Podcasts have become soapboxes of the 21st century

Politicians embrace medium's unfiltered access to voters

Trends

September 11, 2005|By Cynthia H. Cho | Cynthia H. Cho,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Like many 24-year-olds, Matthew Slutsky keeps his iPod close at hand. He listens to it going to work, doing errands, walking down the street - whenever he is "on the go," he says.

But some of the most listened-to names in Slutsky's iPod are not today's hottest bands; they're politicians and political pundits. Every morning, he downloads the latest "AfterNote," a politics newscast from ABC, and listens to it on his way to his job at a political consulting firm. Slutsky also listens to former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards and to Al Franken, talk show host on the liberal Air America radio network.

It makes perfect sense that politicians and pundits are embracing the new medium, in which audio files are downloaded from the Internet to an iPod, MP3 player or similar device.

Reaching key audience

Podcasting, many politicians say, gives them direct access to their constituents and allows them to talk to voters without a "media filter." It also allows them to reach an audience that otherwise would not have the time or inclination to sit at a computer for the reports - particularly technology-savvy young voters, a key demographic in nearly all elections.

"So many people are accustomed to written information that you really have to have a few more bells and whistles in this day and age," says former Rep. Chris Bell, who is running for governor of Texas as a Democrat. Since April, he has recorded three podcasts.

On Aug. 12, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) became the first U.S. senator to offer a podcast downloadable from his Senate Web site (craig.senate.gov/pod.xml). In it, he read aloud his "Washington Report," a biweekly wrap-up of Senate issues, and talked about Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. A day later, the White House posted all of President Bush's radio addresses since January as podcasts (at whitehouse.gov/radio).

Kitchen-table politics

House Democrats launched their own podcasts in July on HouseDemocrats.gov; some are recordings from news conferences and others are addresses by House members.

Politicians like the informality and intimacy that a podcast allows. In his first podcast on the Web site for his political action committee (oneamericacommittee.com), Edwards told listeners that he and his wife, Elizabeth, were sitting at their kitchen table.

"Hello, this is John Edwards," he began, giving his audience the feeling that the former North Carolina senator was speaking directly to them. He encouraged listeners to e-mail questions to him, saying, "We want to have a conversation with you."

It's a style that appeals to listeners as well.

"I like hearing the people I want to listen to talk informally," Slutsky said. "I don't always want to hear a policy speech or scripted answers to questions."

Political parties are picking up the technology as well. At gop.com/multimedia, the Republican National Committee offers two podcasts, "BookCast" and "Wireside Chat." "BookCast" is a series of interviews with authors; the first, which aired April 11, was with former Sen. Bob Dole about his book, One Soldier's Story.

"Wireside Chats" are interviews with influential Republicans. The first, which aired July 13, featured Peggy Noonan, a speechwriter for President Reagan who now writes for The Wall Street Journal's opinion pages; the second was an interview with Tucker A. Eskew, former director of the White House Office of Global Communications.

The Democratic National Committee plans to launch its own podcasts this month.

Jennifer Powers, client services manager for EchoDitto, an Internet strategy consulting firm, says that podcasting is attractive for politicians, campaigns and political groups because it allows listeners to "feel like you're in the room with the person." Her company has been hired to work on Bell's campaign in Texas.

"They're kind of fun," Bell says of podcasts. "I would love if every talk show let me say whatever I pleased."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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