The Catholic University of America

The day's first panel, left-right: Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder, Public Knowledge; Tom Rosentiel, director, Project for Excellence in Journalism; Harold Feld, senior vice president, Media Access Project; Lawrence Norton, partner, Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, PLLC; and Sally Buckman, partner, Leventhal, Senter and Lerman, PLLC.

A Glimpse into the Future

The ultimate impact of fast-changing communications technologies upon national election campaigns remains to be seen, but there is no going back to the old ways, say experts.

The consensus emerged from an all-day, wide ranging discussion about what today's communications tools mean for modern society, and especially for how voters make decisions about who should occupy the highest offices in the land.

"The 2008 'YouTube' Election?: - The Role and Influence of 21st Century Media" was held at The Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law on March 13. The event, which brought together nearly two dozen leaders in industry, academia and government to deliberate the many challenges and opportunities presented by today's emerging media landscape, was sponsored by Commlaw Conspectus: Journal of Communications Law and Policy and the Institute for Communications Law Studies at The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, in association with the Federal Communications Bar Association.

Speakers portrayed today's political landscape as a minefield, where bloopers, blunders and misstatements are passed from cell phone to cell phone, or posted to Internet sites such as YouTube to be reviewed endlessly, impacting voters' decisions and candidate's tactics.

"Everyone with a cell phone is a reporter today," said Lawrence Norton, a former general counsel to the Federal Election Commission and currently a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge and Rice, PLLC. "I think what candidates need to do is not fight this technology, but to try to understand it. It's a fact of life now."

Through the Internet, blogs and other "new" media tools, a candidate can raise millions of dollars, communicate with voters and advocate policy positions, all with the potential to dramatically change the dynamic of an election.

But old and new media are both still viable, with neither in clear supremacy yet, said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. He noted that while fewer hard copies of such venerable newspapers as the New York Times are being sold these days, the online Web sites of the Times and other news institutions are highly trafficked. "The problem isn't loss of audience, its loss of revenue," said Rosentiel, pointing out that online ad revenue falls far short of what newspapers charge for page space.

Another reason that despite all of its power, new media isn't quite ready to take over completely is that in the U.S., broadband technology isn't as far developed as it ought to be, said Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. "Our broadband adoption and capacity is poor in United States. Public policy has done very little to assure greater broadband capacity," said Sohn.

The three symposium panels considered the fundamental realities of 21st century media. The morning discussants addressed "The Changing Media Landscape." The second panel provided insight into the perspective of telecommunications and media businesses as they adapt to new media, including issues of ownership, vertical and horizontal media concentration and advertising. The afternoon concluded with a look at what the future may hold in the context of media and the electoral process after the 2008 election.

Luncheon keynote speaker Nicholas Slabbert, a telecommunications scholar and author, presented remarks titled "Orwell's Ghost: How Tele-technology is Reshaping Civil Society."

While it appears certain that 21st century media has altered the rules of the political game, it will not change basic human behavior, concluded Rosenstiel. "Technology doesn't change human nature, it magnifies it," he said.