Three months after sweeping into power, the Obama communicators acknowledged the tenacity of a constantly evolving media revolution that at times appeared to overwhelm the Bush administration.
“It used to be there was one news cycle a day, and then CNN came and then there were a few news cycles a day. Now, there’s almost no such thing as a news cycle, because there are so many of them,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.
Mr. Gibbs, who said he is now “conditioned to roll over in the middle of the night” and check his BlackBerry, said the news world now is more of an unruly beast than a predictable cycle.
“There are very few ways in which you can corral it. You just have to understand that it is,” he said.
Meanwhile, newspapers and TV networks are cutting jobs, downsizing operations, putting employees on unpaid furlough or imposing pay reductions. Some newspapers are shutting down entirely.
White House aides say they are filling the communications void with what Mr. Pfeiffer called “an incredibly aggressive regional media strategy,” which has included bringing reporters from local papers across the country to the White House for interviews with the president.
The Obama team also is working with the organization from its campaign, which holds e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers for more than 13 million supporters. A pledge drive organized last month used those volunteers to sign up more supporters and create momentum behind the president’s $3.6 trillion budget.
The White House also is using more video and Web-based communication, turning the weekly address from a radio distribution into a YouTube product, and conducting an online town hall meeting where Mr. Obama took questions from a live audience and a Web audience at the same time.
Mr. Obama’s decision to call on a reporter from the liberal Web site Huffington Post at his first White House press conference was a nod to the increasing power of Web-only outlets. At his second press conference, he showed his willingness to buck convention by calling on reporters from military newspaper Stars and Stripes, and from Ebony magazine, which focuses on black issues.
Dan Bartlett, who was a top adviser to President George W. Bush and is now president of Public Strategies Inc., said the Obama team is certainly “maximizing their platform,” but he has not “seen anything revolutionary being done.”
The image of the White House as tech-savvy, Mr. Bartlett said, is “probably driven a little bit more by symbolism than reality, with the president having a BlackBerry and stuff like that.”
The new White House team has not been tested with a slide in poll numbers, and its approach “can only go so far in a country where the basic question we ask of public officials has always been, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ ” said Stephen Hess, a governance studies fellow at the Brookings Institution. “When the ‘lately’ is ‘now’ should concern Obama’s communicators.”
Story lines that are developing could prove damaging to the Obama White House.
Conservatives are coalescing around an image of Mr. Obama as a weak leader who is unable or unwilling to confront foreign dictators or the American far left. But rage is also growing among liberal activists over the administration’s continued use of a military prison in Afghanistan and of the state secrets act to protect information.
Although the White House brain trust will no doubt be looking for ways to minimize the president’s negatives, the president has derisively referred to the daily media drumbeat as nothing more than “cable chatter.”