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|Experts say Internet drives, shapes political arena|
More and more people today are getting their political news over the Internet.
One person who can attest to the Internet's popularity in this manner is Pat Bergeron, who owns and operates the web site www.lanewslink.com. Bergeron also owns and operates the consulting firm, Category 5 Communications.
University of Louisiana-Monroe's Dr. John Sutherlin, an assistant professor of political science, agrees the Internet has become a powerful tool in the field of political campaigns.
"The Internet has altered the political landscape in much the same way that television did decades ago," Sutherlin said. "Candidates today don't just have websites, but are on Facebook or MySpace."
"They use the Internet to gather support and raise lots of campaign dollars," Sutherlin explained. "Many, though, have taken the approach that since the Internet is largely unregulated, they can push the boundaries in, for example, YouTube, with advertising that could never run on television. The Internet has further decentralized our political process by making it more democratic and accessible for politicians and citizens alike."
Bergeron, a Baton Rouge-based political consultant for more than 30 years, started his web site about four years ago to "take full advantage of the power of the online community in matters of public policy and politics."
Bergeron has worked in more than 100 political campaigns. He said the popularity of the Internet has changed how campaigns are run and public policy is influenced.
Today, candidates must hire someone to manage their Internet presence just as they would hire a consultant for other forms of media.
"It also opens up a whole different avenue for creative talent," Bergeron said. "Everything is different now because of the Internet. It has become such a vital role in campaigns."
One can point to the amount of money some 2008 presidential candidates raised strictly from online donations. President Barack Obama can point to more than three million online contributors who donated millions of dollars over the Internet.
"Obama's campaign was one of the best political operations on the Internet this country has ever seen," Bergeron said.
Bergeron believes within a decade the Internet will dominate all other news media in delivering information to the public.
"For the future, the national (Republican) party will have to adapt to using the Internet," he added.
Regarding local politics in Baton Rouge, he said almost every political candidate who ran for election recently had an Internet presence.
"And the ones who won were usually the ones who did it best," Bergeron said. "The Internet helps you target people much better than TV or newspapers. You know who you are talking to and it's much more personal."
Bergeron began his web site with a list of 8,000 people who are currently involved in the political arena around the Baton Rouge area.
Now, that "opinion leader database" has grown to over 28,000 people all over the state.
A recent Pew Research survey found that more than one third of the electorate receives the majority of their political information from the Internet, Bergeron said.
"The online community in its many diverse forms is quickly evolving into the primary place where public opinion is tested and shaped," he said.
"This (medium) helps get your word out to the people who are most interested. They are all over the Internet."
Bergeron works with groups such as Blueprint Louisiana, La Ethics1, Louisiana School Choice and the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce to spread their message about certain issues. Political candidates also use Bergeron's firm to reach voters during their campaigns.
"Over the past few years, working with the best public relations people in the state, this firm has counted among its clients dozens of successful political candidates from governor to police juror," he said.
He said it is all about building a fan base for political candidates as well as any issue that is important to people.
"Political campaigning on the Internet is no longer about just setting up a web site and hoping the voters visit it," Bergeron said.
Bergeron also offers a variety of news stories around the state from other media, including The Ouachita Citizen, on the web site www.lanewslink.com.