Get busy Tweeting or get busy dying
Australians want their politicians to be “in touch”. They want us to listen.
Adapting to new technologies is critically important for politicians. In the 1960s, successful politicians had to embrace the new medium of television.
In the US, John F Kennedy understood the immense power of communicating directly into people’s living rooms
In Canada, it was Trudeau.
In Australia, Whitlam used TV to great effect when he replaced media dinosaur Calwell.
And in our States, leaders like Don Dunstan became adept at the 30-second grab to get their message across on the nightly news.
These days, the 30-second grab has been whittled down to six seconds.
Today politicians must meet the constant demands to be both accessible to the media and more directly interactive with the public.
This week, I’m taking my Ministers to Port Augusta for a Community Cabinet meeting.
These events include “town hall” meetings where hundreds of citizens can – uncensored – ask us questions.
We also attend street corner meetings.
And, of course, there’s many talkback shows.
Many politicians have also embraced Twitter.
President Obama used it in his Presidential campaign.
Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull have Twitter sites, with thousands of followers.
I started using Twitter earlier this year.
Essentially, because I rarely saw young people at my street corner and town hall meetings.
Newspapers are having to appeal to a new, younger, audience by going on-line.
People are no longer content to have their news thrown over the fence once a day.
So media is adapting to changing consumer demands. If they don’t, they’ll perish.
The same is true for politicians.
By Twittering, I am reaching a different audience.
But it’s not just a one-way street.
Through Twitter, people ask me questions. They argue. They disagree. Feedback is healthy in a democracy.
Twitter also takes up very little of my time.
I can send out ‘telegrams’ from my mobile phone, informing people of what I’m doing, and often giving them links to websites for more details.
Twitter followers want straight talk, humour and occasionally a stoush.
They don’t want sanitised, bureaucratic blandishments.
Funnily enough, some reporters can’t deal with Twitter. It makes them defensive.
This puzzles me.
After all, Rupert Murdoch understands the new media. Some of his journalists don’t.
Is it because pollies are now able to communicate directly with the public, rather than through a filter?
You can hear the sneering resentment when we are quoted as “speaking on the social networking site, Twitter, …”
That’s like newspapers reporting quotes gleaned from a politician speaking “through the fax stream” or even “through the internet device known as email”.
I’ve also been attacked because a handful of my Twitter “followers” may be involved in “unsavoury activities”.
The Liberal’s raincoat brigade trawled through thousands of my followers and handed over the naughty tit-bits to a fellow traveller in the media.
It was the same team that brought down their own leader by peddling dodgy documents. Sleaze is their substitute for substance.
I’m sure the risqué also follow Malcolm Turnbull.
‘The Australian’, in particular, seems to have got its knickers in a knot.
It’s the newspaper that campaigns against censorship, and its sister publications carry advertisements for “escorts”.
I guess I could vet those who follow me on Twitter.
But that would be like employing a bouncer, or a censor, at my street corner meetings.
For me, Twitter represents a “virtual” town hall meeting.
It’s a talkback show involving thousands of people who are interested in policies, programs, and personalities.
After all, politics is a contest of ideas and personalities.
Soon, Twitter won’t seem so threatening to journalists, especially when they realise that their own jobs are likely to be on-line.
Or perhaps on the line, unless they adapt to new technologies.
Ultimately, it’s about giving people what they want, whether they are readers or voters.
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