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Daily Digest: Amplified, Asked, and Answered

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, January 12 2009

  • Washington's (New) Media Ecosystem: Bob Fertik, a longtime liberal activist, drew more than 23,000 votes on Change.gov for his question on investigating the Bush Administration. And yet, the response from the Obama transition last week? Crickets. So Fertik took his cause to George Stephanopoulos, who drew a vague but still illuminating response from the President-elect on his "This Week" show on ABC yesterday. (Obama left the door open a bit on the idea of prosecuting executive branch higher-ups for torture and more, but said "my orientation's going to be to move forward.") On techPresident, Tom Watson says that the transition team's choice to "punt" on the question "clearly shows some of the first-blush limits of crowdsourcing policy." Perhaps. But the question did get answered. Sure, it took some extended pestering from an insider like Stephanopoulos to get Obama on a record on a tough topic. But it was a question whose momentum was demonstrated by an activist and his allies (the Nation's Ari Melber among them) -- efforts that had the implicit blessing of the President-elect because they bubbled up from the forum he created.

  • Assignment Desk: Ask My Rep...: With this second example, we're about to call a trend on the idea of journalists serving as the tenacious bulldogs who get crowd-sourced questions answered. Through its Ask Your Lawmaker project, Capitol News Connection has ten reporters on Capitol Hill ready to ferret out answers to whichever questions the public deems most pressing. What's particularly satisfying is that they then post the resulting high-quality audio recordings online. Grab their new widget to put a question tracker on your website, and check out the latest round of asked and answered questions.

  • Understanding this Brave New World: Late last week, the New American Foundation hosted a discussion on this very question of what communication between the new presidency and the public will look like. Moderated by Wired's Nicholas Thompson, the "Wiki White House" session featured Craiglist's Craig Newmark, Sunlight Foundation's Ellen Miller, conservative consultant Mindy Finn, and New America's Sascha Meinrath. Here's the hour and twenty minute video. We haven't watched it yet, but we heard great things about it on Twitter.

  • A YouTube of Their Own: One thing you'll notice about the just-launched Senate Hub and House Hub on YouTube: no ads. Congress and YouTube came to an agreement on an advert-free walled garden on the video-sharing site last spring. That's probably looking like a smart move to electeds and their staffs this morning, as the homepage for YouTube has a racy ad for Showtime's "The United States of Tara" front and center. (The video still features a half-dressed woman straddling a confused-looking man on a couch.) Congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle -- Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, and John Boehner -- put together a fairly awkward video celebrating their new YouTube space of their own.

  • Hi, I'm Buck.: For a look at a member of Congress far more comfortable in front of the camera, spend a few minutes with California Republican Buck McKeon's laid-back look behind the scenes in his Capitol Hill office, directed at his constituents in the 25th district. (Via Frank Strategies) McKeon introduces his interns, legislative staff, and the person who will answer your call should you ask for information on a congressional tour. At one point, McKeon even turns the camera on his startled "new media guy" named Robert. It's well worth a watch to see Hill staffers in their natural habitat.

  • Striking for Small-Donor Elections: Larry Lessig taped a video message from the green room of the "Colbert Report" announcing a new focus for his and Joe Trippi's Change Congress campaign: getting political donors to withhold contributions unless members of Congress support a new bill "making congressional elections citizen-funded." The first iteration Change Congress asked politicians themselves to take a good-government pledge never really got traction, and it's worth nothing that the leverage point here is the same as the one in the system that Lessig wants to overhaul: cold hard cash. Of course, it's one thing to withhold campaign contributions for bad behavior, it's another to put money on the line. What might be neat is if the withheld contributions were put into some sort of escrow account the politico could tap into once he or she got behind the bill.

  • Selling Clintonian Assets: Politico's Ben Smith reports that Hillary Clinton is renting out her email list in an effort gins up cash for the candidate-turned-Secretary-of-State-nominee. A recent missive went out over James Carville's signature and asked recipients to support Media Matters -- a progressive watchdog group that Carville argued could help Obama avoid the scandals that plagued Bill Clinton's early days in the White House. The move might turn off some of the members of the list, but with still-indebted Clinton (likely) headed to Foggy Bottom, her considerable contacts might be more valuable to her right now as a saleable asset than a political commodity.

  • Bailing Out SoapBlox: Open Left's Chris Bowers is launching a campaign to save SoapBlox, whose woes we've profiled on techPresident. The hosted blogging service powers a good chunk of the progressive blogosphere, providing powerful tools like user diaries, recommendations, comment ratings for about the cost of a pepperoni pizza. "You know how some politicians are fond of saying 'you can't solve a problem by just throwing money at it,'" writes Bowers. "Well, here is a problem you can solve by throwing money at it."

  • Obama Weekly Progress Report: Here's a link to this week's video address from President-elect Obama, this one on economic recovery. The good: in a display multimedia synergy, Obama uses the five-minute clip to report on a 14-page analysis of his reinvestment plan conducted by his economic team's Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein. The bad: the report's in the clunky PDF format, not something more user-friendly like Scribd.

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