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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

DNC opens press credential applications to social media influencers

One expert said the move reflects a realization that many Americans, especially young people, get their news from social media.

CHICAGO (CN) — The Democratic National Convention's press team announced via a social media video Friday that, for the first time ever, social media influencers will be eligible to receive convention press credentials.

"With Americans now consuming content and information in entirely new ways, the 2024 Democratic National Convention team is finding creative ways to tell our story to the American people," the DNC press office said in a prepared statement.

The video featured mostly millennial and Generation Z staffers selling the move as an evolution of convention media strategy.

One speaker said the DNC was "leveling the playing field" between traditional media and online content creators; another invited influencers to "capture a political convention like never before."

"If you are a content creator, join us in meeting Americans where they are and making sure they know what's on the line," a third speaker in the video said.

The DNC press office did not comment on how Democrats could reconcile their courting of social media personalities with the Biden administration's support of a national TikTok ban, and did not specify how many influencer press passes would be made available.

Democratic National Convention Committee Press Secretary Emily Soong said the committee nevertheless hoped to engage with "hundreds" of online content creators.

The committee hoped to work with content creators besides the online political commentariat, Soong said, including local voices from Chicago where the convention will be held this year in mid-August. The DNC committee will also be "partnering with organizations to uplift their creator work during convention week," she said in an email.

"In addition to those credentialed, we’ll also be providing content and support for those covering the convention remotely," Soong said.

Though celebrities and culture critics often speak at the parties' national conventions, Friday's announcement marks the first time a convention has made an effort to credential, host and support online influencers as media presenters.

"I think it's a smart move in a fractured media environment where many Americans but especially younger voters ... are getting much of their information from social media," Medill Journalism School Professor Jon Marshall said in an interview.

"By increasing influencer access, the Democratic Party is getting the information they want out there," he added.

Marshall said presidents using the latest technology to promote their image is nothing new. Abraham Lincoln used photography on the campaign trail, for example, and John F. Kennedy took pains to look good in the first-ever televised presidential debate with Richard Nixon.

June Sternbach, a prominent figure in the political social media sphere, echoed some of Marshall's observations to that effect. She said that even with her audience of nearly 139,000 followers on X — formerly Twitter — and another 5,000+ on TikTok, there were other people online with far greater reach that Democrats could work with.

"I think it's an acknowledgment that social media influencers are quite powerful ... And I'm not talking about myself, you've got accounts out there with millions of followers," Sternbach told Courthouse News in an interview.

Sternbach also argued the move could backfire for the Democrats, saying a generation already skeptical of the Biden administration could see it as "an act of desperation."

Heading into convention season, most national polls put Biden lagging behind former President Donald Trump, with young voters a major weak spot. According to exit polling, 60% of voters aged 18-30 supported Biden in 2020, as did slightly over half of voters aged 30 - 40.

But a voter survey last month conducted by University of Chicago researchers found only 30% of 18-29 year-olds have a favorable view of Biden, compared to 47% who disapprove of his performance in office. That disapproval figure expands to 51% when including the millennial cohort of voters aged 30-44 years — including older millennials also slightly lowers the president's approval to 29%,

"It's not a secret that young people are just not rocking with Biden," Sternbach said. "I think the reaction in a lot of the online space will be pretty cynical."

Sternbach herself expressed cynicism over Biden's presidency, citing his administration's support for Israel amid its ongoing siege on Gaza. In other years with other presidents, she said she might have wanted to apply for a DNC press credential as a podcast host or independent journalist. But now she said she'd rather join the protests expected outside the convention space.

"If Joe Biden was just kind of an 'eh' president, I might have gone in and ... wanted to talk to some of these people," Sternbach said.

Marshall said there may be a generational divide in how traditional journalists react to the news as well.

"The students that I teach, at least, accept that influencers have influence," Marshall said. "Journalists my age, older journalists, may not be as enthusiastic about it ... they may grumble about it."

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Categories / Government, Media, National, Politics

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