Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Presidential Communication in the Internet Era

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Presidential Communication in the Internet Era

Article excerpt

The advent of the Internet has given rise to a challenging new era in presidential communication. Digital technology has had profound implications for the ways in which the White House deals with citizens, elites, journalists, and global actors. The technological revolution in communication comes at a time when presidents have increased their public appearances as well as the scope of their policy initiatives (Kumar 2007). As presidents need to enlist the media to achieve their policy and governing goals (Cook 2005), the White House has incorporated Internet strategies into its increasingly complex communications plans. The Internet also has implications for the organizational arrangements and structure of communication across the executive branch. The accountability, task specialization, and jurisdiction of departments and agencies is being reconsidered as the information base of the bureaucracy becomes increasingly Internet-centric (Fountain 2002).

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as the first new media era chief executives, have been pioneers in the development of strategies for governing with digital communication. With no established blueprints, their efforts have combined deliberate planning with trial and error. While Clinton and Bush publicly avowed to use new communication technologies and touted their benefits upon taking office, both faced some difficulties when embracing new media for presidential communication. The expectation of transparency and interactivity associated with the Internet must be balanced against the need to protect national security and the desire to achieve political and policy goals. The speed with which news is disseminated in the new media era makes it more difficult for presidents to control the flow of information which can force rapid responses in lieu of careful deliberations. As more of their words and actions are archived online, presidential administrations are held to higher standards of accountability. They are subject to intense public and press scrutiny that can quickly devolve into gotcha journalism and negative publicity.

The Clinton administration's pathbreaking online efforts reflect the first generation of Internet technology and applications. The development of the White House Web site added a notable new dimension to presidential communication and information sharing. Still, the Clinton era applications were limited in terms of interactivity, interconnectivity, scope of content, and the exhibition of material via a range of audio and visual media. The evolution of the next generation of Internet applications, commonly known as Web 2.0, took place during Bush's term in office. Web 2.0 encompasses applications that use the existing architecture of the Internet to create a culture of participation through the creative development of online communities, social networks, and content-sharing sites (O'Reilly 2005). Web 2.0 and the development of increasingly sophisticated public communication tools raise intriguing possibilities for presidential communication.

This article will explore the ways in which presidential communication has evolved in response to new media. In particular, it will examine how the White House has used the Internet to reach out to the public, policy makers, and journalists in a communications environment characterized by continually shifting parameters. We address the question: How has presidential communication developed in the Internet age?

Innovations in presidential communication in the new media era have stemmed largely from campaign media experiences. The White House Web site, which was developed in the aftermath of the 1992 campaign, has become the primary showcase for the presidency online. It provides us with an opportunity to explore the evolution of White House Internet communication over time. We also will examine the ways in which the executive branch has (and has not) adopted Internet innovations, such as Web 2. …

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