Candidates take campaigns online

09/24/02 12:00AM By Neal Charnoff
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(Host) More and more candidates for public office are utilizing the Internet as part of their campaigns. In 2002, it's almost expected that a political candidate would have his or her own web site.

VPR's Neal Charnoff takes a look at how the Internet is affecting the campaign season.


(Charnoff) Vermonters are known for being politically active, and for their knowledge of the issues. Candidates are generally more accessible here than in other states, and they know that a 30-second sound bite will not win over their constituents.

A relatively new phenomenon is the candidate web site. It's a place where voters can learn about a candidate's stance on the issues, follow his or her schedule, volunteer, or make a donation.

Peter Shumlin is the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. He suspects that a very small percentage of Vermonters are utilizing the web sites, and that the sites will never replace what he calls shoe-leather, face to face campaigning.

(Shumlin) "However, it is a great tool in terms of bringing people together that are really engaged, helping to put together a grass-roots organization, getting volunteers engaged. And there are some people who want to go on the web and see where you stand on issues. But they know that what you get there, is - I mean lets be honest about this - much like an advertisement in the respect that you're gonna talk about the issues that are your strengths. And they'd much rather talk to you about the issues that are on their minds."

(Charnoff) Is the candidate web site an advertisement? Dr. Robert Gershon is a Professor of Communications at Castleton State College.

(Gershon) "I don't think a web site is necessarily more advertising than a political speech is. You know what's interesting is, you can go to a politician's web site and one of the things you see there is their TV commercial. So that there's a lot of attachment to the old media involved in the new media. I guess Marshall McLuhan said that the content of new media is always the old media."

(Charnoff) Brian Dubie is the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. In addition to the information available on his web site, he is sending his constituents a CD-ROM that contains several volumes of background information, pictures and video. He says that the content capacity of a web site or CD is what sets it apart from television spots.

Dubie adds that while personal contact is a priority, the web site can complement what a person knows about the issues.

(Dubie) "You can just say to someone when you're on the radio - and you get a tough question, and you only have a sound bite to get the answer out - I find it very respectful to say, 'Hey look, I can't give you all the details in the time frame that we have, but check out my web site.' After you read the proposal on the web site, it makes that personal contact even more intimate, and even more productive."

(Charnoff) Anthony Pollina, the progressive candidate for lieutenant governor, agrees that a web site can remove some of the constraints of radio and television.

(Pollina) "You'll make a speech or you'll make a point or you'll lay out your position on an issue, and the media spins it back in a very, very condensed way. And you feel like, 'Gee, the point was kind of missed here.' And I think the web site does allow people to really get a real clear idea of what you actually said, so they can understand what you actually meant."

(Charnoff) A web site is a relatively minor expense in a low-profile race such as lieutenant governor. It costs about $70 to register the domain name, and the sites are generally created and maintained by volunteers.

But the rapidly changing new media landscape means that candidates will soon have more elaborate ways to get their messages across. Gershon says the next revolution will be the merging of computers and television sets.

(Gershon) "It's gonna be a very short amount of time, I think, maybe four or five years, before in some way or another you'll have things on your screen that are clickable. And therefore a politician will say at the end of a thirty second spot, 'Wanna know more about John Doe and prescription drugs?' and you click and then you'll get sent to a web site with a whole bunch of information. I'm sure that we're gonna get that kind of accessibility to other information on our televisions."

(Charnoff) For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Neal Charnoff.







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