Power Of ‘MYBO’: Obama’s Web Site Surmounts News

In recent weeks, the campaign has held conference calls on “women’s economic security” with domestic policy director Neera Tanden, and discussions about government wiretapping bills with Obama’s chief foreign policy aide Denis McDonough. A staffer, Laurin Manning, has been specifically tasked with reaching out to bloggers at the state level, and with providing links to those state blogs directly on the Obama Web site. One state-level blogger said the campaign sent out daily press releases, and that when a post reflected those topics, the campaign would feature them on its own blog. That of course would drive up traffic and give bloggers an incentive to write about what pleases the campaign.

According to the Obama web operation, millions of people visit the campaign site each month. (According to Quantcast, more than three million people visited the site in June, down from the record of five and a half million people at the end of February.) The site supports more than 850,000 individual user accounts on the Obama campaign’s blog, mybarackObama.com, or “MyBo” in campaign speak. Each blog has its own RSS feed, and they often post Obama’s speeches or statements before they are e-mailed, prompting mainstream reporters to link to the site. The new media team takes pride in soft features about Obama donors and volunteers, for which they dispatch their own reporters.

“You have 24-hour news cycles, and everyone wants to have a different editorial spin to seem different, and you have news mixing with entertainment, so the idea of sending an unfiltered message directly to your supporters or targeted voters and not have to go through all that is a big plus,” said Thomas Gensemer, the managing director of Blue State Digital, which runs the Obama site.

Of course, the impressiveness of the media operation, which is as balanced in its coverage of the candidate as any propaganda machine or marketing department, will never be mistaken for the distinct goal of complete transparency.

“There are some people high up in the Netroots who have direct access to [national campaign spokesman] Bill Burton; I don’t,” said Carol Doty, 69, a retired public official from Medford, Ore., who writes on the Democracy for America blog. “I think I’m more representative of most people around this country. The feeling is, we write this campaign and get no answer back, except another request for money. We have a lot to offer.”

“He’s harnessed and manipulated the populist power in a very positive way,” said Lee Papa, who writes a blog called The Rude Pundit. “Even if it’s illusory, it does inevitably give people a sense of having power. But I don’t see where he goes from here. It’s not like he has a Wiki health care plan.”

Still, bloggers are markedly happier with the campaign now than in the early months of the primary.

Arjun Jaikumar, a contributing editor to Daily Kos who originally supported Hillary Clinton, said that when he first “got onto the front page of Kos,” Mr. Graham-Felsen, the Obama blogger, “was one of the first guys who contacted me.”

David Mixner, an influential liberal blogger who supports Mr. Obama, said, “Anything I have asked for I’ve gotten instantly. They really have gotten Internet stuff down.”

Certainly, there seem to be more high-profile attempts by the campaign now to prove that this is the case.

The home page recently announced the “Listening to America Platform Meetings,” in which more than 1,300 meetings of grass-roots activists will draft the “first ever major party platform written of, by, and for the people.”

And this comes after what was undoubtedly the most dramatic example of official deference to liberal online supporters, when Mr. Obama very publicly made peace with some 15,000 bloggers protesting on my.barackobama.com after his June 20 announcement that he would support a government wiretapping bill he had previously opposed.

“I’m happy to take my lumps on this side and elsewhere,” he said, in a statement posted on the campaign’s official blog on July 3. “For the truth is that your organizing, your activism and your passion is an important reason why this bill is better than previous versions.”

As a gesture, to judge from the subsequent reaction from even some of the most vocal of the commenter-demonstrators, it was much appreciated. But they shouldn’t get too used to dictating the agenda. After all, the Obama campaign, as it has made abundantly clear, has a job to do.

At a conference at N.Y.U. on July 16, Arun Chaudhary, the director of video field production for the Obama campaign, called user-generated content “an unrealized ideal” and characterized much of the video sent to the campaign as “a little strange.”

A little later, at the same event, Mr. Rospars dismissed the idea, promoted by the Web democracy purists, of having Mr. Obama’s policy proposals drafted by thousands of visitors to the Web site.

“We are running Barack Obama for president,” he said.


Power Of ‘MYBO’: Obama’s Web Site Surmounts News