12 May 2008

Social Media is NOT All Media

So Senator Obama is visiting Kentucky today and tomorrow (no, I don't plan on seeing him) as the local paper puts out its poll that shows not only is he down a whopping 27 points, but that Kentucky has a problem with the Senator's former pastor and race is the "elephant in the booth." Oh, and one guy from Inez says he's a Muslim no matter what the Senator or anyone else says he is.

Race is a dominant issue, says the Lexington Herald Leader, because Kentuckians were asked if they thought Reverend Jeremiah Wright's comments were important to their vote and 215 of them said yes. These same 500 Kentuckians were also asked if Senator Obama's race makes him more or less likely to win the presidential primary here, and 105 of them said it would make him less likely to win.

My immediate reaction was "great, another story about Kentucky's problem with race." But as I thought about it I realized it's just another example of the difference between mainstream media and social media. And it's a great example of why corporate media is dying.

Look at what Americans say are the ten most important problems facing the country right now, according to Gallup: The economy (41%), the war in Iraq (23%), the price of fuel (9%), health care (8%), unemployment (6%), dissatisfaction with government (6%), immigration issues (5%), high cost of living (4%), lack of money (4%), moral decline (3%) and terrorism (3%).

Heck, look at the most important issues gleaned from this very Herald-Leader poll: the economy leads by a wide margin. Then the war (if you're a Democrat), national security (if you're a Republican), and health care (if you're an Independent).

Now look at the poll questions the Herald Leader chose to ask (pdf) for this story and implied that race was essentially the dominant political issue in Kentucky right now:
In terms of how you will vote, how important are the remarks made by Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright?

In terms of how you will vote, how important are the misstatements made by Hillary Clinton about her trip to Bosnia?

In terms of how you will vote, how important are the comments made by Barack Obama in San Francisco about small-town voters?

Do you think Barack Obama's race makes him more or less electable in Kentucky or does Obama's race not matter in his getting elected?

Do you think Hillary Clinton's gender makes her more or less electable in Kentucky or does Clinton's gender not matter in her getting elected?
So just like the ABC News debate debacle last month in Pennsylvania, the public is focused on the issues that actually affect them, while some in the "professional" media want to keep talking about who's black, who's a woman, and stupid things people say - including something said by a guy who isn't even a candidate.

I think the folks who did this poll may just be trying to see if the Wright/sniper fire/bitter non-issues had an impact. My answer is simple - any story that's forced down the throats of the American people every day for several weeks by the media will have an impact. With due respect to my friends in the professional media, this isn't one of those stories in which consumers demand more details. Those same consumers have given the media a blueprint of what's news.

Corporate media is dying not simply because they're competing with the online channel. They're dying because they continue to try to control the discussion and steer us toward topics people just don't find important, and more consumers are having none of that.

Campaign '08 will be remembered as the last presidential election in which the corporate media controlled what issues frame the election. Count on it.

1 comment:

wyllie said...

The Lexington Herald-Leader not only had huge headlines all over the front page, they had misleading polls which compared all three candidates (misleading since it's not a three candidate race), and lots - like five pages - of articles about how they interpret the results from these polls including some 'man on the street' interviews about how people will vote.

Basically, the paper makes the race into a popularity contest, trying to give you information on how to vote without actually telling you anything about any of the candidate's platforms. They don't even bother showing how the rest of the country is polling and how it's interesting that while Clinton leads Obama in Kentucky by thirty points, she's five points down nationally. They also seem to omit the fact that the race is essentially over and one of their favorite metrics - money - and the fact that Clinton's campaign is in serious debt whereas Obama's is making money hand over fist. They miss the fact that McCain is not known for being strong economically (by his own admission) but the polling data shows that Kentuckians feel he is the one of the strongest candidates on the Economy - how stupid are we? I could go on...

I've just started into Gore's latest book and he talks about how Americans easily get caught up in these non issues (pastors, gas tax holiday, Bosnia...) without caring or understanding what the real issues are. He also talks about how most Americans get all their news from watching TV and that newspapers are having a tough time. I think what we are seeing here is the newspaper trying to do a quick and dirty sensational story without bothering to do much more research to provide their readers with something useful to read. In their defense, that's what people are used to seeing on TV, so the paper feels that they need to take the same approach. The problem is that they people who still bother to read the paper are smarter than that.

For me,this is the strength of social media over traditional media outlets. People can talk to each other about what the real issues are. I could write a letter to the paper which they may or may not print (even worse would be to try contacting a TV station), but it's not like having a conversation. It's much more rewarding to have a real conversation with people who have various opinions online - even better is in person of course, but it's not quite as convenient.