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How Obama Won: The Rise of Web 2.0

In election '08, the ascendance of new media changed the rules of the game and smoothed Obama's path to victory.

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Today, old media still plays a strong role, of course, but even when it is at center stage, which is often, it now comes under withering review from the world of the Web -- and in turn, responds to those critiques, and the cycle goes on and on. Even mainstream figures such as Couric, Brian Williams, and Keith Olbermann write blogs, which are quite popular.

Yes, the networks and cable news outlets hosted almost all of the candidate debates, but this year they were joined by partners such as Facebook and YouTube. The YouTube debate provided some of the best, and goofiest, questions of the whole primary season (who can forget the query about global warming from a melting snowman). One of the lowlights of the primary season for the networks was the public flogging of ABC anchor Charles Gibson for his often inane questions during one debate. The uproar from the Web was so strong that Gibson had to respond -- on the air the next night.

And recall what happened after the Democratic debate in February. Everyone remembers the Saturday Night Live sketch a few days later -- but what sparked that? For days after the debate, the Web was alive with charges that the all-male panelists had piled on Hillary and given Obama a free pass. The SNL segment was credited with helping to spark Clinton's "comeback" in primary voting that spring.

As the final week of the campaign approached in October, Howard Kurtz ventured out on the campaign trail for a few days for The Washington Post and then asked: Have the Web and the digital age doomed the "boys on the bus"? He sketched Obama about to speak to 10,000 screaming fans at a state fairgrounds but observed that before he "took the podium, the text of his speech arrived by BlackBerry. The address was carried by CNN, Fox and MSNBC. While he was still delivering his applause lines, an Atlantic blogger posted excerpts. And despite the huge foot-stomping crowd that could barely be glimpsed from the media tent, most reporters remained hunched over their laptops.

"Does the campaign trail still matter much in an age of digital warfare? Or is it now a mere sideshow, meant to provide the media with pretty pictures of colorful crowds while the guts of the contest unfold elsewhere? And if so, are the boys (and girls) on the bus spinning their wheels?"

Then, on the morning of Election Day, the New York Times presented, as its banner headline on the front page, "The '08 Campaign: A Sea Change for Politics As We Know It." Adam Nagourney opened it with, "The 2008 race for the White House that comes to an end on Tuesday fundamentally upended the way presidential campaigns are fought in this country, a legacy that has almost been lost with all the attention being paid to the battle between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama.

"It has rewritten the rules on how to reach voters, raise money, organize supporters, manage the news media, track and mold public opinion, and wage -- and withstand -- political attacks, including many carried by blogs that did not exist four years ago."

So blogs, which rarely drew wide notice in 2004 and were derided by some as a silly, passing fancy, now earned a place in the second paragraph of the top Times story on Election Day 2008. "I think we'll be analyzing this election for years as a seminal, transformative race," said Mark McKinnon, a senior adviser to President Bush's campaigns in 2000 and 2004, in that Times article. "The year campaigns leveraged the Internet in ways never imagined. The year we went to warp speed. The year the paradigm got turned upside down and truly became bottom up instead of top down."

 
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