Earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel became perhaps the first head of state to begin addressing her country through video podcasts. The three-minute spots are available weekly, and according to the government's press office (according to Wired Magazine), are downloaded 200,000 times a week. That's decent, even if the spoofs on YouTube have an equal (or greater) following.
What I found interesting about Wired's story is this quote from a critic of the podcasts, democracy analyst Sascha Kneip:
"The real target group isn't people under 35 [the people who podcast] but journalists and professional observers ... It's a way to set the political agenda."
True. But isn't that the way political rhetoric works? When our own dear President G.W. Bush makes a speech at an Elks Lodge in Minnesota, or a farmers' convention in Kansas, his "real target group" is not the few hundred or thousand people in front of him. Sure, he wants their support, especially in an election age when every vote very literally counts, but he's speaking to a much bigger audience. Sound bytes will be picked up by broadcast stations; quotes will be scribbled in notepads by the print journalism set. Hell, Bush might even get a spot on YouTube. Those bytes and quotes might be aired on the evening news or appear in the next day's paper, and of course will be available all over the Web -- but if it's not a major speech or prime campaigning time (and if the president doesn't do anything extraordinarily dumb, like the door fiasco in China last year), those bits and pieces will probably only appear where political junkies and reporters will be looking. So whether Bush's speech to a bunch of Rotarians in Maine hits the mainstream media or, more likely, just the people with a vested interest, he's speaking to more than the Bangor Rotary Club and he's indeed setting a political agenda.
So Merkel may be pretending to talk directly to the German people, when really, she's just talking to the Berlin insiders. But so what? All politicians do it, and have way before video podcasts came around.
Speaking of which, when will we see the W. Podcast? I wouldn't hold my breath, not with the YouTube crowd waiting, poised, to mock him six ways to Sunday.