The YouTube Presidency
By Jose Antonio Vargas
The White House has gone YouTube.
Today, President-elect Obama will record the weekly Democratic address not just on radio but also on video -- a first. The address, typically four minutes long, will be turned into a YouTube video and posted on Obama's transition site, Change.gov, once the radio address is made public on Saturday morning.
The address will be taped at the transition office in Chicago today.
"This is just one of many ways that he will communicate directly with the American people and make the White House and the political process more transparent," spokeswoman Jen Psaki told us last night.
In addition to regularly videotaping the radio address, officials at the transition office say the Obama White House will also conduct online Q&As and video interviews. The goal, officials say, is to put a face on government. In the following weeks, for example, senior members of the transition team, various policy experts and choices for the Cabinet, among others, will record videos for Change.gov.
Yesterday, transition co-chairman Valerie Jarrett recorded a two-minute video that summarized the goings-on in the past week. "President-elect Obama adopted the most sweeping and strict ethics rules that have ever been in place in the course of a transition," said a bespectacled Jarrett, looking directly at the camera in a video that's yet to be posted.
President Bush, too, has updated WhiteHouse.gov, which offers RSS feeds, podcasts and videos of press briefings. The site's Ask the White House page has featured regular online chats dating back to 2003, and President Bush hosted one in January after a Middle Eastern trip.
But online political observers say President-elect Obama's innovative, online-fueled campaign will likely evolve into a new level of online communication between the public and the White House--the Internet-era version of President Franklin Roosevelt's famous "fireside chats" between 1933 and 1944,
"The Obama team has written the playbook on how to use YouTube for political campaigns. Not only have they achieved impressive mass -- uploading over 1800 videos that have been viewed over 110 million times total -- but they've also used video to cultivate a sense of community amongst supporters," said Steve Grove, head of news and politics at YouTube. "Obama told us in a YouTube interview last year that he plans to have 'fireside chats' on video, and we expect his administration will launch a White House YouTube channel very soon after taking office."
Added Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for government transparency: "We're living, after all, in the Internet era. This is an individualized version of the 'fireside chats.' It's not delivered between 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. but whenever anyone wants to see it. I don't know if it necessarily creates transparency -- it's still a controlled, one-way message. But it creates the aura of a much more accessible presidency."
So what's next from the Obama White House?
A behind-the-scenes online video exclusive of the State of the Union Address? A text message reminding us to turn in our taxes? Who knows...
This is one in a series of online columns on our growing "clickocracy," in which we are one nation under Google, with e-mail and video for all. Please send suggestions, comments and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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