There's a lot being written about the use of new media/social media in politics. I'm not a political pundit so I won't even try to bore you with my own 10,000 word treatise on the trend, but I would like to point you to an example that I think shows how these tools can be used.
Ryan Shell is a candidate for an at-large seat on the Greensboro City Council. (Full disclosure: I've talked to Ryan regarding an issue he's working on that would affect members of the association I work for, but other than that I know him only from reading his blogs). He's a young, energetic guy who is new to the political scene. If he had to depend on traditional media to address the community he'd be doing a lot of talking to himself, frankly because he is young and new to the scene and I'm sure he's considered a long shot candidate by the local political punditry.
What Ryan has going for him is he's savvy to the ways of the online world. He doesn't need the traditional media to get his word across because he has a digital camera, a computer, a couple of blogs and access to Facebook, Twitter and the like. Yesterday that ability allowed him to get a different version of a local story out that contradicts the official line that was carried in the Greensboro News & Record.
A few days ago a 16 year old boy was murdered near an apartment complex run by the Greensboro Housing Authority. It occured on the same day that the rest of the city was participating in the "National Night Out" campaign and as you can imagine the people in that complex were not able to participate. Ben Holder, another city council candidate (and blogger) decided to try and put together another "Night Out" event for the complex and started recruiting others to help. Ryan jumped on board, the paper picked up the story and some current city council members said they'd be there. Then yesterday word got out that the police thought it was an unwise move to have the night out so soon after the killing and the event was postponed. The source of that news is still being debated, but the result is that the event was cancelled for last night.
Ryan decided to go to the neighborhood to check for himself and he took his camera with him. The result is that he ended up talking to the friends and the mother of the slain boy and as you can see in the interview below they wanted to still have the event and they would welcome any reason for the media and police to be present. Roch101 used that interview in a piece questioning why the News & Record "scrubs" online versions of its story so Ryan's efforts are already reaching beyond the core group of people who read his blog.
My point here is that Ryan, along with other upstart politicians like Ben Holder and Jay Ovittore are ahead of other local politicians that I've seen in their use of new media. While this by no means guarantees them greater political influence, it does give them a tool to get their word out before the traditional media grants them "serious contender" status. It also enables them to tap into the network effect that takes hold online, and it prevents them from being easily dismissed. In fact if you want to see how effective an online presence can be just look at Holder's accomplishments with his Troublemaker blog. Many people may not like his style, but you can't deny his effectiveness at getting issues in the city addressed.
One last point: just because they have blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter followers, etc. doesn't mean a thing. The fact that they beat the streets, hammer the phones and generally get involved and then use their new media tools to get the word out is what makes a difference.
It's going to be interesting to see how these guys do come November.