How the President Uses the Media Today

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

From Reddit AMAs to chats with YouTubers to videos for Buzzfeed, it’s not uncommon to see President Barack Obama using whatever media he can to get in touch with the American public — especially the youth. It’s been noticeable how many different media outlets he’s utilized in comparison to past presidents, partially because there are so many more these days, but every president has used the media in different ways. Here’s a look at how the use of the media by the U.S. president has evolved over time.

Starting with the telegraph

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president, was the first president to incorporate the telegraph into White House business. The telegraph had existed for decades, but hadn’t been utilized by the government. But the White House itself didn’t have its own telegraph until Andrew Johnson took office, so Lincoln used to one in the War Department’s office, according to the Pew Research Center, to send messages containing orders and feedback to his generals.


The introduction of film

It’s hard to imagine presidential elections — or any election — without televised campaign ads. President William McKinley started the trend back in 1986 when he produced the first campaign film (see above), which included a re-enactment of the candidate finding out about his nomination. Subsequently, McKinley’s inauguration was the first to be filmed. His presidency marked the beginning of the use of film which led to the now regular televised addresses from the president. President Calvin Coolidge was the first president to speak in a motion picture with sound in 1924.

Radio makes waves

Coolidge also introduced the concept of a presidential radio address. He delivered his State of the Union address in December 1923 to radio listeners in six cities — Washington D.C., New York, St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas, and Providence. He continued to give regular radio addresses, and his second inauguration was broadcast on radio nationally in 1925.

President Franklin Roosevelt was heralded as a much better speaker than Coolidge and made consistent use of the radio. He held “fireside chats” with the American people via the radio and had broadcasting equipment set up permanently in the White House. These kind of chats are similar in nature to what we now see as YouTube videos of Obama’s weekly addresses.

Television comes into the picture

Though Roosevelt was the first president to appear on television in a broadcast from the 1939 World’s Fair, and Harry Truman was the first president to have his inauguration televised, the Pew Research Center acknowledges Dwight Eisenhower to be the “first real television president.” He took the concept of campaign ads that runs back to McKinley and became to first to introduce TV ads. He held the first televised presidential press conference in 1955 and was the first president to appear on color TV in 1958.

Moving online

President Bill Clinton’s administration really set the path up for the way Obama has used the Internet. Clinton was in office when the first White House website was launched in 1994, and he was the first president to use email, even if he didn’t do it that much.

While one of Obama’s more embarrassing feats as president — the launch of the site for the Affordable Care Act — took place online, he’s clearly made use of online media more than any president before him. Of course, he has access to more than any other president before him. The president and his office communicate with Americans on social media through platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. To promote the Affordable Care Act, Obama has participated in videos for Buzzfeed and even Funny or Die.

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