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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 April 2005, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
US politicians embrace podcasts
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News

Although George W Bush is just months into his second term, politicians have already launched their campaigns on the internet for next year's mid-term elections.

President Bush
Republicans use podcasts to get around traditional media

John McCain in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004 broke new ground in using the internet to raise funds and organise their supporters.

And in the 2004 presidential campaign, the internet became even more central to political campaigns.

Now politicians and the political parties in the US are jumping on the latest internet bandwagon: Podcasts.

End run around the media

Weblogs, online-only campaign videos, online games and using Meetup.com to bring virtual supporters together for real political activism all became part of campaign toolkits in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Podcasts are a relatively recent outgrowth of blogs, but instead of being text and pictures, podcasts are downloadable audio files.

Last year, President Bush was keen to get his message out unfiltered to voters by granting interviews to local media, talk radio hosts sympathetic to his policies and by using online video.

Podcasts are the latest attempt by politicians and their parties to directly beam their message to their supporters without having to go through the traditional media.

The Republican Party, which has a well-oiled communications machine, has recently started several podcasts including interviews with party figures such as party chair Ken Mehlman and former White House Secretary Ari Fleischer.

Podcasting campaign

In the US, where political campaigns begin months and sometimes years before the elections, candidates see the internet as an early and inexpensive way to build momentum behind their campaigns.

Howard Dean, and his web savvy campaign director Joe Trippi, first reached out to bloggers to help raise his profile.

He did not have the same name recognition as senators John Kerry and John Edwards.

Bloggers helped generate buzz around "People-Powered" Howard's campaign.

Howard Dean
Howard Dean used bloggers and internet to fuel his campaign
Ultimately, Democrats chose John Kerry to run against George Bush, but both candidates borrowed heavily from the insurgent's internet efforts.

And now, John Edwards is trying to use the internet and podcasts to keep his name in front of voters.

Although long considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, John Edwards gave up his Senate seat to run for president.

If he has hopes of winning the nomination in 2008, he has to keep himself in the political limelight.

Mr Edwards set up a political organisation, the One America Committee, which refers to his presidential campaign theme that George Bush had split the nation into two Americas, one for the haves and the other for the have-nots.

And in March, the former senator from North Carolina released his inaugural podcast.

Voters are encouraged to send in their questions, which he will answer during the podcast.

However, he was quickly criticised by self-described content strategist Amy Gahran on her blog, Contentious, for not including an RSS or webfeed that would allow people to easily subscribe to the podcast.

"It's painfully obvious from the site that Edwards and his online staff need to learn a bit more about podcasting," she wrote.

But Mr Edwards' staff remedied the oversight by the end of the day, which gained qualified praise from Ms Gahran.

Podcasts for the masses

Right now, podcasts are the domain of avid blog readers.

But mainstream radio stations including a number of public radio stations in the US and Virgin radio in the UK are embracing the technology.

Podcasts take their name from Apple's popular iPod
And Ms Gahran says that podcasting will become much more widespread as digital music players are added to mobile phones.

Podcasts are a tip of the hat to Apple's hugely popular digital music player, the iPod.

And the online grassroots encyclopaedia Wikipedia compares podcasts to online audio magazine subscriptions.

Using programs like iPodder, internet users can subscribe to podcasts on all manner of issues including politics, technology, philosophy, humour and even beer, tattoos and sex advice.

The software automatically downloads updated podcasts and automatically adds it to users' iTunes library, which will automatically sync to their iPods, making it much easier to listen to podcasts.

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