It’s the Message Stupid! News and Politics. [A Case Study]

I’m starting a series where I’ll profile various people I know, but you may not, and how they use social media. This is a long-ish post so I’ve broken it into a few parts so you can skip down to the parts that interest you the most.

  • Who is John Foster?
  • Local News + Social Media = FTW!
  • If Social Media Can Get a Democrat Elected in Idaho…
  • The Interview.

If you do nothing else though, take 5 minutes and watch this video. This is John Foster at IgniteBoise 2.

It’s the Message Stupid!

Who is John Foster?

John Foster is one of the smartest people I know. His current job has one of the longest title’s I’ve seen: Senior Advisor/Director of Communications at U.S. House of Representatives. Basically he’s the Communications Director for Congressman Walt Minnick.

From John’s LinkedIn page:

I love what I do, even though I’ve done it in many different fields. I love being the go-to guy in the kinds of difficult situations most people avoid. I love being the most passionate guy in the room. I love working hard toward a difficult goal. And I love — love, love, love — to win.

I met John back in 2006 when he moved back to Boise to become the Managing Editor of the Idaho Business Review (IBR). I was a partner at the small local agency, BlueLine Marketing. BlueLine specialized in Word of Mouth and New Media. If you want the saga on BlueLine you can read this old post. Basically we were loud, kind of annoying and preached that you didn’t need traditional media to be your gate keeper. You could “Be Your Own Media!”

John loved it. Despite representing traditional media John “got it.”

Local News+ Social Media = FTW!

The IBR is a weekly business paper. At the time their website was walled off to subscribers only. Not exactly a hot bed of innovation and risk taking.

In 2006 in Boise, Idaho John did what few in the nation had done and definitely no one in Idaho had done. Tore down the pay walls, threw open the gates and started a blog, complete with comments. Sure, even in 2006 few news papers had subscription access to their websites anymore but very few had blogs. As far as I know the IBR was the first Idaho media to start a blog.

John crushed his numbers and set the bar for local news media in Idaho. Visits to the site increased 1,000% in a few days and kept climbing from there.

But John did something more important. He galvanized a local community and brought them together for real discussion. John listened. John and the IBR blog were the inspiration for the TechBoise blog I would later launch.

To say John revolutionized news media in Idaho would be like saying Idaho is a Red State.

Speaking of which…

If Social Media Can Get a Democrat Elected in Idaho…

John’s success didn’t go unnoticed and he was soon recruited to be the Executive Director for the Idaho Democratic party. Idaho is a very Republican state. In fact Idaho voted for George W Bush in higher percentages than Texas. Yet despite that I predicted, on this blog, that because of John and how aggressively he would use social media, Republicans would lose more elections that year than any year prior.

Fortunately for the Idaho GOP, my prediction would not be tested. A very wise Walt Minnick made John the Director of Communications over his campaign. I subsequently wrote a new post changing my prediction to state that Walt would pull off the unthinkable.

Walt was running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Idaho’s 1st congressional district. One of the most republican districts in the country. Walt was running against an incumbent and many considered it the most heated race that year.

Walt won with 50.6% of the vote. I love being right :)

How did John pull off the biggest political upset of the year?

For starters Walt is one of the smartest politicians in Washington right now. But, John knew something; social media translates to traditional media. And in Idaho politics traditional media still matters very much. The Idaho Statesman’s Kevin Richert gives a great breakdown of how John wisely used the blogosphere to Walt’s advantage.

What is interesting is the way the campaign’s soft release of the ads, which begin airing today (Tuesday 7/29). John Foster, spokesman for the Democratic candidate, e-mailed links to the ads Monday (7/28) to more than a dozen media bloggers and Democratic activist bloggers.

It’s one small example of the way Democratic candidates are openly courting coverage from Idaho bloggers.

While Democratic campaigns are viewing the blogosphere as a way to get the word out, some Republicans view the blogosphere with open disdain.

But Republicans dismiss this medium at their peril.

John released a fraction of the actual, formal releases of most campaigns, yet received far more press than most campaigns. It’s been the same on the Congressional side. In the few short months since taking office this junior congressman from Idaho has received well over 1,000 hits (TV, print, radio, web), in addition to their social media presence.

The Interview.

I have pleaded with John to start blogging again, but for now he sticks to Twitter. Someday he’ll pick up the megaphone again, until then I’ve decided to do the next best thing and include an interview.

Q: You took the IBR’s Web site from closed to free. What do you think of Murdoch’s plan to do the opposite?

A: I don’t know how Murdoch’s plan will work, but he is someone I would never bet against. He takes risks and is occasionally wrong, but he’s one of the smartest people in media.

Q: There seems to be a gap in journalism right now. Because of shrinking budgets news corporations aren’t able to do as much real journalism but their is still a huge consumer, business and political need. Free markets have always been able to fill gaps. Assuming you agree (if not that would be interesting) how do you see this happening? (This was a long way of asking what you think the future of Journalism is.)

A: I agree that the free market needs to fill the current gap between the current state of journalism and the needs of the public. How? You have to blow up the business model for the actual business side. Do you need a newsroom? Do you need a server? Etc. I think Politico is the best example of how you can be successful by filling a niche with online news and making it work financially by leveraging that online presence to other projects.

Q: You don’t use journalism or advertising the same way most people in your position do. Why and how do you think about it?

A: How do I look at media? Simple — If I have a story to tell, I look for the best tool to do the job. The business got stagnant — people didn’t have to think. Have a scoop? Put it on the front page of the newspaper? Want to sell beer? Buy an ad during the big game. Simple stuff — that happens to not work nearly as well as it once did. You can still achieve the same effect and impact, but you have to think about it and be strategic.

John and I have an agreement that if we’re ever out of work at the same time we’ll start a company together. Sadly we’ve both been in high demand. Follow John on Twitter. He’s not overly active but he’s worth the follow.

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About Tac Anderson

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.
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