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Acting in the Public Sphere: The 2008 Obama Campaign's Strategic Use of New Media to Shape Narratives of the Presidential Race

Media, Movements, and Political Change

ISBN: 978-1-78052-880-9, eISBN: 978-1-78052-881-6

Publication date: 22 May 2012


Purpose – The purpose of this study is to analyze how campaigns, movements, new media outlets, and professional journalism organizations interact to produce political discourse in an information environment characterized by new actors and increasingly fragmented audiences.

Design – To do so, this chapter offers a rare inside look at contemporary strategic campaign communications from the perspective of staffers. Twenty-one open-ended and semi-structured interviews were conducted with former staffers, consultants, and vendors to the 2008 Obama campaign.

Findings – During the primaries the Obama campaign worked to create and cultivate ties with activists in the mediated “netroots” movement, what Todd Gitlin has referred to as the “movement wing of the Democratic Party.” The campaign sought to influence the debate among the principals and participants in this movement, given that they play an increasingly central role in the Democratic Party networks that help shape the outcome of contested primaries. During the general election, when the campaign and its movement allies shared the goal of defeating the Republicans, sites in the netroots functioned as important conduits of strategic and often anonymous campaign communications to new specialized journalistic outlets and the professional, general interest press. It is argued that campaigns and movements have extended established and developed new communication tactics to pursue their goals in a networked information environment.

Implications – This chapter's contribution lies in showing how much of what scholars assume to be the communicative content of amateurs is often the result of coordination among organized, and often hybrid, political actors.



Kreiss, D. (2012), "Acting in the Public Sphere: The 2008 Obama Campaign's Strategic Use of New Media to Shape Narratives of the Presidential Race", Earl, J. and Rohlinger, D.A. (Ed.) Media, Movements, and Political Change (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, Vol. 33), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 195-223.



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