Election Connection

Recently by Laura Hertzfeld


A Year on the Trail

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Over the past nine months, we scoured the web to find the most relevant coverage of the 2008 election from journalists, photographers, artists, and engaged citizens all over the U.S. and the world. Now that President Obama has taken office, we're going to be retiring this site, and Election Connection will no longer be updated. That said, PBS will continue to cover government and politics and keep tabs on the new administration with our news and public affairs programs.

I'd like to take a look back at some of the best moments, comments and contributions during the election, and how they might inform the administration and the media in the months to come.

The Campaigns and Conventions

In July (which feels like a VERY long time ago), we already had an inkling that the economy was going to get worse, but there was still hope that it wasn't a full-on recession (or  what some are now calling a depression), as this Nightly Business Report piece examined.

Reader P. Cover commented: "I am in bankruptcy, my home in foreclosure. I blame the amoral practices of big business. No more money for them. They can struggle like their victims - us!"

Now, the new stimulus bill has been signed, and the media has re-focused its efforts from the election to the economy. Stories like those in NPR's Planet Money series are looking at everyday families in America and examining how people are coping with financial struggles.

The conventions were an opportunity to experiment with new technologies and look back at the history of campaigns. At the DNC in Denver, Colorado, Rocky Mountain PBS got in the spirit with slideshows of the convention in Denver in 1908, and also hosted new events like I am the Library, a project inviting the public to share their thoughts on civic engagement.

NewsHour used mobile-compatible sites like Twitter (for text updates) and Flickr (for photos) to give users a real-time view of what was happening on the convention floor. A photo feed also showed images from public media reporters all over the city, like Wolf Blitzer hanging out at the CNN Grill and bloggers congregating around smoothies in the "big tent" -  a dedicated space for bloggers to congregate and report -- the first of its kind.

VP speculating took the headlines for much of the summer, and taking a look waaaay back to John F. Kennedy's pick of Lyndon Johnson for VP in 1960 offered historical perspective.

I found out about McCain's pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on the flight from Denver back to Washington for a brief break between conventions. I was sitting in front of Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton on the flight and she was as shocked as I was to hear the news.

The Palin pick defined the Republicans in the 2008 campaign, and sparked countless arguments, online and off.

While the Green Miles blog in Virginia posited, "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been a champion of a different fight -- the one to try to keep the polar bear from being protected by the Endangered Species Act., the Flashpoint blog in Alabama opined: "I just watched Sarah Palin's speech - she is an absolutely wonderful choice for Vice President. She is right on issues, she is a great speecher [sic], and she exudes confidence. She also has more executive experience in her own right than does Obama."

Will we hear from Palin again in 2012?

The Home Stretch

Through a partnership with Patchwork Nation, we looked at trends across different types of communities in the U.S. This summer in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Patchwork Nation founder Dante Chinni reported on soaring gas prices and how they affected how people were planning to vote. "Here in Hopkinsville -- a place that should be BIG McCain turf -- the hard times, strongly driven by gas prices, have many here thinking the election will be closer in 2008 than it was in 2004. If the price of a barrel of crude dips way down or climbs back up it's easy to imagine tens of thousands of votes swinging."

After an exciting experiment using user content in debates with the YouTube/CNN primary debates, the lack of openness during the official presidential and vice presidential debates was a bit of a disappointment on the social media front. But the hype over watching Sarah Palin take on Joe Biden in the vice presidential debate, and the feeling that the election was close at hand in all three presidential debates gave the campaigns a shot of much-needed adrenaline in the lull following the conventions.

As Election Day approached the feeling in Washington and nationwide was electric. Would there be long lines at polling places? Would the votes be counted fairly and accurately? News reports of faulty voting machines and ill-equipped polling places were getting people nervous. Through the Video Your Vote project , we helped people record their experiences, creating a comprehensive tapestry of November 4 - from problems like voter caging in West Virginia to inspiring stories of first time voters. In addition, Vote Report  allowed people to report their experiences at the polls online in real time. How will this transparency affect future elections?

The Inauguration and the New Administration

I've lived in Washington for most of my life, and Tuesday, January 20 was like nothing I'd ever seen in this town. The population doubled, people were smiling despite the freezing temperatures, and there were parties on every corner, from the local pub to the fancy hotels to the bars of historic U Street. I was lucky enough to check out events like the Manifest Hope party, celebrating art about the election, and spent Sunday with thousands of others on the Mall, watching the We are One concert.


We are One concert

Now that Washington has returned to normal, there is a whole new breed of politicians and hopefuls moving here to work for the Obama administration or just to be around it.

We'll be there as the new administration continues to get settled. The best resources to find news and public affairs analysis at PBS include the Online NewsHour, Bill Moyers Journal and the Bill Moyers blog, NOW on PBS, Washington Week, and Tavis Smiley and Tavis Smiley's Young Voices blog. In addition, you can always find exciting social media work and program content on PBS Engage and the Engage blog, where I'll still be writing about a variety of issues.

Thank you so much for your input, time, and excitement around Vote 2008.


Brand New Day

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Washington is starting to clear out - the celebrities have gone home and the Obama administration is starting its real work in the White House.  But we can't forget about a weekend that will be remembered for generations.

The inauguration festivities were tracked in a totally new way this year - with a lens into the festivities from the people from around the country who suffered through sub-freezing temperatures and ran around a sometimes-confusing city whose population more than doubled over the weekend. In addition, new technologies gave way for in-depth looks at the festivities, from close up and afar.

For a bird's eye view of the day on the National Mall, NASA provided satellite images, tracking the migration of over a million people gathered from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.

Flickr's Inauguration Day project gathered photos from people watching the festivities from near and far, in living rooms and offices and intersections.

The first presidential address to be streamed online was former President Bill Clinton's second inaugural in 1997, but now the addresses of all former presidents are available online, and the interactive aspects of yesterday's event show how much has changed. 

CNN and Facebook partnered so users could read status updates while watching the day's events and Inaugurationreport.com showed live text updates from around the world. To relive the moment and hear the full inaugural address, check out Online NewsHour's text, audio and analysis of yesterday's events. And for a firsthand view, on YouTube, hundreds of videos show up in a search for "inauguration day".


Scenes For History

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As the parade marches down Pennsylvania Avenue and the Washington elite primp for the inaugural balls, it's a good chance to take a few minutes in the quiet afternoon to reflect on year - in politics, online and in the country as a whole.

Tavis Smiley's Young Voices blog has a running list of observations and hopes for the Obama inauguration and administration, including expanding Change.gov and rethinking who is eligible to be a VIP at the presidential events.

Some of the thoughts of people watching and attending the swearing-in and parade are being shared on KQED's site, like this critical look at Obama's speech:

"Expectations are a dangerous thing. I kept waiting for the JFK/FDR moment when he'd say something that truly resonated, that would give us a line or a concept that would take on a life of its own. Perhaps he purposefully kept the soaring oratory to a minimum, to squelch the naysayers who think he's all speechmaking and no substance?"

At exactly 12:01pm ET, WhiteHouse.gov shifted to a new design, mimicking the Obama campaign website and featuring a blog with news from inside the new White House.

In the first post, blogger and Director of New Media Macon Phillips wrote: "Just like your new government, WhiteHouse.gov and the rest of the Administration's online programs will put citizens first."

With the feeling of unity in Washington today, it's easy to forget that the 2008 election was a close one and there are still deep divisions in U.S. politics.  You can share your thoughts on former President Bush's legacy on NOW's website.

How did you watch the Inaugural events? If you were there, tell us about it.


The Big Day

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Here are some easy ways to follow the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the U.S. online.

Online NewsHour's live video stream of the event will be co-hosted with NPR starting at 11am. There's also an interactive map.

Watch all the past inauguration speeches, from George Washington to George W. Bush.

Follow live reports from the event and share your own on Twitter with the tag "#inaug09. or check out the Current TV mashup. I'll be keeping track from http://www.twitter.com/laura_pbs.

Share your photos from Washington in the Flickr photo pool and check out scenes from around the city and the world documenting today's historic events.


Just Waking Up

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There's been a phrase heard over and over again in Washington this week -- that the election of the first African-American president is "Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream realized."  Would King think we're there yet?

I posed this question to my followers on the mobile blogging site Twitter (I'm @laura_pbs) and got a variety of responses. An elementary teacher from Lebanon, Pa responded: "I'd say King's dream realized for MOST individuals: MOST kids don't see race at all until adults bring it up." But a mortgage broker from Atlanta said there's still work to be done: "This will always be on going- We have just turned a chapter."

While this week is certainly a time for hyperbole in Washington - the black tie balls, over-the-top security measures, and packed subway trains - it seems impossible to overstate King's words and their meaning for the incoming administration and their impact at this time in history.  

At the "We are One" concert on the National Mall Sunday, Irish rock star Bono noted that King's dream of equality isn't just for America. "It's an Irish dream, a European dream, and African dream, an Israeli dream, and a Palestinian dream," he said.


The new administration's declaration making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national day of service indicates that there's still all kinds of work to be done to make the country and the world a better place. USAService.org provides an easy way to find all kinds of opportunities in your local area - for today or any day. If you're participating in the call to service, share your stories here.  


The Political Party

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As plans for the biggest party of the decade heat up in Washington, D.C., various media organizations are reaching out to hear what Inauguration Day means to the public and get first hand reports online and on the air.

Similar to VoteReport, which asked voters to submit their stories from the polls on Election Day, a new project spearheaded by NPR is asking voters to tell their experiences from Washington on January 20 in real time, using mobile blogging site Twitter.

This post explains the process for participating in Inauguration Report. Before you go out into the cold, consult the Citizens Media Law Project guidelines for covering the Inauguration.

But you don't have to be in Washington to get in on the action. You can watch the star-studded Lincoln Memorial concert on TV or catch Tuesday's swearing in from the comfort of your living room, but you can also get involved - online and in person, no matter where you live.

Monday has been declared a National Day of Service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Check out MLK Day.org to search for opportunities in your area.

In addition, various issue-focused interest groups are using the web to get their supporters to ask questions and raise issues for the new administration to address. Al Gore's climate change project LiveEarth is asking people to submit their questions and ideas about green living for presentation on Inauguration Day using their new video site.

And anti-poverty campaign One.org has a petition timed around the inauguration to ask President-elect Obama to put poverty on the administration's agenda.  

What are your plans for Inauguration weekend?


Looking Back, Looking Forward

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It would be the understatement of the (albeit young) century to say that 2008 was a big year for politics.

While we could spend hundreds of words patting ourselves on the back , talking about how politics changed in its relationship to the Internet as well as traditional media, it's better to use some 20/20 hindsight to evaluate that impact, and look ahead to how the media and the government could do even better next time.

The 2008 election brought more voices from across the country to the forefront than ever before. By using tools like YouTube  and VoteReport, a broader range of issues were covered and greater spectrum of opinions heard.

With the PBS/YouTube Video Your Vote project, we saw stories and heard about issues that voters cared about, from Colorado to Kenya.

VoteReport was able to track voter issues at the polls, and the influx of information online overall made stories from local papers relevant nationwide.

But to find those voices took a lot of work for readers (and bloggers!). For 2012, or even local elections as soon as next year, the challenge will be how to cull the huge quantity of information coming from social media projects into a more digestible format.

Beyond election coverage, it will also be exciting to see how the incoming administration uses the incredible network they created during the Obama campaign as a resource. Government traditionally moves very slowly, but sites like change.gov inside the White House and media projects like the Washington Post's "Ask Your Government" outside the administration are a start.

On YouTube's Citizen Tube blog, the Post's Ed O'Keefe talked about how "Ask Your Government" will work, including the opportunity for readers to address questions to particular government agencies.

I'm going to miss the excitement of the campaigns and the hustle that defined 2008, but the promise for new technology and new ways of participating in politics are sure to make 2009 equally as memorable in Washington and across the country.

Happy New Year!


Pardons, of All Kinds

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The Election Connection blog will be on hiatus for the next two weeks, as we take a break for the holidays and get ready for the inauguration and transition.


As we ask for your pardon on taking a short break, it's fun to take a look at the notion of the presidential pardon. Today, President Bush pardoned the Thanksgiving turkey - two turkeys this year, in fact, named Pumpkin and Pecan. You can watch the ceremony here.


The tradition of pardoning a turkey has only been going on for 61 years, since the first national turkey was given to President Harry S Truman in 1947. But allowing the outgoing president to pardon criminals - that's been going on since George Washington's presidency. This piece from NPR, produced after Scooter Libby's conviction last year, looks at some of the most famous presidential pardons, including President Ford pardoning President Nixon after Watergate and President Clinton pardoning financier Mark Rich. But pardons can also show progress--President Clinton pardoned Freddie Meeks, a sailor in World War II who was convicted in a mutiny case that challenged segregation in the armed forces.


But the pardon allowance does makes you wonder... what did the turkeys do that they needed pardoning?


Have a very happy Thanksgiving from the Vote 2008 team. Watch this space for more updates in the coming weeks.



Getting the Band Together

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President-elect Barack Obama is beginning to create his cabinet and assess roles within the upcoming administration.


While some familiar faces from his campaign are certainly popping up, everyone else interested in working for the new president will have a pretty hefty vetting process. Who are the latest picks? Why did Obama choose them and who is likely to fill the remaining openings?

Back in October, attorney general pick Eric Holder spoke with NPR about what he sees as priorities for the new administration.

"'When you look at the other issues that I think the next president is going to have to deal with, chief among them is going to be trying to revitalize and remake a Justice Department that has been really sullied in the last four, eight years or so by people who tried to politicize.'"


But Holder's pardon of financier Marc Rich during his years with the Clinton administration may be a sore spot. In February 2001, NewsHour talked to experts about Holder's controversial decision.

Obama's pick for Health and Human Services secretary is a familiar face -Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Daschle was front and center for most of Obama's campaign, and Frontline's The Choice portrayed him as having a major role in placing Obama in the position to run for president after he arrived in the Senate in 2004.

"I argued that windows of opportunity for running for the presidency close quickly. And that he shouldn't assume, if he passes up this window, that there will be another," Daschle said.


Will Sen. Hillary Clinton be tapped for Secretary of State? What would your Obama administration dream team look like?


(White) House Hunting

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Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt built the White House tennis court in 1902? Or that Jackie Kennedy's efforts made the White House a public museum with a permanent collection?


While the joke of 'measuring the drapes' is one that comes up often in transition time, watching President Bush and President-elect Obama's meeting at the White House Monday had me wondering what really does change about the house itself.

Starting off at the source itself, you can take a 'virtual tour' of the current conditions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

 But to get a sense of how the White House has changed since it first opened its doors to John Adams in 1800, the 2001 documentary Echoes From the White House on WNET created a timeline, showing the "Changing White House."

The BBC provides a good look at what has gone on in previous handover meetings at the White House - particularly when a new party is arriving in Washington. The Nixon-Johnson handover in 1968 is one that stands out:

"As we stood together in the Oval Office, he welcomed me into a club of very exclusive membership, and he made a promise to adhere to the cardinal rule of that membership: stand behind those who succeed you," Mr. Nixon said.

Some bloggers have creative ideas of what the Obamas should change to the house's physical structure. Environmental blog treehugger.com suggests solar panels be installed. And Internet advocates are far more concerned with the President-elect's home online, rooting for a blogger on the administration's team and more openness about how things work in government.

What would you change at the White House, the building?

About this blog
PBS Engage, public broadcasting's social media initiative, and PBS Vote 2008 are finding the best elections content from across public media and our partners and bringing it to you. We're following the campaigns and highlighting in-depth coverage. Feel free to leave a comment, send us an e-mail, or suggest a topic!
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