Obama’s Press Conference Shows Decline in Influence of Big Ticket Journalism

I don’t know if others watching the Obama press conference last night noticed it or not but the president failed to call on any reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Newsweek or Time Magazine.  Instead, outlets like Ebony, Politico and Stars & Stripes got the chance to ask questions.  I’m not sure if it was Dick Morris or Karl Rove that pointed it out on the O’Reilly Factor after the press conference but when I heard it, I was surprised, but not shocked. To me, it reflected the waning influence of these media powers.

My memory of presidential press conferences dates back to the Nixon administration. No matter who was in office, I can recall hands begin raised and the president calling on members of the press.  Sometimes, they would pass over individual reporters, most likely because they did not want to face a tough question in public from that journalist.  However, there never seemed to be a designated list of who would get called on.   At least that’s not the impression that was conveyed, although you knew there was probably a method to the order of who got called on. I’ll always have them memory of Sam Donaldson shouting a question in mind when I watch a White House press conference.

Obama’s orchestrated push to sell his budget is really a public relations campaign.  By going on Jay Leno and then 60 Minutes, he reached a broad swath of the general public.  Then, by initiating the social media network he cultivated over the course of the campaign he activated his grassroots base to get the message out.  His press conference last night allowed him to show he was in control. On Thursday he hosts a town hall meeting on the White House web site.  See where this is going? 

Unlike past presidents, Obama doesn’t need to rely on the influence of the media elite to sell his program.  The audience for those publications is the beltway itself.  He pretty much knows where Congress stands.  They will be swayed by their constituents, not the Washington Post.

Thus, the bully pulpit of the presidency is now directly connected to the public itself.  The audience watching at home, those blogging across the internet and the masses watching clips of the press conference online this morning, will be the ones that will either embrace his policies or eventually call him to task.

So while the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post still remain “big gets” for many public relations campaigns, other outlets and resources that in certain ways provide greater impact for clients are now tapped on a regular basis.  As newspapers fold and mainstream options for press dwindle, the ability to target the consumer directly becomes the campaign of choice.

Times have certainly changed. Major media outlets like the Washington Post were tha main cogs in exposing the transgressions of the Nixon administration and led to his resignation. Could their influence sway opinion today?

If Obama wins a second term, who knows what his press conferences might look like by the end of his administration. 

Whatever emerges, public relations will remain a core ingredient for any future presidential administration.  For our industry continues to evolve and change. 

Those that adapt will continue to win business and those that do not will fade away.

 

Tom Cosentino

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