web site.”

    Now, what do videogames and Obama have to do with newsrooms? It’s clear that over the past year, Obama’s campaign has developed a profound understanding of how its community finds and consumes information across a number of platforms. And Obama has embraced them all, and adapted his message to fit the way people use those platforms.

    That’s an important lesson that every newsroom should learn. During the past year of research for The Next Newsroom Project, we identified six principles that newsrooms should adopt. One of those calls for newsrooms to embrace all platforms. It’s not enough to simply say, “Hey, we want to be online first.” Instead, think about how to use all platforms equally: mobile, the Web, print, broadcast (radio and TV). And be ready to experiment with any new ones that come along, including video games.


    It’s critical that a newsroom understand its community, where they are, the different ways the get news and information, and how they consume it in those different ways. For our project, we spent some time exploring this notion in Second Life, where we built a version of our newsroom. We learned a lot through the process, including the fact that our target community (students at Duke University) wasn’t spending a lot of time in that environment. And so for now, it wasn’t a platform where we needed to invest a lot of resources.

    Of course, a lot has already been written about how Obama’s campaign has utilized social networking and micro-financing to turn his campaign into a broad-based movement. The record $150 million he raised in September is testament to that strategy. He’s mastered the viral nature of the Internet to tap into a swell of grassroots support that will likely be hard to stop next month.

    But what struck me, in the case of the videogame ads, was how his campaign had employed a strategy that reached far beyond the Internet to communicate. No platform is too big, or too small. If they think there is a significant community to be reached, they’ve gone after them wherever they are.


    And they’re not just re-purposing messages. Instead, they’re creating messages tailored to each specific platform. Beyond the videogames, here are just three more that come to mind:

    • Twitter: This is the best known, perhaps. Obama’s Twitter account now has 102,247 followers, one of the largest on Twitter. Obama’s campaign primarily uses the account to put out links to videos, short campaign announcements, and brief messages.
    • iPhone application: This nifty little application can be downloaded from the iTunes store to your iPhone where it searches your contact list for phone numbers of people in battleground states. When it finds relevant numbers, it alerts you and suggests you call that person. It also pulls in news and video updates.
    • Text messages: The plan to announce the selection of his running mate via text messages was a dud. But in the process, he got thousands to volunteer their mobile phone number which has allowed the compaign to continue blasting out updates wherever someone is.

    Finally, it’s important to note that the campaign continues to use all the old “print” platforms. Yard signs, bumper stickers, billboards, t-shirts, etc. It’s too easy to get caught up in all the exciting new platforms and forget that the old ones still have significant value.

    Of course Obama has the money to do all of this, rather than having to make gut-wrenching choices about trade-offs and allocation of limited resources as is the case in many newsrooms these days. Still, it’s the right approach. And it’s a good model for any newsroom to aspire to follow.

    Tagged: barack obama campaign iphone nextnewsroom

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