The 51st State: The State of Online: The Presidential Campaign 2008 Candidates and News Sources: The Presidential Election of 2008 Will Be the First Presidential "Internet Election," an Historical Phenomenon in Which the Internet and Its Technologies Are Playing Integral Roles for Candidates and Their Campaigns, the Mainstream Media, and Voters and Citizens

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Unlike previous campaigns, the Internet has become the essential tool for all political candidates to announce their campaigns, release new campaign ads, answer questions posted by voters, post videos and photos, and raise awareness, as well as lots and lots of money. Using the Internet, candidates can attract and connect with younger voters who spend most (if not all) their time on the Internet. The Net is where the younger generation of voters hangs out, gets their news, and shares ideas with friends, family, colleagues, and classmates (via blogs, video-sharing, photo-sharing, and social networking sites).

Tech-savvy candidates are offering Web sites, blogs, "create your own campaign" blog tools, and "be my friend" with links to Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Flickr. Even so, a recent study by iCrossing has found that even with candidates' attention to these social networking sites and tools, most citizens/voters looking for information about candidates do not go to a candidate's Web site or MySpace page. Instead, they seek information about candidate voting records, position statements, etc., by going to both Web search engines and the online versions of traditional media--NYtimes.com, CNN.com, and the Washingtonpost.com. (1) The tech tools are available, but how well the candidates use them and whether the savvy ways their campaigns introduce them into grass-roots outreach and fundraising operations will benefit them remains one of the open questions of this current election cycle.

The Internet is also revolutionizing and reshaping the influence mainstream media has--or doesn't have--on presidential elections. Newspapers, news magazines, radio, and the major television networks used to be the way citizens and voters learned about candidates, the issues, and the solutions the candidates offered. I think it is safe to say that those days, if not over, are numbered. The Internet has opened up other avenues of news, commentary, discussion, and discourse. The growing number of options for learning, finding, and sharing news and information about candidates has dramatically altered public dependence on the mainstream press. In July 2007, iCrossing released a report entitled "How America Searches: Election '08" that found new media options more important than ever to the upcoming presidential election. The report stated that the Internet has "emerged as the number-two channel after television among potential voters looking for election-related information, and is tied with newspapers." (2) The survey revealed that "forty-two percent of voters look to the Internet for information about issues and candidates in the upcoming presidential election, with the Internet a considerably more popular information source than newspapers among respondents between the ages of 18 and 34." Indeed, more than half of younger online voters are turning to social media for election information; 61 percent of 18 to 24 year olds and 55 percent of 25 to 34 year olds seek answers on user-driven content sites such as blogs, YouTube, and Wikipedia. (3) Traditional news media organizations need to use the Internet and Web 2.0 tools to reach younger voters, as well as to hold on to older voters.

Technology is forcing mainstream media to sit up and pay attention. CNN jumped in by holding the first CNN-YouTube Democratic Debate on July 24, 2007, in which the entire field of Democratic candidates faced video questions submitted from voters and citizens, rather than journalists. Slate.com (owned by the Washington Post), Yahoo!, and The Huffington Post (HuffingtonPost.com) hosted the first ever online-only presidential candidate mashup on Sept. 12, 2007. All Democratic candidates agreed to participate in this event in which anyone could send questions via email, podcast, or video to The Huffington Post with moderator Charlie Rose asking the candidates questions from those submitted. Responses will be videoed and coded and then released to the public to make mashups of the candidates responses. …