Web bumps TV in '08 election coverage


NEW YORK -- With the 2008 presidential election heating up, the Internet is replacing TV as the "dominant media force in political campaigning," according to Jeffrey Cole, a USC professor behind a seven-year study on the impact of online technology.

Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communications, estimates that Internet use as the main source for political information has tripled since 2000, with nearly 60% of Internet users going to the Web as their primary source for news about the campaigns. He said that the recent CNN/YouTube Democratic debate was a "vivid example of this shift" and changed the way candidates "were required to react to issues."

"Television is assuming a lesser role in the development of campaigns," Cole said. "Increasingly, TV is being reduced to finding its news coverage in subjects that originate on the Internet."

Cole surmised that the ease and relative cheapness of online campaigning could give rise to a "viable third-party presidential candidate based entirely on building an online constituency" or even an entirely new political party that could challenge the Republicans and Democrats in coming elections. He speculated that this could make the 2008 presidential campaign the final one in which "dollars raised is the single most important factor in creating a political power base."

"Previously, campaigns needed millions of dollars to buy television commercial time, and they had no other outlet for these messages," he said. "Now, commercials distributed online through YouTube, MySpace and other Web venues not only reach large audiences, but their appearance become campaign events covered by traditional media."

Cole pointed to the "Hillary 1984" video -- which compared Clinton to "Big Brother" from the George Orwell novel -- as an example of a campaign video that, before the ubiquity of the Internet, would have had no outlet. In this environment, though, the video is widely available, has been the source of major news coverage and, he said, has been viewed more than 3 million times.

Cole based his analysis on the Digital Future Project, which was launched in 2000 and is a year-to-year to look at the Web's effects.