The News Media In The Political Communication Process
If there is one thing my experience of political communication in the classroom has taught me, it is the role that the media plays in determining the outcome of elections. It was apparent to me after having paid close attention to the 2008 primaries and general election, that the media is a powerful player; one capable of not only selecting a party’s nominee, but also who becomes our next president. People generally expect the news media to act as a non-partisan objective source of information, but what transpired during this past election season was anything but. The lack of objectivity among the media covering the presidential campaign was downright appalling, and what this class has helped me understand were some of the reasons why such behavior took place. To put it simply, I learned that the media had its own agenda.
“Framing theory is the capacity of a media relationship builder to comprehend and interpret the agenda-setting policies and source selection processes employed by the media, and to construct a suitable ground onto which an issue can be projected as an elegant story (characterized by grace of form; simple and effective) relevant to specific media stakeholders.”
This quote solidified my views regarding political communication and the media. I also believe it accurately depicts Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign for president. As soon as Barack Obama, then a freshman Senator from the state of Illinois, announced his decision to run for President, he instantly became a media darling. He was billed as the man who transcends race, the one who would deliver the change Washington so desperately needed after eight years of Republican rule. The media very effectively ran with this narrative, which resulted in the immediate rise and eventual win of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44 th President. But before all that became possible, Obama had to secure the democratic nomination by defeating a woman with more legislative experience and far greater name recognition: junior Senator from New York, and former first lady, Hillary Clinton. Clinton had long been considered the inevitable democratic candidate, much to the media’s dismay. In fact, as the positive media coverage of Barack Obama accelerated at warp speed, so too did the harsh criticisms and personal attacks against Hillary Clinton. This was particularly evident in two different statements made by Chris Mathews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball. The first were made in reference to Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid on the January 8, 2008 episode of Hardball, “Let’s not forget, the real reason she’s a US Senator, the reason she’s a candidate for President, the reason she may be a frontrunner; is that her husband messed around. That’s how she got to be Senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn’t win on her own merit, she won because everybody felt, ‘my God, this woman stood up under humiliation,’ right? That’s what happened.” During the Potomac primaries, Chris Mathews made a comment regarding Barack Obama, “I have to tell you, you know, it’s part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg, I mean, I don’t have that too often.” These remarks reflect two distinctly different tones taken by an influential member of the media while covering the campaigns of the first African American and first woman for President. Comments like this border on misogyny, and it’s no wonder flags of sexism were raised throughout the 2008 Democratic primaries. For the media, the youthful good looks, and Camelot-esque comparisons of Barack Obama to JFK, made for a much more interesting and elegant story. This was the frame into which much of the media projected Barack Obama’s candidacy. We saw this happen in the primaries against Hillary Clinton, and also against John McCain in the general election.
Political campaigns rise or fall primarily based on the type of media attention they attract. A large portion of Barack Obama’s success can be attributed to the positive press coverage he garnered during his Presidential campaign. A recently released study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs along with Chapman University further indicates the extent of media bias in reporting of the 2008 presidential election. The study concluded that Obama’s coverage was far more favorable than any previous presidential nominee since 1988, the year CMPA began tracking television election news. During the general election, Obama received 68% positive evaluations among the network evening news shows. “His treatment was twice as favorable as John McCain’s 33% positive and Sarah Palin’s 34% positive evaluations.” Coverage of his policy stances and proposals also remained higher than that of John McCain’s, with 53% positive issue coverage of the democratic candidate and only 24% positive for the Republican candidate. The study also found that evening newscasts have already devoted 28 hours of airtime to the first 50 days of Barack Obama’s presidency; almost twice as much as his two most recent predecessors Bush (7 hours), and Clinton (15 hours). The media provided Barack Obama a definite advantage over John McCain with greater favorable press which certainly helped catapult him to the presidency. The prospect of the first African American president, and the idea of such a historic presidency was too rich and exciting a story for the media to maintain any normal level of objectivity.
Although Barack Obama does deserve credit for running a well-disciplined campaign and inspiring millions of Americans, his success did not happen without help from the media. Prior to my class on political communication, I don’t think I fully grasped just how invested the media are in determining the outcome of elections. The media have an enormously powerful effect on people; with an ability to influence masses and ultimately sway an election for one candidate over another. Learning about the framing theory certainly had relevance in the real world of political communication, as I believe it quite accurately illustrates what took place during the 2008 presidential election. This class helped solidify my views on the news media as well as provide me with an understanding and basis for how political communication is conducted in the real world.
1.Stanton, R. All News Is Local The Failure of the Media to Reflect World Events in a Globalized Age. Boston: McFarland & Company, 2007.
2. McKinley, K. "Chris Mathews Slams Hillary." NewsBusters. 9 Jan. 2008. 27 Apr. 2009.
3. "Mathews, C. "I Felt This Thrill Going Up My Leg" As Obama Spoke." The Huffington Post. 13 Feb. 2008. 27 Apr. 2009.
4. Kurtz, H. "Boosting Obama." The Washington Post 27 Apr. 2009. 27 Apr. 2009.
How To Transmit A Political Issue?
When first entering into my political communication class in January 2009, I thought our topic of discussion would be on the publicists working for recent political campaigns. I figured we would be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of John McCain and Barack Obama’s publicists during their last two years campaigning. Coincidentally, I was completely wrong to find out that our class would be geared towards any topic we felt that needed political attention. Knowing this, I figured out that political communication is about addressing a topic that any individual felt needed to be brought to the public’s interest.
The American Political Science Association (APSA) defines political communication as the ‘creation, shaping, dissemination, processing and effects of information within the political system, both domestic and international’, whether used by government, institutions, groups or individuals to bring about understanding the role of communication in political life. This allows anyone who feels an issue needs to be communicated politically, to address any matter. A public relations professional has the skills to disseminate a message they feel passionate about, but if they choose to become a lobbyist they must go down a different path. PR professionals who are assigned to lobbying are required by law to register as lobbyists with the federal government prior to contacting congressional representatives and with the state government prior to contacting state legislators or other officials. Indirectly, a PR professional can lobby by communicating to citizens who are affected by an issue and use persuasive tactics to form a special interest group.
In knowing more about political communication after taking this course I now notice the trend in issues over past decades. The 1960s was the starting point when people began to speak out against their government. Within this decade, people began noticing they did not agree with what they were told to agree with, such as racial discrimination, the war in Vietnam, equality for women and gay rights. This laid the platform for each decade to speak out if they did not agree with an issue, or if they wanted more from their country, founded on freedom of speech. Today, we are speaking out about the government, the war in the Middle East, environmental legislation, big corporate companies and where are economy is heading. There are political communicators all over the world focusing on addressing the next steps needed in understanding the issues we face as a country.
Political communication will never end because there will always be issues that people do not agree on. It will always be capable of mobilizing enough people to have their voices heard. With the rise of technology will come new ways to politically disseminate messages in a larger and faster way. With this technological revolution going on now, such as Twitter, people are capable of knowing instantly what people are thinking. John McCain on April 24, 2009 Tweeted, ‘Another $2 billion of our tax dollars-When will it stop’. This shows the recent candidate for president is politically communicating that he is not in favor of raising tax’s to boost the economy.
From a public relations standpoint the first steps are to understand that no one can get a message across without having a broad range of knowledge on the topic being addressed. The communicator must be able to answer all questions with an educated answer and a well-thought through proposal. They must know the right communication tools to use when communicating. No-one should try to send a story on how great hybrid cars are to the environment to the car dealership, Hummer. People will not find the information credible if the source does not even know how to contact the right media outlets.
While a political communicator is may be passionate about their topic, and believes their topic is newsworthy, they can sometimes feel overwhelmed. Most likely, if the subject has enough relevance to be brought to the attention on a public level then there may be other people or groups feeling the same way. A communicator’s first steps should be to get support and form a type of pact on issues from each special interest group. In my political communications class, my group focused on Philadelphia enacting business codes to force big companies to follow a sustainable building procedure. As a group, our goal was to get companies to become aware of environmentally friendly building procedures, as well as, gaining support throughout Philadelphia. Since Philadelphia is a major city for colleges, we contacted all university environmental groups to see what they were politically communicating throughout their group. This gave us great ideas to see how to shape are goals. The groups wanted to know how we were getting involved in the community and became interested in our issue. As public relations practitioners we know that any type of publicity is considered good publicity, so if another group helps address our goals then our message has already begun.
The studying of political communication tactics and strategies is something I would highly recommend to anyone attempting to become active in a particular subject. It helps give a structure to how to get a message across without the news ‘washing it away’. It helps shape goals in a way the audience will hear the message and make it relevant to their lives. My experience within a political communications class was a great step towards teaching me to address issues that are of high concern to me.
Relationships in Political Communication
A political communication class is an essential part of an academic curriculum. Many concepts that are taught in this class can be applied to the real world. Communication is an important tool to all humans. It is the basis where we all share knowledge, ideas and information, with one another. Effective communication can only occur when dialogue between two parties is established. Once communication is established, one person can persuade or alter people’s way of thinking. A great example of political communication that affected not only myself but the rest of the world is the election of President Obama.
What is political communication? According to Pippa Norris author of A Virtuous Circle Political Communications in Postindustrial Societies, political communication is having a relationship between the news media and parties. It is controlling a message and sending it to audiences. However, controlling a message may be difficult depending on the audience. It is difficult to send a message without knowing what the audience wants.
Government plays an important role in our lives. Without government there would be chaos and anarchy. The purpose for a government is to have rules and regulations where citizens abide by. In a democratic government citizens have the right to elect their officials into office. The idea is to create a fair government where everything is equal. In 2009 people became a witness to a political campaign that may have influenced a whole world. I was greatly influenced by the 2009 presidential campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. In 2009 the United States suffered an economic crisis. It was a time of high unemployment rates, and business giants such as insurance company AIG and automaker General Motors being on the verge of bankruptcy. These issues were important for citizens and for the presidential nominees in order to persuade the citizens that they were the better candidate. Each candidate had an adequate political campaign however there was one that surpassed everyone. That person was Barack Obama. Obama used the media and rhetoric in order to send his message to his audiences. Many people like Obama because he is a charismatic leader, a leader that we have not seen awhile in the term of President Bush.
In the term of President Bush the American public has been involved in two political wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also witnessed significance in job losses and the falling of the economy. Job losses and the falling economy are attributed to the billions of dollars spent on the war effort. The public is fed up with the misconception and the bad policies of President Bush. Towards the end of Bush’s term there was a low approval rating. Thus came Barack Obama. Citizens rallied in support of Obama because they saw his vision for change and the message that he brought to the people. President Obama’s political campaign was such a success in that it had a great message and the message was delivered in such a way that it was satisfying to the public. His campaign was such a success however, there are characteristics that can be attributed that no other candidates could imitate. These characters are skills that you are born with. For example, being a charismatic leader is something that you are born with, not taught. Being a well-spoken person can be taught, but it is primarily something that you are born with. Obama has such qualities that proved in his favor to win the election.
Similar to a political campaign, students in a political communication class are taught the science of organizing a campaign. Students learn how a campaign is put together and how to make a successful campaign of their own. In class students pick an issue that is current or passionate about and throughout the whole course students are taught how to gain support for their issue. For example, students chose topics such as lowering the drinking age, or providing alternative energy resources for companies. The objective of these campaigns was to raise awareness and ultimately gain supporters.
In the political communication class one method students were taught in order to understand their issue was the Trent & Friedenberg model of political communication. The model consists of four parts. The first part is surfacing. Students had to figure out a way to announce the issue to the public. The second part is the primary. The primary is appealing to your stakeholders. This is essential because it is the audience that is probably most interested in your campaign. The third part is nominating. It is the implementation of the plan. It is the physical attributes that you would conduct. For example, performing a rally at a specific area to gain support for your campaign. The last stage is the general election. It is the overall impact of your campaign. Through this model students create objectives, strategies, and tactics in order to run a successful campaign. As well as the Trent & Friedenberg model other political communication models are taught as well, thus broadening the students’ minds.
In conclusion, to have a political communication class would be beneficial to any student in a communication program. The overall idea of the program is to teach students fundamental things about a political campaign, for example forming objective, strategies, and tactics. Once you have learned the skills this may influence you in the outside world. A presidential campaign influences everybody. Through understanding a political communication campaign students are more aware of the strategies that are used to read a message. This makes you a more informative individual who can make educated decisions. As result of educated decisions our new President is Barack Obama. Students who take a political communication class will find it rewarding.
Defining The Term Politcal Communication
In defining the subject of political communication, the two words of separate meaning offer enough complication on their own. Politics is commonly associated with terms such as public policy, government, social and professional relationships, usually associated with power and authority. Communication is the art or technique of exchanging thoughts, messages or information through speech, behavior, symbols and more. Over the past few months, the course on political communication included learning about political campaign strategies, in addition to researching a group topics. The topic we chose was, sustainable building and construction efforts in Philadelphia and our group name became The Green Girls. Along with four team members we created a mock proposal concerning sustainable, environmentally friendly efforts in new construction and renovations of buildings and houses in Philadelphia. Our mission statement was:
To promote and inform the publics (home owners and construction groups) on sustainable building practices; we also plan to proactively pursue political recognition towards an environmentally friendly bill.
Collecting data for our proposal was educational in comparing the document to a public relations plan. The two are similar but differ in certain ways, and it was interesting to modify our tasks since all of our team members are public relations majors.
An important quote to consider from our classroom discussion, comes from Professor Richard Stanton:
Framing theory is the capacity of a media relationship builder to comprehend and interpret the agenda-setting policies and source selection processes employed by the media and to construct a suitable ground onto which an issue can be projected as an elegant story (characterized by grace of form; simple and effective) relevant to specific media stakeholders.
This idea shapes the lessons of political campaigns in relationship to the media and specific tasks the Green Girls or other groups and organizations desire to achieve. There is no doubt we must acknowledge the difference between our fantasy political world to the realities of politics. Our classroom circumstances reflected possible scenarios, yet, they were still more best case scenario situations, not necessarily reflective of the surprise or unexpected real world.
In any campaign there are endogenous and exogenous variables to consider. The media is a critical exogenous variable to keep track of. We learned, like corporations, governments use media relations to build their image, while stakeholders use the media to attempt to influence governments. The media is not a reliable outlet, though it can be a useful tool for political campaigns. The media is unpredictable and an uncontrolled source. With our project we hoped to incorporate the media for our cause to gain interest and support. However, we do not want to misinform our publics and audiences by buying advertising space to deliver a biased message. Our campaign real or not, would have needed to deliver facts.
In any campaign, support is essential, from insider and outsider parties. For our Green Girls campaign, it was important to garner attention from environmental activists in Philadelphia and across the country. Additionally we needed to reach out to city officials of Philadelphia and state officials in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We hoped to gain the support of residents in Philadelphia while also convincing construction companies to accept sustainable building practices. To gain more support, a press conference is a great tool to increase awareness of a cause. For our final presentation the Green Girls in collaboration with the ‘mayor’ of Philadelphia and the ‘governor’ of Pennsylvania held a press conference about voting for an LEED certification bill by the end of the summer. The press conference was an instrument in informing the media through various outlets they have to offer, television, radio, newspaper, magazines and internet, by informing them about the Green Girls’ initiative towards a more sustainable city. Overall the process of this project was nowhere near comparable to the realistic process of a political campaign. Our research only skimmed the top of what the cause really needed to find success. Our efforts were with good intentions and were the beginning stages of a campaign that could go on for months or years. There is so much more to dive into with regards to passing a sustainable building bill.
Political Communication In The Classroom
In my viewpoint, learning political communication in the classroom was an intriguing and moving experience. As a senior public relations student, I knew that learning the fundamentals of political communication would be beneficial in helping me further my skills in the communication field. It has helped me gain more understanding of the theories that go behind all the rhetoric and persuasion in politics, and how to dissect and interpret campaign messages with a critical mindset. On enrolling in the class I knew politics and public policy was a major field that I could possibly explore for my future career. However, I was adamant about not working in the political world. As an outsider looking into the dynamic world of political communication, the stereotypical image of a lying, benefit-driven, and manipulative politician seeking votes and support in order to advance toward their own political agenda was ingrained in my mind. But I did not let these preconceived notions cloud my mind. I managed to stay optimistic and open to delve deeper into the realm of political communication. As weeks went by, each class taught new aspects of political communication and importantly, how to manage the media. I came to develop a passion for utilizing communication tools to execute successful campaigns. From my observation, the major difference between learning political communication in the classroom and in real life is that within the classroom, the curriculum is primarily based on discussing the theoretical reasoning behind campaigns rather than implementing real tactics and strategies. Although the classroom setting was largely lecture-based, there are many ways political communication in the classroom draws parallels from real world politics.
A clear trend and similarity between what I learned in the classroom and what was being used in real world political communication was that framing theory seems to be applied to campaigns to help garner publicity and attention. I learned that framing theory is the capacity of a political communicator to influence and interpret agenda-setting policies and source selection processes employed by the media and other stakeholders. Framing theory comprises three factors which are strategy, ground, and image, all of which play a critical role in a successful campaign. This theory can be detected in almost every single campaign or movement within non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, and special interest groups. I believe when this theory is used effectively it can impact an audiences mind and even alter opinions and thoughts. I got to apply the theory myself when our class had to form groups to create our own political campaigns. We had to use the framing theory to create our own creative political campaign to promote publicity in a press conference for our client or cause. I was lucky enough to end up with a client and cause that I was extremely passionate about. My group’s client was the Service member Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a law that bans gays, lesbians, and bisexual Americans from serving in the United States military. We chose to frame our campaign by emphasizing the significant amount of money lost due to dishonorably discharging servicemen and women because of their sexual orientation. As a campaign team we decided to use money as the key reason because it directly affects and concerns every person. We could not rely on the fact that people would feel sympathetic to the gay and lesbian community. This thought process has been used in many real life politics and I believe that money is always the number one factor that is used in a campaign. Sadly, campaigns must highlight other alluring factors for perspective stakeholders who may not agree with the campaigns real stance. To gain support in the classroom and in real life is to ensure that your audience and the media understand the frame and pressing issue that surrounds a specific agenda.
When researching the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and the SLDN, I found that they used the framing model to promote their cause. I concluded that they positioned and framed their cause as a “Freedom to Serve” and advocacy for equal rights in the military. Their campaign was primarily based on informing the public of the injustice of the law and a solution for the problem. Not only do I see framing theory being used by the SLDN, it is present in major news reporting such as Barrack Obama’s first 100 days, the economic crisis, the war in Iraq, and most currently the swine flu. If you closely observe, all these political issues are framed in a certain light by the media and offer a certain ‘feel’ to the public. The media is continuously feeding the public with certain viewpoints and facts to help educate. In a sense, media relations, political communication, public relations, and advertising are all these external means of communication change and influence the world as a whole. Our humanistic society is constantly exposed to framed events and messages.
Most importantly, I learned as I grow and develop into a professional communicator that it is vital to be responsible for what we ‘frame’ and communicate to the public. Communicators should have the ethical morals to understand that we are responsible to release news and information unbiased and without hidden agendas. Experiencing political communication within the classroom and in real life has given me perspective and it now has a deeper interest for me. I learned that without the drive to inform and educate a cause, a political campaign will not be cohesive and effective. Also, I felt within the classroom the fact that we weren’t really implementing the campaign was discouraging, but now that I am finished with the class and have a stronger idea about what it takes to implement a campaign, I have an urge to be involved in one outside the classroom.
The Political World: In And Outside The Classroom
Politics is the process by which decisions are made. Therefore the political campaign is one in which a collective effort is put into influencing the decision-making process in a specific target group. Also, within such a campaign, collective effort may be put into altering a policy within any institution or organization. For each campaign, a client is being represented. The client is the most important person to the campaign because the client hires those creating the campaign.
In the classroom, we were formed into groups and were asked to put together a campaign proposal. Before putting anything together, we needed to pick an issue and a client to represent. After doing so, we had to do the research before any kind of proposal was put together. In the real world of politics, research is always the first step. You need to know everything about your client and your issue before moving forward. It’s very important to know who and what you’re dealing with in order to communicate directly and be able to resolve any issues.
Once research was completed on our issue - solar energy - and our client was selected, the SunPower Corporation, we moved on to the next step learned in the classroom. We had to set up a basic outline of a theoretical model. We applied the Trent & Friedenberg model, beginning with surfacing or exposing the issue and client, mobilizing or gaining support, implementation or ways of executing the campaign, and finally measuring the impact or a final evaluation of the whole campaign. Though this model is theoretical, it can be applied to the real world outside the classroom. Every political campaign has to start somewhere and using this model as the basis of a proposal can be very helpful. Take for example the campaign set up by Barack Obama. Not many people knew who he was so the initial step would be surfacing. He was the junior United States Senator from Illinois. His initial surfacing was telling the United States who he was and that he was planning on running in the Presidential election of 2008. Then came mobilizing; he showed that he can relate to the people of the United States because he needed to gain their support. He did so by sticking to the idea of the young family man who can handle anything. He wanted the people to know that against all odds, like the color of his skin, he came out on top. Afterwards came the implementation; telling the people what he would do for us if elected President of the United States, such as promising on doing everything he can to get the troops out of Iraq. Measuring the impact was easy because he became the 44th President of the United States.
It is all about communicating and communicating well. However, you need to have everything together for a political campaign. Goals have to be set and from there objectives are sought. They should be clear, concise, and measurable. From there strategies and tactics of how the campaign will become successful will be established. Having all of this in mind, we learned that it is also important to not forget who the performers are, who the critics are, and who the audience is. The performers are those in favor of your campaign who stand behind your issue. Those are the people who run with your campaign and help expose it. In the political world, it is very important to have those supporters because without them a campaign would not be successful. Critics are the people who are against your campaign and who criticize every detail. This is important in the political world because even though it may not be the coverage you want, it is still exposure. Finally we have the audience; these are the people we are trying to convince with the campaign. This is important in the political world because you need the audience to help make a certain decision. Without the audience, the political campaign would not be successful.
The media is a huge part of any political campaign. They can either be your critics or they can be your performers. In the classroom we learned that it is important to get the media on your side so they can help you expose your campaign. We had to put together a presentation specifically targeting the media in a way to convince them that they should talk about our campaign. In the real world, the media is everywhere and cannot be avoided. To get their support and have them invest their time in giving your campaign exposure, they had to be impressed by the presentation. You do not want to bore them because then they will not have any interest in what you are doing. The presentation has to be interesting while giving the brief overviews of who, what, when, where, why, and hows of the campaign. Most importantly is not forgetting to let them know why you need them, what you need them to do, and how it would also be beneficial for them. In any form of communication, whether it is political or not, everyone asks the question, ‘What am I getting out of it?’ or ‘How does it benefit me?’ Everything learned in the classroom can be translated to outside. Ideas and theories and processes are not just taught to be taught, they are taught to prepare for real life in the field of political communication.
‘Political communication provides a historical context to the study and development of modern public relations; it helps scholars understand the message, or more precisely the speech; political communication has provided a “bottom-up” perspective to public relations practice found in grassroots campaigning; and political communication, as an applied field, has helped move public relations theory and practice from a mass media orientation to explore the diffusion process underlying influence attempts.’ Political communication is an important field that shapes and helps other fields in the real world. Tasks, papers, and presentations done within the classroom can only benefit us in our future endeavors, whether or not it is in the world of politics.
5. Stacks, Don W. (1995) Political Communication: Contributions to the Study of Public Relations. Retreived April 29, 2009 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/14/85/b6.pdf
In Class Or Not Politics Is Everywhere
As a student in Philadelphia, PA in early 2009 it was a very exciting time to be studying political communication as the 2008 presidential election had recently been held. The class helped me decipher tactics and strategies the candidates were using that were not apparent in previous elections. In past elections the younger demographics seemed to be forgotten about because it was thought they were not a major force at the polls. This theory was weakened in 2008-2009 when social media started being used by the presidential candidates by reaching audiences that once were not targeted by many politicians. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other social networking sites were being bombarded by political advertisements that were influencing younger demographics. These tactics were a success for President Obama because the younger crowds showed up to the polls and his e-campaigning paid off.
‘The Internet, to be sure, had already been deployed in political campaigns, but was used mainly to raise money. As voters massively shift towards the Internet for social interaction, consumer purchasing and political participation, office seekers are rushing to establish an online presence and connect with voters on the ground. During the U.S. elections, more than 500 American politicians had their own Facebook page. Many more will in future elections—not only in the States, but also in Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and other democracies (Fraser).’
Without the classroom discussions that were held in my political communication class I do not think that I would have realized what an effect social media sites had on the election. It is normal routine for a college student to check their FaceBook, or other sites daily to find out what is going on in friends and families lives without even processing advertisements being displayed on the page. It was only when my professor, Richard Stanton, and fellow classmates brought it to my attention what a change it was for political ads to transfer from TV to internet that I began to realize how significantly different Obama was running his campaign compared to preceding elections.
Growing up using the internet and having the technology at my fingertips can make it easily overlooked and taken for granted. I would have never noticed the different tactics that were being used in the 2009 election if it was not brought to my attention. The political communication class helped raise my awareness of how these new social networking sites were transforming the way politicians were running their campaigns. Now that I am aware of the strategies being used by politicians I increasingly realize how the internet is being using for political actions. When signing onto my FaceBook account there are new polls received or groups wanting to be added who support either a politician or a political view that would have been overlooked before. To relate this topic directly to my classroom experience it was seen throughout presentations being done by classmates that tactics they intended to use to gain support for their causes were establishing friends and followers on social networks. Many seem to think this is the quickest and most influential way to reach their target audiences. But because these networks are the newest craze in politics should past strategies be forgotten?
Although I do agree that using FaceBook and other social media can help spread word quickly I do not know if I think it is the best way for politics to be defined. The internet has established a barrier for face-to-face communication in the world. Just because your word is out there it does not allow your followers to see facial expressions, or sense the tone of a speech which could hurt a politician. I think that it is important for younger generations to realize that these sites are beneficial, but not without using them in combination with past tactics and strategies.
The political communication class helped me look further into this most recent election and evaluate what elements I thought were useful. These social media are very helpful and I think we will continue to see politicians use them to help further themselves in their careers. These sites will help attract younger voters and get them involved in politics, which is a good thing. The youth vote needs to be present because the United States is in an economic downfall and we are going to b the ones changing it as we graduate from college and get jobs to stimulate the economy. I also believe that political campaigns need to use social networking sites combined with older strategies to build a very effective campaign. We still need TV debates, speeches, and other face-to-face communication so voters can get the feel of a politician and not only rely on information found on social networks. As a voter I feel more comfortable voting for a person if I know they had good communication skills, not only through the internet but also when speaking.
Political communication classes can open students’ eyes to strategies and tactics that are directed towards them when they do not even realize it. This is a good thing because youth should be aware of how these social media are influencing their thoughts and feelings. Realizing that FaceBook, MySpace, and Twitter are affecting the way they think about situations can help them make more educated decisions when it comes to voting. Being aware of your surroundings can help one react more efficiently rather than having it gone unnoticed or done because of unknown influences such as social media.
Fraser, Matthew and Soumitra Datta. New York Times 2008, November 14. “Obama and the Facebook Effect.” Retrieved April 30, 2009. http://www.mediaweek.com/mw/content_display/esearch/e3id4ae6ffc50a7784963bd4aba0287b4f9?imw=Y
What I have Learned About Real Politics In The Classroom
Prior to enrolling in this class, my interpretations of political communication were basic. No application of concepts or theories, simply an image of people competing for power over government. I have attended classes on rhetoric, interpersonal communication, and organizational communication as a public relations student. After participating in this political communication course, I have learned the significance of each stage used to communicate with the public. It also became clear politics is more than power and structured governments. The many cultures on this earth have a series of political issues and beliefs established. When looking at the broad spectrum of international affairs the assortment of issues is overwhelming.
The theories discussed made me realize how complex building a campaign is, no matter what the agenda may be. Whether it is the grassroots or a private division, in order to achieve success it is important for the organization to frame and plan the campaign strategically. To better comprehend the theories and processes learned, groups were formed and the material was carried out during group projects. By putting theory into practice it has become easier to spot objectives behind political messages placed in the media and formulate an opinion untainted by political bias.
The first phase of our political campaign was simple to work through. Surfacing is as straightforward as forming a group and stating a cause. Anyone can do it, and anything can be a cause. The hard part is executing the subsequent stages properly for a victorious campaign. Sustainability is a controversial issue faced by Philadelphia. Most Philadelphians are enthusiastic about the beautification of the city and saving the planet. This alone cannot make an issue become top priority for the government or get the public involved.
Framing the cause appropriately was the biggest factor in the success of our campaign’s future. The Green Girls, a mock environmental advocacy group, was formed and our mission statement ‘To promote and inform the publics (home owners and construction groups) on sustainable building practices; we also plan to proactively pursue political recognition towards an environmentally friendly bill,’ was surfaced. Creating a formal proposal presented to our professor set background and foreground for the campaign. We modeled the proposal after other sustainable building groups such as the United States Green Building Council. While setting the base of our campaign, potential stakeholders and other target audiences were kept in mind. The group’s goals and objectives were clearly communicated to the ‘public’ and the attention paid to their needs would hopefully ignite support. Public approval is a large factor in the success of a campaign. In order to gain civic support, the media’s attention must be caught. Communicating with the media is the number one way a message will reach a campaign’s publics. The media is a channel parties may use to create images. By analyzing previous media clips regarding sustainability in Philadelphia and applying theories learned, my group preformed a mock media conference. From this small experience alone, it was clear that advocates of a cause must prepare for challenges brought by the media. Every aspect of the campaign must be cohesive and earn credibility from those attending. If the media cannot take you seriously, it is highly unlikely the public will. By creating an elegant story of Philadelphia’s current sustainable building initiatives, and providing details of goals set, we deemed the media conference a success. There are many forms of evaluation in real world political communication. Our successes and failures were evaluated through the eyes of a stakeholder. The feedback fielded from the ‘media’ was taken into consideration and conclusions were drawn. It was decided the environment is a newsworthy issue with no problems in receiving exposure. Funding for environmental projects, however, was a size-able concern.
Social media is another communication channel growing popular among campaigns. In the beginning stages of a grassroots campaign, social media may play a large part in mobilizing support for a cause. Creating a strong image and promoting it strategically on the internet has helped candidates like President Obama and religious movements such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster rapidly gain public support. Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter create a viral effect among users. Issues are published immediately and should they provoke interest, the messages are spread like wildfire. The viral effect can be used for or against a campaign. Although messages placed by campaign members may spread rapidly throughout the internet, so do image tainting secrets and venomous opposing viewpoints. Creating an image is a piece of cake when compared to covering up a scandal. Despite the cons of using social media as a tactic, it is absolutely necessary to use this tool as leverage in a campaign.
Orchestrating a political campaign is not the only skill I have learned from this course. Broad discussion of the evaluation of a campaign has taught me how to objectively look at real political campaigns and formulate conclusion about them. While reading news articles and browsing political websites, understanding how an issue is framed and the objectives behind it, has helped me voice an opinion based on theory, rather than emotion. Yes, people have the right to base their opinions on values or emotion, but this is not always best when decision-making. It is important the public understand the process behind a political campaign. Jumping on a bandwagon or blindly following a charismatic leader benefits no one. Analyzing messages and images portrayed throughout a political campaign will prevent hidden agendas from sneaking past the general public.
As stated above, political communication is more than a government official running for office. Taking this class has taught me, it is a process applied to an assortment of issues; the environment, human rights, gun control, and other political policies directly affect our lives everyday, not always for the better. The public is known for blaming the big faceless government for their problems because it is easy to do. Attempting to change the current state of their country, city, or town will not come from sitting down and tuning in. By understanding how to effectively build a campaign and standing up for what they believe in puts the ball in their court. With the hard work and dedication of many, changing of public policy from the ground up is a beautiful possibility.
Political Communication And The Real World
Any transmission of messages that is intended to affect the distribution of power in a society can be construed as political communication. Political communication is often used in reference to the power relationship between those involved in national and state governments, but it can also be used to describe power within churches, schools, or other establishments. As a student studying the science of public relations, political communication is a subject matter that I may be faced with on a daily basis. Learning the skills necessary to effectively communicate alongside those in the political sphere has granted me the freedom to explore other areas of public relations and become more secure in my ability to do so. Before enrolling in political communication I was unsure as to how I would understand the material. I have always had a slight interest in politics and the relationship it has with the communication field, but I was not an expert. I chose to enroll in the course for the sole purpose of changing this, and expanding my knowledge of the field that I knew so little about.
Upon entering the classroom there were many topics that I felt we would be covering, such as the recent election of President Obama. This was a topic that I was familiar with given its recent coverage in the news and the importance his election would have on my personal future. During the time spent in the classroom President Obama was discussed a few times but was not the focus as I had first thought. Rather topics such as how to communicate your message well with the media, and how to successfully help your client win an election were discussed. These topics were ones that I never pictured myself having to know but quickly realized were of vast importance to my future as a public relations practitioner. Public relations is a quickly expanding field and one that encompasses not only the study of public relations but that of political communication. As mentioned above President Obama made news this past year for not only securing the Presidency but also being a pioneer in the world of political communication. Not only did President Obama utilize the usual tactics to communicate his message, but he was one of the first politicians to use social media as a backbone for his connection with the youth of America. I equated President Obama with what I thought the basis of a good political communicator would be. There are individuals who would agree with this and others who would disagree as with every politician. I learned that when analyzing a political communicator or any communicator at that, it is important to examine their ability to effectively connect with their audience. This point was one that rang true with me simply because I felt President Obama was on his way to being, if not already, a master at this. President Obama’s ability to get through to an audience was a key factor in his election. I feel that without this skill, he may have lost his vote with some citizens. Reinforcing this idea in class stressed the overall significance to me.
If this course taught me anything at all it was the fact that to be successful in the field of political communication you must engage the media and persuade them to cover your politician or story. This past semester we were assigned a project that placed us in groups, allowed us to choose a topic and devise a plan of action in pitching our subject to the media. I was involved in a group that chose the controversial topic of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. Our strategy was to approach the media simply as concerned citizens who had the right to be informed. Using framing theory we secured video footage of testimonials of past soldiers who were discharged and numerous politicians discussing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. The job of the media is to act as a barrier between citizens and the information that is available throughout the world, therefore it was our main purpose to convince the media that our topic was newsworthy. This project was very similar to that of a public relations practitioner’s daily duty. Writing media advisories, press releases, and making media calls is all done in the hope of swaying the media to cover your story over another. The connection between the group project we completed was a helpful one in that it simulated a day in the life of a public relations professional. Not only is it the job of public relations practitioners to pitch stories to the media, but it is also their job to pitch people, including politicians. Finding your politician’s newsworthy aspect and highlighting this to the media is what gets your client coverage. Understanding the media from the perspective of the journalist is another crucial aspect of political communication.
Political communication is a field that explores the struggle for power between individuals and large groups. The experiences I encountered in the classroom were similar to those that I feel I would encounter on a daily basis working as a public relations professional. I was given the chance to research a topic I was passionate about and present my case to the media. Learning the skills to do this was beneficial to me in countless ways. It is important for all students entering into the workforce to realize the significance in being well-versed in all areas of your profession. Public relations is much more than writing press releases and reading the news, it is important to see the magnitude of the work we do. Former Senator, now President Obama had the help of talented political public relations individuals surrounding him. This in turn allowed him to be the best political communicator he could possibly be. The opportunity is available for all students to assist someone with the level of power President Obama has as long as the important bond between public relations and political communication is not forgotten.
Political Communication In The Classroom
‘Political communication does not have to involve governmental politics?’ I asked myself this very question within the first week of my political communication class. Five months earlier, I endured the rigorous process of registering for classes, and in the spirit of voting in my first Presidential election, political communication was the class I was most excited about. To my surprise however, I discovered an academic political communication course does not need to revolve around governmental issues, but rather, encompasses the policy issues that exist in all aspects of business, education, and charitable work. Before enrolling in this class, I thought of political communication as a tactic used throughout political elections. The primary message I learned during my sixteen week course is that whether it is government or education, political communication is a fundamental necessity in order to reach the goal of the organization. As the Trent & Friedenberg model suggests, communicative functions vary based on each campaign and the type of organization (i.e. non-profit, government, education), but each campaign’s communicative functions are either pragmatic or symbolic. Pragmatic functions make specific tangible contributions while symbolic functions fulfill ritualistic expectations or requirements.
The classroom offered a controlled setting for mock political communicators such as my fellow classmates and me to develop and execute a strategic campaign for a client. With an issue, client, and fully developed proposal, my group worked to evolve our campaign for at least twelve weeks before presenting our issue in a ‘press conference’ to the rest of our classmates (representing the news media). Similarly to political communication tactics in the real world, we provided information from tactics to evaluation methods while anticipating questions from the press. However, because of the controlled setting, our campaign was relatively flawless and was able to accurately follow the preset timeline of tactics.
Political communication in the field is subject to mishaps, setbacks, and other unforeseen events. However, our class closely mirrored that of political communication in the ‘real world’ because we based on project on models studied, methods used, and tactics practiced in the industry. For example, a key concept addressed in class is the importance of reaching the target audience and the different methods for doing so. Just as political communicators do in the field, as students, we developed strategies for tactics such as rallies, partnerships, public service announcements, benefit concerts, and press conferences. In addition to the execution of tactics, we modeled our project off of communication models to ensure our success. As discussed in the classroom, the Trent & Friedenberg model exemplifies the necessary communicative functions of a campaign. It is broken into stages with specific functions that affect the entire campaign. Although the model illustrates each stage in a governmental campaign, I now understand that politics exist in all organizations and entities and the stages are necessary and relevant in all campaigns.
Surfacing, the first stage, is the period of time when the issue or the candidate, is made public. During this stage, both verbal and nonverbal communication acts occur such as speaking with stakeholders in order to gain support and raise awareness, conduct public opinion polls, begin fundraising and create a campaign blueprint. However, in the classroom we reported such tactics in our proposal about how we could about surfacing.
The second stage, primaries, is necessary for choosing a spokesperson to champion the campaign. In presidential campaigns, for example, this is when the party decides who its candidates will be. As I learned however, this is not the only case in which ‘primaries’ occur. In my group’s project, we chose an executive from our client’s organization to champion our campaign. It was at this point that I was first able to grasp the concept that political communication as a process that did not require governmental politics to be involved because I was then able to see how, while the same principals apply, they can be targeted toward any industry or organization.
Trent & Friedenberg’s third stage is nominating conventions, which in presidential campaigns is self-explanatory, but to relate that to an alternative issue is quite difficult. According to Trent & Friedenberg, the convention stage is an important and distinct period because of the symbolic functions it provides. It is applicable to all political communication campaigns because it is during this stage that the topic or issue of the campaign is spread to all publics and begins to raise awareness for the cause. The momentum that is created with this stage is imperative to the life of the campaign. Outside the classroom, communicators would hold a large initial event to begin a following of stakeholders. Inside the classroom, we reported a rally to occur as our nominating phase.
The fourth and final stage is the general election. This is the parades, debates, and bumper stickers of the campaign. Outside the classroom at this point, the campaign is in full swing with public appearances such as speeches, rallies, press conferences, and other communicative tactics directed to the stakeholders. In the classroom, we conducted a mock press conference to practice presenting an issue to journalists, including a question and answer segment.
In the classroom, these stages are relatively simple to complete because they consist of brainstorming with no real execution other than a mock press conference. Certainly, in the field, it is realistic to experience a change in direction, public resistance, budget deficits, and other unforeseen obstacles. However, because of the realistic project, modern theories, and lectures, I am confident that political communication in the classroom prepares students for its practical application as professionals.
My Experience Of Political Communication
I am a Strategic and Organizational Communication major. My concentration is Public Communications. During the spring semester of 2009 I had my first hands-on experience of political communication. This was a requirement for my concentration; however, I learned a great deal of information while taking this class. Over the course of the semester, my fellow classmates and I chose a topic, discussed and researched that topic, made a proposal, revised that proposal, assigned ourselves a role within our group, and presented our proposal in front of the class room as if we were really proposing to a real client. Over the course of this review, I will be discussing the events I have previously stated, what I learned, and how it will help me in the future.
In the beginning of the semester, after the preliminary introductions, a list of ideas were presented for each of us, to group-up and choose which one we would like to develop. My group and I ultimately decided to choose gun control. We chose gun control because gun violence is a serious issue within Philadelphia, and for obvious reasons, making this a serious cause for concern. After researching general information on gun control policies, state and national legislation, and those who are affected by gun violence, we developed a proposal. The main focus for our proposal was to inform state and federal legislators of the severity of this issue, and to convince them that some new agenda must be enacted in order to correct it. The main points in our proposal were the introduction and the objectives and goals. The introduction included the formalities of the subject, a description of the issue, and the situations present. The objectives and goals for our proposal were to first target the stakeholders, such as the Brady Campaign to prevent Gun Violence, employ strategies and tactics, and compile a budget.
The grade that we received for this proposal was not unsatisfactory, however, it was not what we had hoped to achieve. We later learned that our overall proposal and our strategy for executing that proposal were good. However, our view was too wide and we needed to narrow our focus. This taught me that too much information can be a bad thing, as it may prevent those who we are presenting it to from focusing on our main points and ideas. The last and most important objective was to present our proposal to the rest of the class. Major revision needed to be done, and this is where team work would either make or break our efforts. When revising our presentation, we took our professor’s comments into account as we focused on four main areas to present on. The first area was introducing the main ideas of gun control and why it is such an issue. Lauren, one of group members, acted as a historical liaison. She discussed gun legislation when it was first enacted, and how both the firearms and the situations present, greatly differ from the time when the second amendment was passed. LaCole acted as our city liaison. She discussed Philadelphia’s murder rate, and how it increases annually. My position was to act as the State liaison. I discussed gun violence in other cities within Pennsylvania. Lastly, Kyle acted as our Federal liaison, discussing gun legislation on a national level.
For this presentation, we incorporated aspects of framing theory and the Trent & Friedenberg political communication model. Framing theory requires strategy (design), ground (foreground/ back ground), and image (story). The strategy of our presentation was to make our clients more aware of the severity of gun control, while deterring the opinions of conservatives who believe gun control is not necessary. We then hoped to push for some legislative change that would intact tougher gun control policies. The foreground for this issue was to ensure that murders due to gun violence will only increase, while our background makes it known that this problem can only be fixed with the governments’ help. Lastly, the image that we wanted to portray to our client was the growing number of teens and young adults being murdered by assailants with guns’ the police officers who are slain for upholding the law; the crying families of the fallen victims; and installation of hope: that something can be done if our suggestions are taking into account.
Group work and collaboration was very important in my experience with political communication. So far, throughout my three year experience with university, this class has taught me the benefits and the importance in working with a group, compared to other classes that I have previously taken. Working with others can be very hard, especially when everyone is not on ‘the same page’. Fortunately for us, there were very few disagreements within our group. Hearing everyone else’s thoughts and opinions helped challenge and enhance my own way of thinking. I began thinking at a higher level then what I am used to; mainly because my group expected me to do so, and I felt obligated to meet their expectations. Synergy is also needed when working in a group, and I have always known that but never actually realized it until this class. Making a proposal and presenting it to a client can be quite difficult, but the members of my team made this experience a great deal easier. From now on I will remember the importance of working with others and draw closer to others, rather than always choosing to work alone.
Finally, this class also informed me about the process of how situations are handled, and how campaigns are developed in the political field. There is much more to it than deciding to take action. A process has to be initiated, and multiple strategies must be developed in order for a campaign to even get off the ground. This class gave me the knowledge to possibly establish my own campaigns in the future. My major is strategic and organizational communications and this class helped me develop the foundation and the tools necessary to continue on in the future. During the next fall semester, I am hoping to take a more active role at my university and I would like to start my own campaign hoping to combat gun violence in Philadelphia. I always wanted to do something about it but now I have the basics of how to get started thanks to this political communication class.
I also began thinking of the current situations within the public sphere, and how political communication is being used. For instance, Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks about the Swine Flu outbreak were illegitimate; how he advised his family to stay off public transportation, public places, and virtually any confined places. This worried a lot of people and gave President Obama’s handling of the subject a bad rap. If I were in this situation, I would advise the public to follow basic procedures of good hygiene, such as washing your hands consistently, covering one’s mouth during a sneeze and a cough, and seeking immediate medical attention if flu like symptoms occur. Many do not realize, but over 13,000 individuals have died this past year because of the regular flu that happens annually. However, there have not, at time of submission of this article, been any deaths so far in America from the Swine Flu, and the health care in Mexico is way below that of the United States. Without my experiences in political communication, I would not have thought of the situation in that way.
Political Communication in the Classroom
As a public relations major within a communications concentration, my curriculum has focused on a number of different communication models. Over the last four years, I have sharpened my skills of writing, argumentation, and critically analyzing different ideas. I was required to take a course titled Communication Theory, where I learned to actively question and conceptualize modern theories of communication. Here I discovered that human beings create their meaning through their culture, and how we share symbols in our culture to co-create our reality. This allowed me to better understand why it is that people have a great tendency to fear the unfamiliar, as it is simply not a part of their reality. Another important theory I learned was that of mass communication; here I studied how powerful a weapon the media truly is. The media is such a controlling force that it is literally able to dictate how millions of people operate. Furthermore, as we are seeing currently with the Swine Flu ‘pandemic’, the media can also strike people with such overwhelming fear that they create an atmosphere of unnecessary panic. Instead of focusing its attention on educating the public on how to keep themselves from acquiring the virus, which has to date affected fewer than 400 people worldwide, the mainstream media chooses to focus on the disaster the virus could cause.
Instead of reminding the public to wash their hands and not cough on each other, the media would like us to know that a vaccine for Swine Flu is still at least six months from being created. In late April 2009, President Obama repeatedly reassured Americans to be cautious, but not panic about the virus. The Center for Disease Control held multiple press conferences, urging the American people to not become panic-stricken, but to simply use common sense and proper hand washing techniques to prevent the transmission of the flu. Since these stories are not colorful enough to splash across the six o'clock news, on Thursday April 30 the media jumped on a story about Vice President Biden. During an interview on the Today show, he revealed that he had urged family members not to travel by plane or subways for the foreseeable future. Naturally, this statement, contradictory to President Obama’s, sent federal officials into damage-control mode, and the media into a feeding frenzy. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated that the Vice President meant that sick people should not travel via mass transport.
Though some courses would prove to be more beneficial than others, perhaps the most important of all has been my political communications class. It was here that I learned to relate communication theories, like that of mass communication, into real world knowledge. An excellent example is the media’s representation of Swine Flu. I am able to better understand the Obama administration and more specifically, Press Secretary Gibb’s announcements. They must downplay this media firestorm as much as possible, while giving the public the least amount of information necessary. Another example of how my experience in the classroom has lead to my greater understanding of real-world political communication also comes from the Obama administration. David Axelrod, Chief Advisor to the President, hailed from AKP&D Message and Media firm in Washington, D.C. Mr. Axelrod was the leading advisor on Obama’s campaign for presidency. The fact the President’s leading strategist is a public relations expert may come as a surprise to many, but not to PR students. There is no more strategic, goal-oriented, communications-driven field in the world than public relations, and Axelrod is an excellent example of how essential PR is to political communication. During the campaign, Axelrod understood the importance of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. He knew that by gathering email addresses during all of Obama's rallies and appearances that they would be able to encourage new voters to register; utilizing the internet in such ways was unheard of before the Obama campaign. I can relate my experience in the classroom to real-world political communication every time I turn on the news, or tweet on my Twitter.
Political Communication Challenges Rhetorical Skills
I am a political science and public communication double major, so I was particularly excited about taking a political communication class. I viewed it as a chance to show my political expertise and challenge my rhetorical skills in a meaningful way. I was equally thrilled when I learned that we would engage in a campaign of our own choosing and actually try to make a policy change. Through our various lectures and class activities I came to the realization that political communication is nothing like what I had done before. It is more than knowing the ins and outs of a policy, or being able to construct an effective speech. It is an interesting hybrid of the two that forced me into some of the most strategic thinking I have done thus far in my collegiate experience. I learned that a policy is only as good as the public discourse surrounding it, so it is important to create a campaign that relates to the largest number of people and is impactful enough for politicians to take notice. Throughout the semester we learned about and used strategies on how to effectively create a political campaign and to communicate our legislative agenda.
One thing that will definitely stick with me is the Trent & Friedenberg model for campaigns. From my understanding, the model works as a way to get grassroots support for a specific campaign or legislation, make the ground swell enough for politicians to take notice, and accomplish goals. My group wanted to do something radical for our project. We wanted to change the Second Amendment because we thought it was an outdated part of our nation’s history. We also took notice of the way President Barack Obama used the word ‘change’ in his campaign and wanted to do something similar to relay the idea that change does not end at a vote for presidency but can apply to any problem that our nation encounters. I suspected if more than 60% of the nation favored sensible gun legislation, but the principle deterrent is the Second Amendment, we need to come together as a nation and change the Second Amendment. We used the Trent & Friedenberg model to effectively organize a campaign called BANG!! that sought to get the Second Amendment changed and inform the public in general about the dangers of gun usage. The model is composed of four parts: surfacing, mobilizing, strategizing and implementation. I think our group did a good job of using the model in order to make an effective campaign.
Firstly, we had to get our issue into the public discourse as a problem that needs to be solved immediately. We framed the issue so that people would understand that the excessive number of guns we have in this nation is a problem. In our first assignment, we outlined how many people die annually because of gun use. Also, in our press conference we reiterated with personal examples on all three levels of government. We sited Virginia Tech as a national issue because it shook the nation as it affected students and young adults; populations that are vulnerable and seen as innocent. We then talked about the police officers who were shot and killed in Pittsburg because everyone sympathizes with the death of people working in the line of duty. Lastly, we provided disturbing statistics on Philadelphia and related it back to our audience. At the press conference I asked if anyone lived or went to school in Philadelphia. It seemed like a trick question, but I knew it was a quick way to get their attention and make our message hit home. My group and I stressed the fact that gun violence is a threat to everyone in America and we can solve the problem.
Secondly, we had to find organizations that were sympathetic to our cause in order to get more public support. We made a list of groups which are already fighting for new gun legislation; the national Brady Campaign and Philadelphia’s Stop The Violence initiative. We wanted to create an alliance with these organizations to increase our resources and public support. Additionally, we would have sent out information to voters, mobilized victims’ families and worked to get bipartisan support for the victims. Thus, when we revealed our legislative agenda, both parties would be locked into helping us. No politician wants to disrespect the families of the victims of gun violence or seem unsympathetic to a death. It was the way to get political support for our goal.
Next, we had to implement a strategy to get our legislation passed. We decided to attack the problem on each governmental level by having different initiatives. On the local level we advocated increasing funding to the Guns For Groceries program to get guns off of the street as well as increasing the number of law enforcement officials on the street itself. However, we discovered there is nothing Philadelphia can do legislatively because criminals could just leave the jurisdiction of the city, purchase a gun and bring it back in. We decided to try state level, but we encountered more difficulties because of the polarity of the state. Outside the two major cities, Pennsylvania is rural; some Pennsylvanians really do use guns for hunting. We had to adjust our stance because it would be illogical and unpopular to advocate a complete ban on guns when some people have a legitimate responsible use for them. We altered our strategy and sought legislation that would place limits on the number of guns people are allowed to buy, when they can buy them, and what they should do if one is lost or stolen. We advocated these same steps at federal level. We were flexible enough to make contingencies in our initial goal and changed it from completely overturning the Second Amendment, to allowing guns in controlled environments and only for hunting.
The last step in the model is the implementation of the policy. We can only imagine the success of our campaign had we had the resources, time and opportunities to pursue it. Either way I know I have learned a great deal by doing this campaign. I now see how critical it is to effectively frame an issue, build alliances and be creative and flexible in strategies and tactics.
My favorite political philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, once advised every citizen to ‘make known what type of government would command his respect and that will be one step towards obtaining it’. This is my favorite quote because it implies that one must first be informed enough to know what they want, then articulate enough to make those wishes known. After taking this class I truly believe I am better equipped in both respects.
From Little Interest To Amazement
Entering into my political communication course, I had very few expectations. Since the election had just ended, and history had just been made, most of my assumptions were based upon the newly elected Barack Obama, and the way his administration planned to run America. Another issue I thought would most likely be discussed over the course of the class was the economy and the economic crisis the United States is currently facing. Even before the start of the course, I heard people talk about a ‘recession’, and was told how horrible it will be graduating this year and attempting to start a career in what is being called the largest recession since the Great Depression. Going into it, I had little interest in politics, which is why I have come out of the course amazed at what I know, interested in what is going on, and looking forward to my new knowledge on such important current and political issues and applying them to reality.
On considering the most important and interesting pieces of information I have gained from political communication in the classroom, it is important to understand that the mentality I now have for subject and field has grown from little-to-no interest, to truly interested. Much of what I know, I can now openly and confidentially discuss with people who have spent years of their lives dedicated to these topics and issues. However, what I have gained from this course, has opened up many doors for me, and has sparked an interest that encourages me to further educate myself on these issues.
Political communication is far more than a team working on a political campaign. The media has an immense role in the success or failure of campaigns, whether it is an issue campaign, political campaign or any other publicly run campaign. No matter what the main purpose of a particular campaign, its outcome typically falls within the hands of advocacy groups, devoted individuals and the media. The first major recognition of ‘new’ media impact broke through during the Eisenhower presidential election campaign in 1952. The Eisenhower campaign, which will later be related to the Obama campaign, took action and advantage of the newest medium of that era with the invention of the television. The Eisenhower campaign team took this opportunity to send their messages to a large audience, while remaining focused on issues that needed to be addressed throughout the campaign. The public was able to learn more about the candidate’s plans and goals at a much faster pace than they were previously able to. With the ability to influence or impact specific campaigns and stakeholders, the media is a powerful asset that can no longer be unconsidered in current campaign movements.
For a more modern day approach to understanding how media can influence and impact the success or failure of a campaign, we can focus on the Obama campaign. Obama, much like Eisenhower, had the opportunity to reach out to the public with newer, fresher media. Certainly, television has long progressed into much more than the older television sets with antennas, or the standard cable boxes. However, within the past decade, the internet has taken an overwhelmingly quicker pace to producing news, and many people have found themselves turning to the world wide web rather than to their TV sets to access news and political events. Because of this, younger generations have created obsessions with networking sites that can connect them with their family and friends, and even better, sites that connect them with family, friends and up-to-the minute news-feeds that can educate them on issues they should know about. Say hello to the wonderful world of FaceBook, MySpace, and Twitter. Those who neglected to jump on the current internet trends such as the three networking sites mentioned above, may find themselves facing unsuccessful campaigns or losing elections, due to the demand for younger, quicker sources of news, and the media that distribute it. What the Obama campaign created was a campaign that appealed to the younger generations, and was interactive to the public. With the help of FaceBook, MySpace and Twitter, Obama was able to befriend thousands of people, and in Twitter terms, gain more than a million followers. With these internet tools, the Obama campaign was able to directly send the messages they felt important to millions of people. Through these tools, the public was and is able to email Obama, follow his progress, find out what he has planned, and so much more than basic television ever allowed the Eisenhower campaign. So with current trends, comes success.
After learning about the many ways media has an impact and influence on political communication, I was able to thoroughly study a topic of interest throughout the duration of the course. With my new knowledge on the impact of media, advocacy groups and individuals, I was able to apply the information I learned to an issue I feel is extremely important today, and I feel passionate about. Currently, the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation is still enacted and will remain until President Obama repeals the policy. If not, it will remain, and the government will continue funding not only the policy, but the enormous financial loss that comes with dishonorably discharging well and able military volunteers because of their sexual orientation.
The amount it costs to train replacements for these individuals, is astronomical, particularly at a time of recession. Media plays such a critical role in any campaign, and issues as controversial as the DADT legislation rely heavily on media coverage. However, because the media has the ability to manipulate ideas, and are often times thought to ‘spin’ situations, it can also be dangerous to rely on the media so much. Since the media has such an impact on the success and failures of campaigns, each campaign team must decide and carefully plan how they want their message distributed through the media.
I could continue to discuss the importance of this issue, but the main importance of this article is to present the benefits of political communication in the classroom, and how it has taught me so much more than how I stereotyped political communication. It is interesting to see how the classroom discussions and material can relate so much to reality, where, many subjects are teaching basic skills or knowledge about a particular topic of field. As I have presented a minimal amount of the topics touched on throughout the political communication course, it is apparent that so much has come out of the course, and leaves so much more to be learned. For anyone, political communication in the classroom is an opportunity to learn what one may not know, or elaborate on issues they do.
Curiosity Shaped Feelings Towards Political Communication
Richard Bartee III
To graduate after my final spring semester I took an almost overwhelming amount of coursework. I took many courses for the sake of taking them and I took others because they raised some interest with me. I took political communication because I wanted to, and I also wanted to gain a better understanding of the world of political communication. With the course I was able to relate what I learned to real world political communication. I have come to understand throughout the semester that all communication is political. There is always a desire to attain a goal, so one must understand what they have to do to achieve it. What was learned in political communication can be summed up in word; campaign. There is more to political communication than just campaigning, but campaigning plays a vital role. An easily understandable example that was given in class was when a fellow classmate was visiting a friend interstate. We went through a detailed step-by-step process of analysis to understand how she was going to get there; her goal-setting and attempting to achieve that goal.
Every piece of information provided to publics is important because publics are stakeholders with an interest in the topic being discussed. One of the more recent campaigns was the campaign for President. The political communication campaign for President Barrack Obama was very effective. The campaign was shown to be effective simply because Obama was elected. He set out with a goal in mind to be the President of the United States.
One cornerstone for many people during their campaigns is to convince those who are not interested or have no idea of the concept, to either follow or believe what they are saying. These types of campaigns require large budgets and depend on the efficiency of the organization or team running the campaign.
It is possible to understand the correlation between what was learned in the class to what can be observed in the outside world. The classroom atmosphere can be broken down further to a more concrete understanding of how it relates to the real world. During the semester we were given real scenarios, real in the sense that we would be working for an existing organization. What we understood from the mission and objectives of these organizations was that there are a variety of methods available to represent an issue in the public sphere so that the message can be understood. The classroom is therefore a modified version of the real world. What needs to be understood is the ability to comprehend what is being explained to the class and having the capability to apply it to the real world. Just as you are being graded in your classes your end product will be judged by the organization you are working for.
Political communication is deadline-oriented. In the classroom setting we were given a certain timeline to finish our project. There were due dates and specific instructions. Meeting deadlines meant we were able to take our campaign to the next step and implement each phase of our project. When our proposal was accepted by our client, our next step was to promote our campaign to the media, furthering our cause. This scenario is similar to the process in the real world. The case in point was the campaign for Presidential elections. Following the Trent & Friedenberg model the campaign for presidency started with primaries. The primaries were similar to our proposal. Our client stakeholder was the company we were working for. For the presidential elections, their proposal was the primaries. They pitched their campaign to the public to verify that they had the best candidate. After Barack Obama’s proposal was accepted by the public he became the Democratic candidate for the Presidency. During class we held a press conference to motivate them to think about our issue and how it had been framed.
My closing message is to emphasize the importance of having an effective and efficient campaign. The true judgment of an effective campaign can only be seen after the campaign is concluded and evaluated. Political communication was a course that helped me to better understand what is required of me as a public relations practitioner.
Parallels Between Political Communication and Public Relations
When considering this semester of political communication, I have gained insight to an industry that I did not realize was so in-line with my major area of study, public relations. As a public relations major, I find it difficult to sometimes wrap my brain around all of the areas that public relations can relate to. During this semester I was able to learn about a different area of study that is not only useful in public relations, but also in preparing me for my future career. I did not know that political communication is complex, and even a business in its own right. This semester I was able to use my public relations skills that I have acquired through internships, and coursework, in order to work through political communication studies. I have realized that everything I do in my future career will somehow relate to political communication. I feel this is not only an important asset to me as a student, but also as a future professional.
The information in the political communication class was sometimes very complex. Because this subject can be applied to everything, and often related differently depending on political culture it is applied to, it is difficult to learn everything about it. With that stated, I do believe that I have a general understanding of how political communication works, and how it applies to my future profession, public relations. I believe that is most beneficial to me as I am about to enter the workforce. While the information learned in the political communication class will be very useful in my future public relations profession, I don't think it is possible for class work alone to prepare a student for the work force. There was both a learning of general information where we applied political information to a global scale, and most importantly, other information related to real-life situations that affect my community, and experiences I may encounter in the near future.
Normally, I am not an advocate for group work. Personally, I believe that I should be graded on my individual work alone, and other people’s work ethics should not affect my marks. As I move through university, and come closer to graduating, I realize that in the work place, this is not the case. I will almost always have to work with a team, and not only rely on others, but be relied upon as well. Therefore setting us up in groups as soon as the semester began was very helpful. If it had been done later in the semester, or if we switched group members I may not have enjoyed it as much. Setting up early gave us time to get to know our group members. We were able to work as a team, with people who had similar interests, just like we would in any career. In that setting alone, we learned how to handle any conflicts, including disagreements, different ideas, or too many ideas, time constraints and working within one another’s schedules, as well as working with each individual's weaknesses as well as strengths.
The lecture portion of this class was interesting, but because political communication covers a large ground, I believe it is difficult to cover everything it pertains to. That is why I feel the structure worked best to fuel our learning; we were able to learn about general political communications on a global scale while also working with our groups and scaling down what we had learned in the lecture and applying that to our own causes and smaller community. I was surprised that we had to create our plan with our group. At first I thought that it was impossible to take all of our ideas, and collect them into one small document. I didn't think it was going to work. After doing the project, I realized that that is exactly what I will be doing in my career. It is also more than likely I will be doing this on a larger scale.
Also, the mock press conference held was a great way to learn. I would have liked to have some more information about press conferences, and examples, and crises that may happen. It would have been good to be fully prepared, so that I may fully understand the event when I have to do a real one in the future, but obviously we have limitations within the classroom. This political communications class prepared me for my future career as best it could within its limitations. I believe that without work experience in whichever field a student is going into, they are at a disadvantage. There are many things that students cannot learn within a classroom, for example, creating a corporate culture, working with a 40-hour-work-week, conflicts with supervisors, and other co-workers, and the inability to handle a heavy work load. If possible, it may be interesting to address these issues in the classroom, about how these issues may vary in political communications. Limitations on time and class work, however, may be an issue. The best part about this class is it forced us, as students, to go above and beyond. It took the lecture and applied it to real situations, where we could work, focus and receive feedback without the pressure of failing in the actual situation. We were challenged both as individuals and as a team. Best of all, we came together to succeed as a team. It was interesting to watch us take the lecture and apply it to our projects, and it will be even more interesting to watch us take our projects and apply them to our future careers.
A Future Based on Communicating Politics
My university career has not been the quintessential university experience. The typical undergraduate paradigm is a rigorous four year education aimed towards a specific vocational goal. Mine, on the other hand, has turned into a sporadic six year education directed loosely towards a vague occupational objective. Over these past six years I have been able to realize a number of things about myself. I have always known I wanted to help people in some capacity. I have realized I do not possess the scientifically analytic mind necessary to become a doctor, besides the fact I feint at the sight of blood. I have realized I do not possess the iron will or steadfast courage it would take to serve the law. What I have realized I do possess over these last several years is a love for speaking, debating, and building relationships. I began my degree in communications with little to no expectations. I choose the major in an attempt to appease my insistent parents. I guess a liberal arts education was simply too broad for their liking. When I signed up, I had no idea what I would be learning, or how a degree in communications would apply to the real world. The first classes that really gave me confidence in my choice were persuasion, argumentation, and later, political communication. In my persuasion course I learned effective ways to construct and pose potentially influential arguments. This course was the first to show me the value of effective speech. With those lessons in mind, I began to notice just how ineffectively people communicated in everyday life. From that point on, I actually felt excitement about my major. The following semester I began a course teaching argumentation. While I thought I was an effective public speaker, I quickly was exposed to a harsh reality. I had never been as nervous as when I was forced to debate in front of my peers and a teacher whom I respected greatly. The course helped me conquer my fear of debate, and in fact, led me to understand and utilize effective speaking even more so.
As I have mentioned, I have always wanted to help people. Through my education in the communication sciences I have been able to realize the potential within myself. I did not know about non-profit work, and the power of lobbyists. I did not know of the impact of communication on a political scale. In a pertinent and valuable course, political communication, I was exposed to the strategic and tactical side of communication which I had not previously experienced. While most of my prior classes had concentrated on communication theory and philosophy, this course taught more tangible, real life material. I learned comprehensive steps and procedures necessary to effectively participate within the political sphere. In the class, we were responsible for organizing and carrying out a political communication campaign regarding a topic of our choosing. During the semester we built a campaign, beginning with the proper organization of a proposal and culminating in a full mock-press conference advocating our topic. Political communication is a class that will stick with me throughout my career. Combining the lessons of my political communication course with the theory and philosophy of other courses has brought all aspects of communication to light. I have realized that I can help people by effectively communicating where others cannot. Not everyone has the same skills that I have and I finally have found that it sets me apart. The ability to organize, persuade, and practice strategic organization are valuable commodities in this day and age.
Other valuable skills that I have learned from the public communication concentration are my abilities to analyze and dissect information, whether it be a speech, a written document or conducted through research. I have developed invaluable skills which are applicable to any job. When I am employed in a communications job I will feel confident in my abilities and confident that I will be able to compete.
Political communication has added to my overall communication education. And the education I have received has helped me to understand my place in the world. I understand this statement sounds clichéd and idealistic. As a freshman, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities and opportunities and as a result, I thought that I would never find my place in such as vast world. I was worried that I would never amount to anything, and that my dollar’s worth would equal my actual worth. I have found my place, though that place may not pay well. If I knew that as a freshman, I would have panicked and gone to pieces. Now, things are quite different. My education has taught me to be content with what I have, and not to want too much. I think this a healthy way to perceive life. If I can make the money necessary to live while working each day to make a distinguishable difference in this world, I will be satisfied.
I believe that courses such as political communication in my public communication concentration have shaped me into a far more confident person. While others learn the inner workings of our universe and learn to efficiently crunch numbers, I find these same people ill equipped to communicate. The very nature of being human is the ability to build relationships through the use of signs and symbols. My major has taught me the remarkable value of effective communication.