Tuesday, January 03, 2006

POLITICS: Governments, politicians experiment with podcasting to reach citizens

Posted on Sun, Jan. 01, 2006


Savvy leaders say hi to tech

Some politicians are using podcasts -- audio recordings posted on the Internet -- to carry their message directly to

The Miami Herald

Davie Mayor Tom Truex is more likely to be seen listening to an eight-track tape than jamming to an iPod. He thinks they're too expensive.

But that hasn't stopped Truex from joining the growing number of government officials who use the new technology to broadcast their ideals and philosophies along with updates on what their agencies are doing. The new phenomenon -- called podcasting -- is available to just about anyone with a computer and a little time on their hands. A podcast is an Internet audio program that can be downloaded onto an iPod or other MP3 player, or listened to on a computer.

Podcasting joins government-access TV channels, city-owned radio stations and newsletters, and elected officials' weblogs among the new ways leaders are trying to communicate directly to the public -- without the news media serving as a middleman. With the iPod being one of the hottest gifts this Christmas, a larger audience is opening up for tech-savvy politicians. The list of podcasters includes President Bush and popular U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, both of whom air weekly podcasts, along with a handful of mayors and governors around the country.


In September, the Broward County School Board debuted a 20-minute podcast on happenings in the district. Truex posted his first podcast on Dec. 12, apparently making him the first local official to do it in South Florida. He said the 90-second podcasts were a natural progression from his weblog, or blog, which is a text-and-pictures newsletter updated several times a week on the Internet. ''It's just another way to communicate some of my philosophies about government in general and talk about things that are going on in town,'' Truex said. ``It's the new wave of the future.''


But officials should not consider podcasting and other self-produced programs a substitute for talking with the mainstream news media, said Michael Abrams, journalism professor at Florida A&M University. Abrams said some politicians might rush to podcasts to avoid answering tough questioning by the media or other critics, which could mislead the public. ''I would hope that people in politics would still face the press,'' Abrams said.

But Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti said city-produced programming allows officials to be sure that the public receives all of the information the government considers important. In contrast, she said, the press will pick and choose what to include in articles and may leave out what she considers crucial facts. Giulianti recently began hosting her own talk show A New Day in Hollywood. She also writes a column in Horizons, a quarterly newsletter the city mails to about 76,000 residents. The 30-minute shows began airing two months ago on the city's cable-access channel and have touched on the city's redevelopment efforts and beach renourishment program.

The show, the idea for which came from city administrators, helps to get out the city's point of view, which can sometimes be misconstrued in the press, Giulianti said. What's not clear is how many people pay attention to government publications and programs. While some televised city commission meetings have developed small followings, political podcasts don't seem to have caught on yet.


Truex said ''not too many'' people have listened to his podcasts, but he notes he has only posted seven segments so far. Although his podcasts don't ask for votes, Truex pays for them through his campaign contributions and attaches a disclaimer to all that his program is a paid political advertisement. Some of Truex's postings have little to do with government, such as his most recent postings, which offered holiday greetings and talked about life in his household. Still, he has several three-minute speeches explaining his positions on development and particular Town Council decisions.

As the technology becomes available, Truex would be in favor of the city doing its own podcast. But don't expect him to rush out and buy an iPod. He bought a cheap off-brand MP3 player just to make sure he was recording his podcasts correctly. ''I'm not a slave to fashion or brand names,'' he said. ``I think I am doing a public service. It's a hobby with me and it's something I find relaxing.''


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