Better than Blogging?

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In the course of writing a recent story on e-campaigning, I had an interesting conversation with Michael Cornfield about the blogging phenomenon. Michael is the politics guy at the Pew Internet and American Life project, and a great source of wisdom on the subject of Internet campaigning.

Michael suggested that while blogging had a big impact on the way the media approached the 2004 campaign, blogs have yet to transform the way politicians campaign or communicate — let alone the fundamentals of electioneering. (Hey, that may not come as a surprise now but a week ago it still seemed possible that Wonkette was going to deliver Ohio for Kerry.)

But that raises a question: if blogging has yet to transform the way politicians relate to citizens, is it just a matter of time? Or are we still waiting for the next big thing — the technology that could beat blogging as a tool of political communication?

Well, here’s one candidate: podcasting. Basically, it’s the audio equivalent of a blog. Anyone with a microphone and a computer can upload audio files, and anyone with headphones and an Internet connection can listen in.

Some of the latest podcasts are downloadable versions of “real” radio shows. Others are audio diaries, uploaded by regular folks — sound familiar? And just as blog-readers can use RSS to round up all their favorite blogs into one tidy subscription package, podcast-listeners can create feeds that automatically download to their computers or ipods. (Amy Gahran has a great explanation of how this all works.)

So now all the introspective ramblings, dog observations, and knee-jerk political commentary that you used to have to read on a screen — ick! the printed word — can be available in stereo. Maybe that doesn’t seem like progress.

But imagine what podcasting could mean for politics. Forget about blogs; they’re time-consuming, and who knows whether you’re reading a politician’s own thoughts, or an assistant’s spin?

Podcasting could give constituents a direct line on what their representatives are thinking. Any political leader with a portable voice recorder could hand off weekly or even daily tapes for upload.

There are some who will say that the last thing we need from our politicians are more one-way broadcasts. And maybe that’s true — if we’re talking about the pre-spun, sound-bite-oriented broadcasts that make up our usual slice of political life.

But spontaneous, direct-to-the-voter updates? They might make for a more immediate sense of connected to our elected leaders.

Or they could be incautious and inflammatory — or even worse, boring. It’s hard to predict.

Only one thing is for certain here. It’s only a matter of time before someone starts experimenting.

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