On Tuesday, the Times carried my piece on President Obama’s White House website and how its information architecture makes it hard to find information that you’re looking for.
Under the Bush administration, the White House website was a repository of information that was useful enough to be a resource reporters used to keep the president accountable for things he’d said and done in the past.
Today, I encountered the latest example of the problems with the Obama website. I was trying to find a transcript of comments made last week by the president’s budget director, Peter Orszag. So I went to WhiteHouse.gov. I knew what day he had spoken, but unlike the Bush website, there is no place where information is catalogued by date. So I put Orszag’s name into the search box and hit “return.” And this is what I got.
I think scattershot is one word that comes to mind.
To quote former Bush website director David Almacy, “As the content only continues to build, it’s only going to get more and more difficult to find information.” That appears to be exactly what is happening here. And we’re only five months in. Just imagine now that it’s 2010 and you’re looking for something from June 2008.
You hear people complaining more and more often that the press does not do a good job of remembering what the government said a month or two ago and raising past promises or statements when things change. There’s also a common perception that I think many people feel that there is so much information swirling around that it’s hard to remember what happened yesterday or the day before that. Here’s how The Atlantic’s Matthew Cooper put it yesterday after Obama’s press conference:
It tells you something that neither Afghanistan nor Iraq came up at the president’s press conference. The United States is simultaneously prosecuting two wars in the Muslim world and neither merited a question of the president. It’s the surest sign of how quickly attention shifts and flits from one topic to another and how surefooted the White House needs to be in a fluid news environment. Iran might have gotten one question a few weeks ago. Now it dominates the news conference. The collapse of the American automotive industry didn’t come up either, nor did rail safety after yesterday’s accident or hate crimes, which so dominated the news cycle after the shooting at the Holocaust Memorial. Nothing lasts.
The White House is all too aware of this dynamic in the media environment. Back in April, I interviewed both Robert Gibbs and Dan Pfeiffer and they talked fairly candidly about how they see that “the president’s popularity is the dominant entity in the cluttered, chaotic modern media environment” (read the rest of the piece here).
In light of that, isn’t it important that the totality of the Obama administration’s statements, speeches, press releases, and actions be easily accessible online?
— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times
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