Newish publishing platform Medium scored a coup yesterday evening when the White House published President Obama’s prepared State of the Union remarks to the site not long before the speech got underway. A tweet from the White House account directed folks to the document:
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 21, 2015
Most tech shops that have been in business not even three years (Medium launched in August 2012) would accept such a tweet. Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the White House, sounded a bit like a tech type himself when he explained why the speech landed on Medium: “We’re trying to find audiences where they are,” he told the Erik Wemple Blog. “The burden is on us to do that. That’s why you see us working with so many” sites, he says, citing LinkedIn, Twitter and others.
Compare that with the response of Kate Lee, Medium senior editor, when asked why the White House would seek out Medium: “You’re publishing to a place that has millions of readers.” Lee says the site, the creation of Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, gets about 20 million unique visitors per month. “People are already here, and they’re much more likely to discover your piece.” Clean and user-friendly though WhiteHouse.gov and other sites may be, they “exist in their own silos and it can be hard to get people to come to you.” Lee declined to say just how much traffic the State of the Union remarks generated but seemed quite happy with the results.
Lee says that the White House’s use of Medium for the State of the Union “fits in organically with how they’ve been using it.” Previous posts, which can be found here, cover Cuba policy, “America’s Resurgence is real” and State of the Union pre-game stuff.
The introduction to the White House’s post last night contained this introduction:
There is a ritual on State of the Union night in Washington. A little before the address, the White House sends out an embargoed copy of the President’s speech to the press (embargoed means that the press can see the speech, but they can’t report on it until a designated time). The reporters then start sending it around town to folks on Capitol Hill to get their reaction, then those people send it to all their friends, and eventually everyone in Washington can read along, but the public remains in the dark.
This year we change that.
White House aide Dan Pfeiffer tweeted with pride:
We posted the speech on @Medium bc the public should see it when press and Congress get it embargoed. Changing a SOTU tradition forever
— Dan Pfeiffer (@pfeiffer44) January 21, 2015
And received a bit of feedback:
— Josh Lederman (@joshledermanAP) January 21, 2015
Good little debate. Certainly the policies of the Obama White House regarding the release of the prepared State of the Union remarks will not be binding on successors. Yet once this little door of transparency gets opened, it may well be too much bother for the next White House press office to slam shut. “We thought that this was a first-ever opportunity for all Americans to get the same speech that Washington insiders do,” says Schultz.
Stepping back a few feet, the move allows the American political media to move upstream, to get away from playing custodian for a soon-to-be-commodity document and to do its more noble calling on SOTU night. Delivering the same bites of political analysis using the same catchphrases to the same audience at the same time, that is.
Whatever you think of President Obama, immigration, terrorism or Medium, last night’s posting eliminates a tradition in which media outlets held the prepared remarks captive for several minutes — the lag between receiving them and the time that the president started delivering them. In other words, a news embargo just headed to the scrap heap, a moment of joy for any media type.